Eye Problems In Cats - Cat Info Detective

Eye Problems In Cats

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome feline fanciers! Skye Blake here, exploring the question of cat eye problems.

What will you do if your kitty has trouble?

Let’s investigate…

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping. 

Hurtin’ Eyes

tuxedo cat sleeping on blanket with paws over eyes

Ever have an eyelash get in your eye?  Ouch!

Cats can have eye problems like that, too.

If your cat is pawing at an eye, shaking her head, or has swelling, watery or crusty eyes, it’s time to take a closer look.

sick orange tabby face, grimace

Things like dust, fur, eyelashes, seeds, grass bristles, and little bugs can get into a cat’s eye and irritate it.

A foreign body or scratch from another cat can damage the cornea or cause deeper injuries.

Some illnesses like conjunctivitis or an upper respiratory infection can cause red weepy eyes.

What’s an Eye?

silver tabby with gorgeous ice blue eyes

It helps to understand a bit about your cat’s eyes and learn how to keep an eye on those eyes!

Basically, the eye is a slightly egg-shaped sense organ structured for sight.

A cat’s eyes, like the rest of his body, are made for hunting.

hunting tabby cat

They’re similar to human eyes but with a few major differences….

  • The pupils constrict to vertical slits, not the round dots that humans have.
  • Their eyes have about a 200° field of vision that includes peripheral and about 90° binocular.

Binocular vision allows good depth perception, which cats need when locating prey at a distance.

cat hunting in hay
  • A cat’s eyes are not good for seeing well in their immediate vicinity… a problem if a mouse is by his feet. He might not see it until it moves!
  • Closeup sensing is done more by whiskers and sound than sight.
  • Their eyes respond quickly to fast movement (birds and mice).
lynx, bobcat at night
  • Cats have highly developed night vision which allows them to see in low light, not total darkness.
  • They can see details in 1/6th the amount of light that people need.
  • The iris opens wider and closes tighter than a human eye.

The “Bright Carpet”

lynx, bobcat at night

Have you ever seen a cat’s eyes glowing at night? Kinda spooky, huh?

The feline eye has a “tapetum lucidum”, the “bright carpet”, a layer at the back of the eye behind the retina.

It bounces light back toward the retina which magnifies the bright effect and gives a tinted blue or green glow.

This is especially noticeable at night because the pupil is very dilated, almost round.

Eye Position

ragdoll cat's face, ears

In all breeds, cat eyes are large and set forward on the skull, allowing them to judge distances very accurately.

This positioning has one disadvantage… cats can’t see anything coming up behind them.

Instead, hearing and smell alert them, although they can sometimes be taken by surprise.

Eye Shapes

light blue cat eye

Different breeds have specific eye shapes according to breed standards.

The three main shapes are…

  • Large/Round – some longhair and most shorthair breeds have this shape… the classic “cat’s eye marble”
Siamese kitten
  • Oval/Almond – these tilt toward the ears at the eye’s outer edge
  • Oriental – these are oval and slant toward the ear’s outer edge… more noticeably slanted than almond

Eye Color

yellow cats eyes (black cat)

Color makes us felines strikingly gorgeous both in our coats and the iris of the eyes.

Do you know what gives us those wonderful colors?

Genetics and pigmentation are the main factors that create coat and eye color… age and health can also affect coloring.

Certain health problems can cause sudden eye color changes in one or both eyes!

Genetics

DNA strands - science, vet medicine

Genetics are the codes passed from parent to child in all life forms, including cats!

Eye and coat colors, body shape and size, and even health conditions are influenced by genetic roadmaps.

Pigmentation

color powder, paint, pigment

Genes can produce pigments like melanin for deep brown and black or lipochrome for yellow and green.

Mixtures of pigments create various types and depths of color in each individual eye.

Pigments have an interesting way of interacting with light that can produce eye color variations even within breeds or family.

cat's orange eye

Blue eyes are not as common as other colors in mature cat.

They actually have no melanin and are clear… the blue color is from light reflecting around the sides of the iris.

Some breeds, like Siamese and Ragdolls, have genes that allow them to keep their blue color as adults.

white cat using scratching post

Up to 85% of white cats with blue eyes have congenital deafness… it’s all in the genes!

Albinism happens when genes produce no pigmentation, producing a white cat with pink or extremely light blue eyes.

Heterochromia

white cat - one blue eye, one pink, heterochromia

Heterochromia is the fancy term for “odd eyes”… one eye is a different color than the other.

The most striking example is when one eye is totally different than the other, such as one blue and one pink eye.

Age

young kitten with paws, claws on arm of chair

The age of a cat can affect eye color…

Kittens are born with blue eyes because there’s no pigmentation.

Both purebred and mixed breed cats have colors that change as they mature.

Pigments start to influence the eye color in purebred and mixed breed cats at about three months of age.

Breed

siamese wearing collar

Certain breeds are known for specific eye colors and are a requirement for show standards.

Examples are Siamese with striking blue eyes and Burmese with deep copper eyes.

This video explains eye colors and which breeds have which colors…

“8 Types of cat eye colors and their rarity”, Catster, October 3, 2022

Color Blind?

Black & white photo of storks flying in cloudy sky - bird

A cat’s retina has cells that respond to light called rods and cones.

Cats have more rods, letting them see well at night, than cones, which give color vision.

Nobody knows how well cats can see color but it’s generally accepted that it’s not as well as humans.

cat watching mouse

A cat’s sight abilities are there to aid in hunting so low light visibility is more important than color.

If you want more details about the structure and parts of the eye, Merck Veterinary Manual is a great resource… “Eye Structure & Function In Cats“.

Healthy Eyes

longhaired tabby cat with head turned toward camera

How do you know if your cat is having eye problems?

A cat in good health will have bright, clear eyes with no discharge, weepiness, color change, or redness.

Illness Affecting Eyes

tabby, white cat showing 3rd eyelid, nictitans

There are illnesses that can damage a cat’s eyes and cause problems like blindness, pain, or distortion of the eyeball… sometimes requiring removal of the eye.

They range from cataracts to upper respiratory infections, kidney disease to cancer.

Symptoms that show in a cat’s eyes can be indicators of disease even if the cat doesn’t yet show other signs.

sick tabby, white cat, grimace

One indicator is when the third eyelid (a.k.a., “nictitans”) stays visible.

Another is if your cat’s eye color suddenly changes, gets cloudy, or otherwise becomes noticeably different.

Even if there are no other symptoms, it’s vet check time!

veterinarian looking at cat's eye

This is important to know because it’s easy to miss early signs of disease in cats.

We’re masters at hiding illness!

Always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.

Eye Injuries

Gold, green cat eye

Cats can get injuries to their eyes even with quick reflexes and whisker warning systems.

Squinting, keeping the eye closed, wateriness, pawing at it, hiding, or shying away from light, all mean something’s bothering the eye.

Some things will deliver a poke or scratch then drop away, like a pin… others will stay embedded, like a quill.

Russian Blue cat playing with stick

If there’s damage to the cornea, you might see a bluish cloudiness that isn’t normally there and it will be painful.

Any kind of injury, even if it looks small or just on the surface, can quickly progress to something deeper and more serious.

vet looking at cat's eye

Waiting means risking loss of vision or even the entire eye!

Only a vet can properly examine, diagnose and treat eye injuries, which they consider emergencies that should be dealt with immediately.

Attempting First Aid

newborn, young kitten having face wiped, cleaned

First aid for cat eyes is similar to human eye care.

If you’re comfortable attempting first aid for an injured eye, you may be able to help your cat.

Even so, eyes are delicate, and you don’t want to rub or poke at it and cause further problems for your cat.

Senior cat with eyes closed, waiting for topical flea treatment

Have the eye examined by a vet right away to properly diagnose any problems and remove any foreign bodies.

Discover more at “First Aid For Cats”.

Curious about what your cat’s eyes are communicating to you? Discover more at “Cat Eyes – What Do They Say?


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

A-E

“A-Z of Cat Diseases & Health Problems” by Bradley Viner, BVet Med MRCVS, Ringpress Books, Howell Book House, New York, 1998, pp. 29-30, 109-110

Ask A Vet: Why Are Kittens Born With Blue Eyes?” by iHeartCats.com, April 27, 2017

Cat Eye Colors: Unveiling the Mysteries Behind Your Feline’s Gorgeous Eyes“, Basepaws Pet Genetics, September 07, 2023

“CatWise”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016, p. 61

Exploring the Mystery of Why Cats Have Blue Eyes“, Cat Bandit

“Eye Injuries in Cats” by PetMD Editorial,  January 14, 2009

Eye Structure & Function In Cats“, Merck Veterinary Manual, PET OWNER VERSION, by Kirk N. Gelatt, VMD, DACVO, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Reviewed/Revised Jul 2018, Modified Aug 2018

F-Z

Feline Ophthalmology Part 1: Examination of the eye” by Natasha Mitchell, Downland Veterinary Group, 71 Havant Rd., Emsworth, Hampshire, PO9 5NH, England, Irish Veterinary Journal, Volume 59 (3) : March, 2006

Feline Vision Problems: A Host of Possible Causes“, Cornell Feline Health Center, College of Veterinary Medicine

“The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Cats” by Angela Rixon, Quarto Publishing, Chartwell Books, 1995, pp. 18-21, 49

”Something’s In Her Eye” by estaff,  Cornell Cat Watch, Published September 19, 2002, Updated August 22, 2023

“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 29-30

“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012, pp. 10-11, 38-39

Updated March 30, 2024

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