Learning that your cat needs eye removal surgery can be shocking, and you'll likely have many questions. In this post, our Austin veterinarians explain this procedure in detail. We also discuss recovery time, potential complications, and more.

Enucleation in Cats

Finding out that your cat needs an eye removed can invoke many emotions, including shock, alarm, sadness, and of course, concern for your cat's health during surgery and the recovery process.

The procedure to surgically remove a cat's eye is called enucleation, and it is performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist or ocular specialist.

Your veterinary ophthalmologist may recommend this permanent and irreversible solution if:

  • Your cat's eye is badly or irreparably damaged
  • Your cat's eye pain is unmanageable
  • Your cat has an untreatable eye condition or tumor

There are two types of enucleation surgery: transconjunctival or transpalpebral. The transconjunctival approach to enucleation reduces orbital tissue loss, and subsequent orbital sinking. There is less risk of hemorrhaging and the procedure time is faster overall.

Your veterinary ophthalmologist may opt for the transpalpebral approach if the eye is damaged beyond repair. During this surgery, the entire eye globe, including the elements contained by the conjunctival sac (eyelids, conjunctiva, and nictitating membrane) is removed. 

Sometimes, a veterinary ophthalmologist may be able to replace the inner contents of the eye with a prosthesis, which creates a more natural-looking eye. However, this is not appropriate for eyes with tumors or infections. 

Why a Cat Would Need Eye Removal

A cat may need to have their eye removed due to severe trauma or injury, such as a deep scratch or puncture wound. In some cases, the eye may become infected or develop a painful condition that cannot be treated effectively with medication, necessitating surgical removal.

Additionally, cats with certain types of cancer, such as ocular melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma, may require enucleation as part of their treatment plan. These tumors can be aggressive and may spread to surrounding tissues if not addressed promptly. Removing the affected eye can help prevent further complications and improve the cat's overall quality of life.

Cat Eye Removal Surgery: Procedure & Cost

Hospital staff will take your cat's vital signs before pre-anesthetic drugs are administered. After sedation is achieved, general anesthesia will be started. Staff will then shave the fur around the affected eye and trim the upper eyelashes with fine scissors before using tape to remove fine hair from the skin.

The surgery will be completed depending on the surgical approach you and your veterinary ophthalmologist have chosen based on your cat's eye condition and needs. The eyeball and eyelids will be carefully removed and their wound stitched.

Stitches are used to close wounds. Some stitches or made of absorbable, invisible material and will not have to be removed because they gradually dissolve. More often, stitches are non-absorbable and are visible on the skin's surface. Your vet can discuss which kind of stitches were used and provide instructions on when to return to have them removed. 

Once the surgery is complete, the empty eye socket will be covered by skin. While the eye may remain swollen for a week or so, the scar should hardly be visible once the fur grows back.

The cost of your cat's enucleation surgery will depend on many factors, including their pre-operative and post-operative care needs. Ask your vet for a specific, detailed cost estimate of your cat's procedure.

Cat Eye Enucleation: Potential Complications

If infection occurs, the eye area will remain swollen for an extended period of time (longer than the week or so it would normally take to heal), and you may notice pus draining from the incision. In this case, the infection would require drainage and antibiotics. 

If you notice these symptoms and suspect your cat may have a post-surgical infection, check in with your vet as soon as possible. 

When a cat's eyes are removed due to severe damage, veterinary ophthalmologists may encounter difficulty removing the eye in one piece. A small portion of the rear eye membrane may remain. If enough of this tissue remains, fluid may continue to ooze from the incision. If this is too much, a second surgery may be required to thoroughly clean the cat's eye socket.

Recovery After Cat Eye Removal Surgery

This procedure provides a permanent solution for eye conditions that have not or will not respond to treatment. Completely removing an eye that has been damaged by injury, infection, or cancer should resolve the problem and prevent it from spreading.

Here's what you can expect and some actions to take to ensure your cat's recovery from surgery goes as smoothly as possible:

Bruising - There may be some mild bruising and swelling soon after your cat's surgery. It's normal for this to worsen in the first 24 hours, then ease gradually over the first week of recovery.

Weeping - You may see a small amount of blood-stained fluid come from your cat's wound or, occasionally, from the nose. This is because the tear ducts are connected to the inner nostrils. Contact your vet for further instruction and care if there are more than a few drips. Blood dripping from the nose should diminish about two to four days after the operation. 

Pain - Your cat is likely to feel a small amount of pain and discomfort post-surgery. Most of this can be managed with medication. Make sure to administer all medicines correctly once your kitty has returned home. Contact your vet if your cat still seems to be in severe pain. Once healing is complete, the surgical area should be pain-free and comfortable. 

Protect the Wound - You'll need to prevent your cat from pawing at or damaging the surgical site to avoid infection or reopening the wound, especially in the first 3-5 days post-surgery. Your cat should wear their e-collar (Elizabethan collar, also referred to as a head cone) the incision has healed and your vet says it can be removed (usually within 10-14 days). Your pet should be able to eat and drink with the collar in place, but if you have concerns, check with your vet about removing the collar at meal times. Make sure your pet is well-supervised if you do remove the e-collar. If you have other pets living in your home, you'll also need to stop them from licking your cat's wound and sutures by separating them from your cat during your cat's recovery.

Keep Your Cat Indoors - If your cat normally ventures outside, it's important to keep them indoors as they recover. This decreases the risk of injury or infection. Don't forget to provide a litter box, too.

Administer Medication as Directed - Your vet will prescribe pain medication to be administered while your cat recovers, likely for a week or so after surgery. Make sure to provide this as instructed.

Make Sure Your Cat Gets Lots of Rest & TLC - Arrange a warm, comfortable, quiet place for your cat to rest and recover after the surgery.

Provide Soft Food - If your cat is experiencing pain or a loss of appetite, soft food may help. Try warming their normal food slightly or giving them something with a strong scent, such as tuna.

Return to Your Vet for Stitch Removal - Stitches typically need to be removed within about 7 to 14 days after the operation.

Monitor Health & Whisker Regrowth - After enucleation surgery, whiskers won't typically grow back for six to eight weeks. Since cats use their whiskers to sense their surrounding environment, they should be monitored and protected during this timeframe as cats without whiskers are prone to becoming imbalanced. 

Life After Cat Eye Removal Surgery

Many pet parents wonder, "What happens when a cat loses an eye?". Some worry for their pet's safety and ability to enjoy a good quality of life.

Owning a one-eyed cat will come with its challenges, but shouldn't be particularly different from having a fully sighted cat, as they tend to adapt well. You can help them by: 

  • Moving any objects that are the same height as your cat's head and may cause harm or injury (since your cat will not be able to see from the side where they've had the eye removed). 
  • Take other preventive measures as directed by your vet if your cat has a condition that may threaten the remaining eye.
  • Speak to them when approaching on their blind side to avoid startling them. Tell guests to do the same and take extra care when bringing small children and other animals around your cat. 

Most cats respond well to partial blindness and resume regular activities quickly. 

Enucleation Prevention in Cats 

Cat eye removal surgery is frequently recommended for felines with eye conditions that have no known cause. As a result, prevention is not always feasible. However, avoiding eye trauma is a good start, and seeking veterinary care as soon as you notice a problem is critical.

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 fear that your cat's eye might be infected? Contact Northwest Austin Veterinary Center today to book an appointment. If necessary, we can refer you to an animal eye specialist in the Austin area.