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The essentials

  • Cataracts can be more frequently seen in elderly cats — However, cats can develop cataracts at any age.
  • Cataracts don’t go away on their own — Your vet can support your pet with tailored treatment options and supportive care.
  • Cloudiness can be the first sign pet parents notice — However, cloudiness can also signal other conditions (such as corneal issues, glaucoma, or keratitis, to name a few).

Cataracts can frequently occur in elderly or aging felines, causing visual changes, cloudiness, and behavioral concerns. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can help your cat avoid this common disease—or solutions to try if your cat has already been diagnosed. Read on to learn more about what cataracts are, possible causes and risks, treatment options, and preventative measures for your feline friend.

What are cataracts?

A cataract is defined as cloudiness caused by protein breakdown, nutrient changes, or fluid balance changes occurring in the lens of one’s eye. The condition can affect both animals and humans and commonly occurs as cats age or as a symptom of certain medical conditions. 

While cataracts may not be very painful, they can cause discomfort in people or animals that experience them. Human patients report excessive blurriness or “spots” in their vision, along with ocular discomfort and double vision. 

Identifying symptoms of cataracts in cats 

That being said, pet parents should still stay on alert for symptoms that indicate changes in their cat’s vision. Aside from the visual sign of cloudiness in their eye, some early signs include: 

  • Lessened agility: Most cats are pretty swift and lithe and enjoy running around the house with a case of the zoomies. Furry friends who might be dealing with cataracts will likely be less interested in this type of disorienting motor activity. 
  • Clumsiness: This lack of agility can lead to or be accompanied by clumsiness, which you can recognize as frequent collisions (especially with other pet siblings or inanimate objects).
  • Less overall interest in adventure or activity: This one is trickier to catch unless your cat is unusually spunky. However, vision changes can lead to a type of reluctance or lethargy in cats, as they may feel especially unsteady or compromised in their ability to see or perceive their environments.

Causes of cataracts in cats

There are plenty of reasons that cats can form cataracts—and not all of them are due to age. Cataracts can occur in young cats as well, albeit less frequently. 

Here are a few causes of cataracts in cats for your informational purposes. If you believe that your cat may be dealing with an affected lens or has risk factors that can be a cause of cataracts, medical advice from a vet is your next step. 

Genetic factors

 One of the most common possible causes of cataracts is genetic factors —which can be evaluated if you can trace your cat’s family tree. Birmans and Himalayans can be especially at risk for this type of predisposition. 

If your cat is at risk but has not yet experienced cataracts, there are different preventative steps you can take to proactively protect your cat’s sight (which we’ll mention below). 

Age-related factors 

Proteins, cells, and other parts of the body break down as we age. The same can be true for cats, dogs, and our other pet friends. Regular veterinarian visits can help you to identify signs of cataracts before they advance—and can get you to the help of a veterinary ophthalmologist for further support for your pet. 

Impact of diabetes and other health conditions 

Diabetes and other chronic health conditions (such as chronic uveitis) can lead to cataracts and inflammation around the lens of the eye. While medications to treat the underlying conditions can help to address signs of cataracts if your cat has them, ongoing veterinary care is key to early identification and treatment.

Diagnosis of cat cataracts

Diagnosing cat cataracts is similar to the process of diagnosing human cataracts. Your veterinarian uses an ophthalmoscope to evaluate the eye’s structures on the inside. If they notice inflammation, damage, or other signs, they may recommend specialty care from a veterinary ophthalmologist. 

Routine vet visits should be enough to monitor the health of your cat’s eyes, unless they have a possible underlying cause or a genetic predisposition. You can ask your vet for personalized recommendations if you aren’t sure how often they should be seen.

Stages of cataracts in cats

While the formation of cataracts can vary on a case-by-case basis, there are a few general “phases” they follow as they form: 

Incipient cataracts 

These can be especially common with age, and may or may not progress. Many cats might find that cataracts in this stage are small or barely noticeable since they are considered to be such small cataracts. Vets may also not catch them clinically due to the usual lack of behavioral changes associated with this stage and the lack of visible appearance in the eye. 

Immature cataracts 

These can involve up to 15% of the lens by clinical definition and may begin to affect your cat’s vision. Your vet may or may not offer surgical removal if they find actual cataracts at this stage of formation. 

Mature cataracts 

These can lead to total blindness and are where visible signs of the “cloudy appearance” can begin for most pet parents. At this point, the cataract is no longer in the “early stages” and is now considered vision-blocking. A normally clear lens with this stage of severity of the cataract would be nearly completely opaque to the naked eye. 

Hyper mature cataracts 

These are known to many as “advanced cataracts” or “mature cataracts” that can lead to total blindness. This cat cataract type can still be evaluated for surgical removal but may be left untreated if the vet deems that surgery would compromise the cat’s quality of life in a negative way.

Treatment options for feline cataracts

There are many different treatment options that pet parents can consider if cat cataracts have already affected your feline. They fall into two main categories: 

Medical treatments 

The primary medical treatment option that your vet might offer, depending on the severity of the cataract, is twofold: Ultrasound identification (along with manual medical examination and pressure tests, as well as medication. Pharmaceutical options your vet may trial include steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops. 

These can treat inflammation of the eye and help your furry friend enjoy a higher quality of life. They may also be recommended over surgery depending on the size of the cataract, your pet’s health, the health of their eye’s internal structures, and other factors. 

Surgical treatments

Many vets agree that surgery is the premiere treatment for cat cataracts, although it can come with an increased risk of complications depending on your cat’s state of health. Your vet can evaluate the cause of your cat’s cataracts (such as if they are the result of a number of underlying disease processes or feline immunodeficiency virus) or if they are simply due to age. They can also check other things, like the formation’s progression and your cat’s sight and risk factors. Then, you can decide together what is the best course of action for your pet. 

Post-treatment care 

No matter what treatment option you decide to go with, post-treatment care can be helpful—especially for older cats who may be dealing with additional difficulties. 

Managing post-surgical care, keeping up with physical examination schedules, and controlling other eye conditions can all be important steps to preserving your cat’s health. 

Did you choose surgery as the best option for your furry friend’s needs? It can be helpful to keep in mind that even small incisions can result in itchiness and discomfort, so your vet may recommend the use of an Elizabethan collar (the cone of shame) or another device to keep the iris healthy if your cat’s recovering from ocular surgery.

How will cataracts impact your cat’s life?

Cataracts may not be painful for cats, but there are impacts on a cat’s life if they develop them, such as:

Effects on vision 

The significant inflammation that can come with cataracts and disorders of your cat’s lenses can lead to blurriness, loss of vision, double vision, and light sensitivity. While cataract formation isn’t thought to be painful, it can be disorienting—especially if your cat is living with untreated cataracts. 

Behavioral changes 

As a result of the vision changes, your cat might have trouble getting around. This can be especially common to see in senior cats. Veterinary medicine can help with pharmaceutical and surgical intervention, as well as with the treatment of any other possible underlying condition that could contribute to eye troubles—such as feline infectious peritonitis.

However, the abnormal opacities across the surface of the lens can lead to avoidance behaviors (especially around a confined space), difficulty doing normal daily activity, and difficulties with depth-perception abilities (which can affect eating).

Preventative measures for cat cataracts

While some cat breeds may face higher predispositions for conditions such as cataracts, there are preventative care measures you can take to protect your cat’s vision. Options can include: 

Routine vet check-ups 

This is the most important preventative care measure for just about any possible condition. Your vet can assess your cat’s health over time, keeping a careful eye out for any possible underlying conditions that could contribute to cataract formation. (Plus, keeping up with vet appointments gives vets a baseline to assess your cat against—because every cat is different and unique!) 

Diet and nutrition 

While there is no singular diet plan that eliminates your cat’s risk of cataracts, it’s good to construct a diet with your cat’s eye health in mind. Vitamins C, E, and K can be helpful in reducing the risk of cat eye dysfunction in general and can promote your cat’s overall well-being. 

Eye care and maintenance 

If your vet recommends preventative eye care, medications, or a visit to the feline ophthalmologist, be sure to keep up with the regimen. They know how to help your cat using evidenced-based strategies that are proven to help, and can keep your cat as comfortable and functional as possible—no matter where they are vision-wise.

Frequently asked questions

Are cataracts painful for cats? 

Cataracts aren’t really painful—but the effects can be disorienting and uncomfortable for your feline friend. Intervention can help to preserve what’s left of their vision and keep them comfortable. 

How quickly do cataracts progress in cats? 

Progression is entirely individual and depends on the cat, as well as any other factors involved in the case (such as age or underlying conditions). Your vet can determine the best possible course of treatment for your pet based on what they observe. 

Do cataracts require a vet to fix? 

Your vet is your best resource to help your feline who has cataracts. They can recommend surgery, medication or additional intervention to help  preserve your cat’s health. 

How do you know if cataracts are worse? 

Generally, the more opacity you can see, the more severe your cat’s cataracts might be. Your vet can work with you to determine stage and severity. 

When should cataracts be removed? 

Cataracts can be removed at any stage of development. Your vet can determine the timing and strategy that is the least risky for your pet’s specific case.