In today's post, you will find information about cataracts in cats, including signs to watch for and what can be done to treat this common condition.

What are cataracts?

A cataract is characterized by an increase in the opacity of the lens of the eye. The lens, a structure within the eye composed of protein fibers encased within a capsule, is responsible for focusing light on the retina and allowing for clear vision.

If your feline friend begins to develop a cataract, the normally clear lens develops a cloudy or opaque appearance that interferes with light reaching the retina. Depending on how severe the cataract is, it can have significant impacts on your cat’s vision.

Cataracts can occur in cats of any age, sex, or breed. A genetic predisposition to cataracts has been observed in Himalayans, Birmans, and British Shorthairs.

What causes cataracts in cats?

Any type of damage to the eye's lens can result in the formation of a cataract.

The most common cause of cataracts in cats is inflammation within the eye, called uveitis. This can occur as a result of several underlying diseases. Uveitis can lead to the body’s immune system attacking the lens as it would a foreign material, contributing to the formation of cataracts. Other causes of cataracts in cats include:

  • Inflammation within the eye
  • Genetic or hereditary factors
  • Trauma or injury to the eye
  • Metabolic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Nutritional imbalances
  • Radiation exposure
  • Cancer
  • Viral, bacterial, fungal, or protozoal eye infections

How can I tell if my cat may have cataracts?

Cataracts are often detected early in their development, during a cat's routine annual checkup. Believe it or not, the typical signs of cataracts noted by most pet parents may not yet be present when the condition is diagnosed by a veterinarian. This is because veterinarians are often able to spot developing cataracts before they begin to affect the cat’s vision.

Cats with more advanced cataracts will likely show behavioral signs of failing vision or blindness, such as moving more slowly, becoming less agile, bumping into familiar furniture, or appearing to have difficulty finding their food bowl or litter box. Your cat may also become disorientated if you move furniture around or move houses.

Cataracts can occur in one eye or both. Be sure to monitor your cat's overall appearance. Look for changes in the color of your cat's eyes or an unusually cloudy appearance. If you notice any changes to how your cat's eyes look, it's time to contact your veterinarian.

It is important to note that hazy eyes aren't always caused by cataracts. As cats age, the lens often develops a cloudy appearance due to a naturally occurring condition known as nuclear sclerosis or lenticular sclerosis. Your vet can examine your kitty's eyes and determine if cataracts are the issue.

Cataracts in Cats - Pictures

How are cataracts in cats treated?

In many cases, surgery can be an effective treatment for cataracts in cats and can help preserve your feline friend's vision. This surgery involves breaking down and removing the cataract and then replacing the lens of the eye with an artificial lens.

Unfortunately, cats with significant inflammation within the eye are not usually considered to be good candidates for cataract surgery. At this time, there are no medications that can dissolve cataracts or slow their progression. This means that cataracts will persist. Fortunately, they are not painful and cats usually adjust well to the gradual loss of vision.

In cats with untreated cataracts, medications such as corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops are used to decrease the inflammation within the eye. Even though these medications will not affect the actual cataract, it is important to control inflammation to prevent glaucoma (a potential complication of cataracts and inflammation of the eye).

Glaucoma does not respond well to medical treatment and often requires the removal of the eye; that's why treatment for cataracts in cats often focuses on preventing secondary glaucoma.

What should I expect from my cat's recovery from cataract surgery?

Your vet will be sure to provide you with specific instructions for your cat's post-op care. Be sure to follow those instructions carefully. In many cases, aftercare instructions for cats who have undergone cataract surgery look something like the outline below:

Common Post-Operative Care After Cataract Surgery in Cats

Following cataract surgery, your feline friend will likely need to wear a protective e-collar (plastic cone) for three weeks or more, to prevent pawing or scratching at the eye.

Eye drops that are frequently prescribed to be administered up to four times a day for four weeks, then gradually decreasing to a couple of times a day. It is essential to continue using the eyedrops as directed. Discontinuing use early may lead to irreversible eye damage. The long term use of eye drops may be prescribed to help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of glaucoma and other eye problems.

Along with eye drops, medications such as antibiotics and antiinflammatory drugs are generally prescribed for cats following cataract surgery, to help fight infection and reduce discomfort.

Follow-up appointments will be required. These appointments allow your veterinarian to monitor your cat's recovery process and check for signs of complications. Expect to take your cat for follow-up exams at about the 1, 2, 4, and 8-week mark. Your veterinarian may wish to see your cat a couple of times a year after that to monitor the health of the eye.

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.

Is your cat showing signs of cataracts or another eye problem? Contact Northwest Austin Veterinary Center today to book an urgent examination for your feline family member.