Are you concerned about your cat's vision, or have your cat's eyes started to cloud over? Today, our Matthews vets discuss cataracts in cats, the signs to watch for, and how they can be treated.
What are cataracts?
A cataract refers to 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 clear vision.
When a cat starts to develop a cataract, the normally clear lens develops a cloudy or opaque appearance that interferes with the ability of light to reach the retina. Depending on how severe the cataract is, it can have significant impacts on the cat’s vision.
Cataracts can occur in cats of any age, sex, or breed. A genetic predisposition to inherited cataracts has been observed in Himalayas, Birmans, and British Shorthairs.
Why does my cat have cataracts?
Many pet parents wonder what could have caused their feline family member to develop cataracts, but the cause can be difficult to determine. Any type of damage to the lens of your cat's eye could result in the formation of a cataract, such as:
- Inflammation of the eye
- Genetic, and hereditary factors
- Eye injury
- Metabolic diseases, including diabetes or high blood pressure
- Nutritional imbalances
- Radiation exposure
- Viral, bacterial, fungal, or protozoal infections
The most common cause of cataracts in cats is inflammation within the eye, which is often described as uveitis. This can occur as a result of various underlying diseases. Uveitis can lead the body’s immune system to recognize the lens as a foreign material, contributing to the formation of cataracts.
How can I tell if my cat is developing cataracts?
Regular routine exams can provide your veterinarian with an opportunity to monitor the health of your cat's eyes and spot the very early signs of cataracts (before symptoms become obvious to pet parents). Cataracts are typically most easily treated when diagnosed in their earliest stages.
In many cases, cataracts in cats go undiagnosed until the condition has become more advanced. This is because cats tend to cope well with vision loss if they stick close to their familiar home environment.
It is important to note that not all hazy eyes are caused by cataracts. As cats age, the lens often develops a cloudy appearance due to an aging change known as nuclear sclerosis or lenticular sclerosis.
That said, if your cat has cataracts you may notice that they begin showing signs of vision loss such as bumping into furniture, reluctance to wander around, extra caution on stairs, or even difficulties finding their food bowl or litter tray.
What is the treatment for cataracts in cats?
When possible, the most effective treatment for cataracts is ocular surgery. This surgery involves breaking down and removing the cataract (a process known as phacoemulsification), then replacing the lens of the eye with an artificial lens.
However, cataract surgery is not suitable for all cats. If your kitty has significant inflammation within the eye, cataract surgery may not be an option. Unfortunately, there are no medications that can dissolve cataracts or slow their progression. This means that cataracts will not clear up on their own and will continue to get more severe. Fortunately, cataracts are not painful and due to the very slow progression of cataracts, most cats are able to adjust well to blindness, and live very happy and comfortable lives.
In cats where surgery is not an option, medications such as corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops may be 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; therefore, medical treatment of feline cataracts is often focused on preventing secondary glaucoma.
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.