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White Birman cat with blue eyes

The Essentials

  • Cats can get conjunctivitis — Just like humans, felines can also get conjunctivitis. Cats can contract it from a variety of sources, including bacteria, viruses, and allergies.
  • Conjunctivitis is not transmissible from cats to humans — However, cat parents in a multi-cat household may accidentally transfer conjunctivitis to other cats by grooming or petting. 
  • Treating conjunctivitis in cats is easy — Conjunctivitis in cats is easily treated with medicated eye drops or ointments prescribed by your cat’s veterinarian.

Conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye,” is a common eye problem in humans, and can also commonly be contracted by dogs and cats. Pink eye is caused by inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the mucous membrane lining the surface of the eye and covers the whites of the eye. Cat conjunctivitis is a common eye infection for felines. It’s even more common for cats who already have the feline herpesvirus, which causes recurring upper respiratory infections in cats.

Causes of conjunctivitis in cats

Feline conjunctivitis can be caused by a number of different sources. The underlying cause of conjunctivitis can include allergic reactions, two types of bacteria, and feline viruses. 

  • Allergic conjunctivitis. Allergens are the most common cause of conjunctivitis in felines. Possible allergic reactions include outdoor or household plants, molds, aerosol spray, cooking smoke or oil, and types of seasonal pollen. Cats may even have allergic reactions to dusty kitty litter or the perfumes emitted from cat litter. 
  • Environmental factors. Environmental irritants like dust and other airborne chemical substances are also among the most common causes of conjunctivitis. 
  • Bacterial infections. Two types of bacteria are the most common causes of bacterial conjunctivitis in cats: feline chlamydophila and mycoplasma.
  • Viral conjunctivitis. Calicivirus is a common viral infection that causes pink eye in cats. Feline herpesvirus can also cause conjunctivitis, particularly if your cat’s immune system is also compromised with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV) .

Symptoms of conjunctivitis in cats

There are several common signs to look out for if your feline friend comes down with conjunctivitis. Some clinical signs are visible and can be assessed by examining the eye, while others are more behavioral changes to look out for in your cat.  

Visible signs

The most obvious sign of pink eye in your cat is redness in the whites of your cat’s eyes and inside of the eyelids. Your kitten will have an obviously sore-looking eye. Your cat may also experience eye discharge or tearing from the eyes and swelling around the eyelids. The discharge may be either watery and colorless or may be a thick mucus with a dark coloring. 

Behavioral changes

Cats with conjunctivitis may also show behavioral changes when infected. Pet parents may notice their kitty is squinting or blinking a lot more than usual. Cats may also keep trying to scratch or paw at their face to relieve irritation. 

Diagnosing conjunctivitis in cats

The first step to determining if your cat may have pink eye is to get your cat to the vet for an official examination and definitive diagnosis. The veterinarian will perform a visual examination of your cat’s eyes and specific tests to determine if they have an infection in the eye. The vet will examine your cat’s eye, eyelid, and third eyelid. Your vet will also be able to assess if your cat does indeed have pink eye, a secondary bacterial infection or another type of feline eye condition.

Treatment options for conjunctivitis in cats

Typically, treating pink eye in felines is pretty straightforward. Occasionally, a cat may require more comprehensive treatments depending on their diagnosis. 

  • Medication and antibiotics. The most common treatment for a cat with conjunctivitis is an anti-inflammatory or anti-viral eye drop or ointment prescribed by your vet. These eye drops are administered at home, typically 3-4 times a day for 2-3 weeks. Other topical medications or antibiotics may also be prescribed, particularly if your cat has or is suspected to have feline herpesvirus.
  • Home care strategies. Pet parents should always get their cat into a veterinarian for an official diagnosis, rather than use home care strategies to treat conjunctivitis. During your vet appointment, cat owners can discuss possible home strategies with their veterinarian to help cats get over their pink eye faster. One home care strategy to keep in mind: multi-cat households should separate the infected feline from the healthy cats to avoid multiple cases of conjunctivitis in your home. The sick kitty should be kept in a separate room until they have fully cleared the infection.
  • Surgical interventions. Surgery isn’t typically required for conjunctivitis unless other more serious eye conditions have been diagnosed.

Preventing conjunctivitis in cats

The best way cat parents can help prevent their kitties from coming down with pink eye is by taking a few simple steps. 

Keep up-to-date on vaccinations — The annual vaccinations your cat receives can also help prevent them from coming down with pink eye. Cats are vaccinated annually for calicivirus , a bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis. Cats may also receive an annual FeLV vaccination if they’re at risk of exposure to feline leukemia. 

Schedule regular check ups — Taking your kitty in for regular vet visits will help ensure your cat’s overall health and wellness for many years to come. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your cat has any conditions that may predispose them to conjunctivitis.

Maintain a grooming routine — Keep your cat well-groomed and clean. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if a cat with recurring conjunctivitis may benefit from special grooming products or routines, such as baths or regular brushing. If you live in a multi-cat household, be sure to separate cats with conjunctivitis from the rest of the house to prevent other kitties from coming down with the infection. 

Manage allergies at home — Keep outdoor cats indoors during high pollen seasons, and limit your cats’ exposure to other possible allergens, such as cleaning products, cigarette smoke or household plants.

Potential long-term effects of conjunctivitis in cats

It’s possible for your kitty to have chronic recurring episodes of conjunctivitis. This is especially common in cats with viral conditions like feline herpes virus, or FeLV (feline leukemia). 

Left untreated, pink eye in cats can lead to more serious complications. Possible complications include scarring in the cornea and/or the conjunctiva. Cats may also develop chronic tearing on the face. In very severe cases, cats can experience a rupture of their eye globes or partial/total vision loss. 

Feline conjunctivitis is a common condition that occurs in many cats throughout their lives. The condition is easily treatable by a veterinarian, and can be prevented through regular checkups and taking precautions in your household to keep your cat from being exposed to irritants. If left untreated, pink eye in cats can lead to more serious eye conditions and even vision loss. Pet parents who suspect their cat may have conjunctivitis should be sure to get their cat in to see their vet immediately.

Frequently asked questions

Will conjunctivitis go away by itself in cats? 

Conjunctivitis may go away on its own, but cat owners should always seek veterinary care when their kitty shows signs of eye discomfort or discharge. In addition to getting treatment, visiting the vet can rule out a more serious eye condition.

How did my cat get conjunctivitis?

Allergens are the most common form of conjunctivitis in cats. Typically dirt or pollen will enter a cat’s eyelid, become trapped, and inflame the eye. Viruses and bacteria can also cause pink eye. 

How can I treat my cat’s conjunctivitis at home? 

Pet parents who see signs of pink eye in their cats should take their kitty to the vet for an official diagnosis. If your cat has recurring conjunctivitis infections, you can possibly help prevent reoccurrence with air purifiers, a vet-approved eye wash for at-home use, or switching up your cat’s diet.