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glaucoma in cats

The essentials

  • Glaucoma is typically secondary — Glaucoma in cats usually develops due to another illness, such as uveitis or trauma, like an injury.
  • There isn’t a cure — But treatment is possible. Treating glaucoma depends largely on its cause and is, more often than not, lifelong.
  • Some breeds are more prone to it — While primary glaucoma is rare, certain breeds are more likely to have primary glaucoma due to their anatomy.

Glaucoma is a painful eye condition that occurs when the eye’s intraocular pressure (IOP) increases. The cause of this can be due to an anatomical issue — it’s more common in certain breeds, such as Siamese and Burmese. It can also be secondary and a result of another condition. Regardless of the cause, getting a diagnosis and starting treatment early on is the key to successfully treating glaucoma in cats.

Causes and risk factors of feline glaucoma 

Your cat’s eyes are very similar to your own. There’s the sclera (the white portion of the eye), the iris (the color portion of the eye), and the pupil (black and, for your cat, oblong). All of these sit in front of the vitreous chamber. When aqueous humor (the fluid in the anterior chamber) cannot drain or too much is being produced, it’s called glaucoma, and it can be caused in various ways.

Cat eye diagram


Primary glaucoma in cats

In the case of primary glaucoma, the cause is due to an abnormality in the shape of the eye. This typically has to do with the drainage angle, which results in more pressure in otherwise healthy eyes.

Secondary glaucoma in cats

While primary glaucoma is rare, secondary glaucoma in cats is more common. This occurs due to another illness or injury and is most frequently seen in older cats. Some conditions that cause aqueous humor fluids to build up in cats include:

  • Injury or damage. Trauma, like an accidental injury to the eye, or any other kind of damage to the lens and surrounding structure of a cat’s eye can cause glaucoma.
  • Anterior dislocation . When the lens becomes dislocated and falls forward, which blocks the drainage angle, glaucoma can occur because fluid cannot properly drain.
  • Tumors. Tumors within and around the eye can block drainage, leading to glaucoma until the tumor is removed.
  • Intraocular bleeding . Bleeding in the eye can cause a blood clot, which can prevent drainage and cause glaucoma.
  • Uveitis Inflammation or infections of the inner eye can result in scar tissue that blocks the drainage and can lead to glaucoma.

Diagnosing glaucoma in cats 

The signs of glaucoma in cats are subtle, so it’s important to rely on a diagnosis from a veterinarian rather than symptoms. Here’s how your vet may diagnose glaucoma in your cat.

  • Medical history and physical examination. Veterinarians trained to note the subtle signs of glaucoma will look for signs — like cloudiness, redness, or swelling — in a routine physical examination and take into account your cat’s medical history.
  • Special diagnostic techniques for glaucoma. Once your vet suspects that your cat may be suffering from glaucoma, a tonometer will be used to test your cat’s eye pressure. If it comes back higher than normal and has accompanying symptoms, a glaucoma diagnosis is likely.
  • Other diagnostic tests. In some cases, your veterinarian may use a gonioscopy, which determines how efficiently your cat’s eye is draining. In some cases, it may be necessary for your cat to visit a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Treating glaucoma in cats

Treatment for glaucoma in cats depends on the cause, although it isn’t curable regardless of how glaucoma develops. Here are some of the treatment options for glaucoma in cats.

If the trauma was enough to damage the ICA, then the scarring/damage could be permanent. It would have to have been mild inflammation to be reversible.

Dr. Erica Irish

Medical treatments

Once cats receive a glaucoma diagnosis, the first and most important step is to reduce pressure as soon as possible. This prevents further damage to their eye(s). It’s also important to uncover the cause of your cat’s glaucoma, which may require additional medical treatment either by your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Typically with glaucoma in cats, analgesics (anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids) are used to control pain, while other medications reduce fluid production and help with drainage.

Surgical treatments

For some cases of glaucoma, surgery may be necessary. This includes serious cases where cats haven’t responded well to medication. In situations where the disease is irreversible and painful, vets may recommend removal of the eye.

Natural treatments and lifestyle changes

While it may be tempting to try and manage your cat’s glaucoma with natural treatments and making changes to their lifestyle, it’s essential to follow your vet’s guidance. Secondary glaucoma in cats is more common than primary, so managing the condition that caused glaucoma is essential.

Prognosis of glaucoma in cats 

While glaucoma in cats isn’t curable, with diligent care and depending on the cause, cats can have a good quality of life — even if it means losing one eye!

Life expectancy

Glaucoma in cats doesn’t directly impact life expectancy (although the condition that caused it may).  For outdoor cats though, uncontrolled glaucoma can lead to vision loss, which can limit your cat’s life expectancy. Because of this, it’s important to keep your cat indoors and keep the disease under control.

Challenges in managing glaucoma

Given that glaucoma in cats is often caused by another illness, managing both the primary condition and the glaucoma can be a complicated and frustrating challenge for cat owners. Constant medical treatment will be necessary to manage the illness, and in some cases, regardless of medical treatment, blindness may still occur.

Quality of life

If the glaucoma and the primary condition that caused it are well controlled, then your cat’s quality of life can be good. Managing pain and discomfort will be a part of your cat’s ongoing medical care. Despite treatment, surgery to remove one or both eyes may be necessary, but early treatment and prevention can go a long way toward a long, happy life for your cat.

Preventing glaucoma in cats 

Preventing glaucoma in cats can be as simple as a vet visit. Here are some ways to help ensure that your cat has healthy eyes:

Schedule regular vet visits — Annual visits are important for cats of any age or condition. Your vet will look for signs of glaucoma or any other eye issue at these appointments.

Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle — Feeding your cat a healthy diet, particularly as they are developing, promotes healthier eyes throughout their life. Pet parents should also consider keeping their home clear of items that could cause an eye injury.

Stay educated — Medical science is constantly evolving, including veterinary medicine. When it comes to prevention and treatment, stay in the know about glaucoma in cats so that you can catch it early on, avoid breeding cats prone to it, or take steps towards better management.

Support and resources for owners of cats with glaucoma 

For pet parents who have a cat with glaucoma, there are some resources that may be able to help you navigate through the treatment process.

Online forums and support groups

With social media and online communities like CatForum, it’s fairly simple to find support virtually. For example, on TikTok user @picoblindcat has over 252k followers and a cat with a severe case of feline glaucoma. Those with a Facebook profile can also search for local cat groups, or ones in their region, country, or worldwide.

Expert veterinary advice

Ultimately, your vet is the best source of support when it comes to caring for your cat with glaucoma. Be sure to reach out to your vet with changes when you notice them, and ask for guidance on what to watch out for to ensure that your cat’s glaucoma, and accompanying issues, are well controlled.

Financial support and insurance considerations

The cost of caring for glaucoma can vary significantly depending on the cause. Because of this, one of the best ways to offset the expense of glaucoma in cats is with pet insurance. Pet insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, so it’s important to invest early before your cat shows symptoms of glaucoma (or any other condition).

Another way to help with the costs of care is with CareCredit, or by finding charitable organizations that may be able to help.

Glaucoma in cats can be painful, but when caught early on and with proper treatment, it doesn’t have to be a lifelong pain. Each case is different, though, so ultimately a vet visit is essential for your cat’s care and health.

Frequently asked questions

Can a cat live with glaucoma?

With glaucoma in cats, the prognosis depends on the severity and cause. Constant medical attention will be necessary to control the diseases, and in some cases, cats may still go blind or need to have one or both eyes removed.

What is glaucoma in cats and how does it affect their sight?

Glaucoma in cats is an ocular condition characterized by the excessive buildup of fluid pressure within the eye. This pressure can damage the optic nerve, progressively leading to loss of vision and potential blindness, significantly impacting a cat’s sight and overall quality of life.

What are the earliest signs and symptoms of glaucoma in cats that pet owners can recognize?

The earliest signs and symptoms of glaucoma in cats include redness in the eye, excessive tearing, cloudiness of the cornea, sensitivity to light, and the cat frequently squinting or keeping one eye shut. The cat may also show signs of decreased activity or appetite due to discomfort.

Is glaucoma painful for cats?

Yes, glaucoma is painful for cats, although many owners may not recognize the signs of pain. Pet parents should know the subtle signs of glaucoma, and the illnesses that may cause glaucoma in cats, and plan a vet visit should they see symptoms.

What age do cats get glaucoma?

Typically glaucoma in cats develops due to another illness and later in life. Pet parents should watch for signs of illness in their older cats, in addition to cloudiness in the eyes.