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Why Are My Cat's Eyes Red?

If you've noticed that your cat's eyes appear red, it can be concerning. Red eyes in cats can indicate several underlying issues, ranging from minor irritations to more serious health conditions. Understanding the possible causes, symptoms, and treatments is crucial for ensuring your cat's well-being.

Why Are My Cat Eyes Red

When you look into your cat's eyes, you should normally see two clear, naturally colored eyes looking back at you. However, your kitty's eyes may sometimes be irritated, red, or inflamed.

Clients often ask our veterinary ophthalmologists why their cat's eyes are red. We always explain that many potential health conditions, such as disease, injury, infection, allergies, irritants, obstructions, or changes in the eyelids or eyelashes, can cause eye discoloration. Swelling or inflammation may also develop.

Each of these conditions should be diagnosed and treated by a vet or veterinary ophthalmologist (sometimes referred to as a "cat or dog eye doctor") right away to address symptoms and reduce or prevent the risk of long-term damage to your cat's eyesight.

Does Your Cat Spend Time Indoors or Outdoors?

Outdoor cats may be more prone to eye irritants like dust, pollen, or injuries from fights or accidents. Indoor cats, while generally protected from these external factors, can still develop eye issues due to indoor allergens or underlying infections.

  • Accidental pokes or scrapes 
  • Bees 
  • Grass 
  • Other animals 
  • Pollen 
  • Plants 

Though cats may jump at the chance to venture outside, these forays sometimes come at a cost to their safety. In addition, detecting the cause of your cat's red eyes can become more complicated if they've been outside, among many potential sources of symptoms. 

What to Look For If Your Cat's Eyes Are Red 

Some factors can indicate what may be causing your cat's red eyes and the seriousness of the issue. These include: 

Discharge 

The presence and color of any discharge can indicate how severe your cat's eye condition is. While an infection commonly results in green or yellow discharge, bloody discharge can be caused by a serious injury. 

Excess tearing often results in thinner discharge, while a mucus buildup may lead to thicker discharge. 

Location of the Redness 

If the tissues around your cat's eyes are red or swollen to the point that you can't see the eye itself, there may be an issue with the membranes around the eye (known as the conjunctiva).

On the other hand, if the whites of the eyes are inflamed and appear bloodshot, it may be a temporary issue similar to how people's eyes sometimes appear bloodshot, with no serious cause.

Another possible reason for redness is that a third eyelid may cover the eye. This whitish structure covers the side of the eye near the nose at an angle to protect the eye when irritated.

If this membrane is raised, the eye's appearance may be alarming to those who see it.

What to Do If Your Cat Has Red Eyes 

Always book an appointment with your vet or a veterinary ophthalmologist if your cat's eyes appear red. They can identify the cause of this concerning symptom and recommend appropriate treatment to prevent your cat from potentially losing its vision or even its eye.

If your cat shows signs of discharge, swelling, or redness in the eye or cannot open the eye, these are all considered veterinary emergencies.

If your cat can open its eyes, the redness is mild, and it seems to be feeling well, you can likely wait up to 48 hours for an appointment with your veterinarian. It is best to contact your primary vet for advice if you are uncertain.

Common Causes of Red Eye in Cats

Many conditions can impact the appearance of your cat's eyes and their eyesight. While some of these issues concern the eye (globe) itself, others impact the tissue surrounding the eye. Conditions affecting the globe are typically more serious than conditions affecting the tissue. 

Infection

Because infections are always at risk of worsening, we recommend booking an appointment with your vet or veterinary ophthalmologist right away if you notice that your cat has a red eye. Bacterial or viral infections need to be treated and monitored as soon as possible. 

Conjunctivitis 

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is the most common cause of red eye in cats. Typically resulting from a bacterial infection, conjunctivitis can also cause clear or dark fluid discharge, excessive winking, watery eyes, and swollen eye tissue. Your cat's eyes may also become extremely itchy and irritated. 

Injury or Trauma

If your cat spends time outdoors, they are more likely to get into fights with other animals. Even if they are exclusively indoors, too much roughhousing can cause injury or trauma due to scratches or bites, which can lead to redness. 

It's important to prevent injury or trauma from becoming infected and to get the proper treatment and diagnosis to reduce the risk of your cat's vision deteriorating. If you notice that your cat has a red eye or an eye injury, immediately book an appointment with your vet. 

Chronic Diseases

Similar to other animals, cats are at risk of developing cancer and autoimmune conditions. Various cancers, particularly the feline lymphosarcoma-leukemia complex, can affect your kitty's eyes. Autoimmune disorders may lead to a condition known as uveitis, which can cause eye inflammation. 

When to See a Veterinarian

If your cat's eyes are consistently red, swollen, or accompanied by discharge, squinting, or changes in behavior, it's essential to seek veterinary care promptly. Delayed treatment can lead to complications and potential vision loss.

Treatment for Red Eye in Cats 

Veterinary ophthalmology involves studying, diagnosing, and treating eye diseases and disorders in cats and dogs. We also work closely with your pet’s primary care veterinarian to provide the best possible care for all ocular diseases affecting your pet.

Once our board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist has determined what's causing your cat's red eyes, they can develop a treatment plan that may include: 

  • Medications such as antibiotics or other topical ointments such as eye drops to alleviate symptoms
  • Flushing the eyes with eyewash
  • Quarantining (for households with multiple cats, to keep the redness from spreading if your cat's eye condition is contagious)

Follow your vet's treatment recommendations and instructions to avoid further eye injury or problems. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your cat may be experiencing redness, pain, or irritation in their eyes? Contact our Clovis veterinary ophthalmologists to book a consultation today.

New Patients Welcome

New Patients Welcome

Family Pet Hospital is always accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health and well-being of Clovis dogs and cats. Contact us today to get started! 

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