Kittens and Conjunctivitis

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

17 April 2019

Pollen, dust or a bacterial infection. That’s what we usually have to thank for our kitten’s conjunctivitis. Where their eyes were clear and bright before, they’re suddenly reddish, gooey from discharge, and your poor kitten is squinting the whole time.  

Cat with Conjunctivitis sitting in front of the computer
Before you go right into panic mode, first learn more about conjunctivitis, how it’s caused — and how it’s treated. You’ll also have a better idea of the information the vet will need to make a diagnosis when you take your kitten in to be treated.
What is conjunctivitis?
Defined as inflammation of the conjunctiva, or mucous membrane that covers the eyeball and lines the eyelids. Cats have a third eyelid as well — a nicititating membrane — in the corner of their eyelid, and this is also covered by conjunctiva. Usually the conjunctiva is a pale pink, but when in becomes inflamed, like when your kitten has conjunctivitis, these membrane become red and swollen, bulging from the eyelids even. More tears are also produced and the tears may be cloudy. Only one eye could be affected, or both eyes can be affected.
Kittens are especially susceptible to conjunctivitis when their eyes start to open — at about 2 weeks old.
What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?
The most common symptoms of conjunctivitis includes:

  • Persistent squinting
  • Excessive blinking
  • Redness of the eye tissue
  • Eye discharge (clear, yellowish or greenish)
  • Fluid build-up in the eye
  • An upper respiratory infection
What causes conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis can have many origins, and it can be infectious or non-infectious. It may also be a secondary symptom of another eye disease.
  • Non-infectious causes of conjunctivitis include allergies, hereditary conditions like entropion and even just dust and sand that becomes trapped inside the eyelid. “Entropion” refers to breeds like Persians and Himalayans that may be born with a turning in of the eyelid. The eyelashes then constantly rubs against the eyeball and may cause irritation and inflammation.
  • Infectious causes of conjunctivitis include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Many times the initial cause of inflammation is the feline herpes virus or Feline Calicivirus. Viral infections often also get a secondary, bacterial infection from bacteria like Streptococci and Staphylococci. The organisms Chlamydophila felis and Mycoplasma can also cause conjunctivitis.
Diagnosis of conjunctivitis
Usually your vet will first rule out any other conditions — for instance a blocked tear duct preventing the tears from draining, injury to the eye, or an ulcer — before a tentative diagnosis of conjunctivitis is made. Treatment is usually started based on the tentative diagnosis in order to reduce the pain and inflammation as soon as possible.
Usually bacterial and viral infections resolve within 5 days to 2 weeks. If it doesn’t improve, specific tests must be performed along with a more detailed examination of the eye and tissues. Blood tests could also be performed depending on the kitten’s health history.
It is good to give your vet as much information as possible regarding your kitten’s conjunctivitis, for instance:
  • How long has it been since you first noticed a change in their eyes?
  • Have the symptoms changed over a number of days or hours?
  • What other symptoms are there?
  • Are there any irritants their eyes came into contact with, for instance cleaning products?

Treatment and management of conjunctivitis
Broad-spectrum antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are normally used to treat the infection and the inflammation. The preparations of antibiotics can be either drops or ointment. In some cases injections may be given. Only in very serious cases are surgery required to remove any blockages that are found.

Photo by Larissa Barbosa from Pexels.


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