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Cat with eye infection

The essentials

  • Recognize cat eye inflammation promptly – Early detection of symptoms like swollen eyes, squinting, or excessive tearing can prevent serious vision problems and discomfort in your cat.
  • Seek immediate veterinary help – If you notice any signs of inflammation in your cat’s eye, don’t delay in consulting a vet. Timely medical intervention is crucial to maintaining your cat’s eye health.
  • Understand the importance of the cornea – The cornea is the clear “window” at the front of your cat’s eye, essential for vision. Some conditions that cause inflammation may involve the cornea. Keeping it healthy is key to ensuring your cat’s overall eye comfort and health.

A cat’s eyes aren’t just a window to their soul but also to their overall health. And just like us, cats can experience a variety of eye health issues, including inflammation. Eye inflammation in cats can occur due to various reasons, some of which may signal underlying health issues that need immediate attention.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the signs and symptoms of eye inflammation in cats, its possible causes, and the steps you can take to ensure the very best eye health for your cat.

Signs and symptoms of swollen eyes in cats

Some ways eye inflammation in cats can manifest might be easy to overlook if you’re not paying close attention. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

  • Visible eye swelling. You may notice visible swelling or redness around one or both eyes.
  • Behavioral changes. Your cat may blink, squint, or paw at their eyes. They may also be more lethargic or uncharacteristically aggressive.
  • Changes in eating and drinking habits. Cats experiencing discomfort from an eye problem may not eat or drink as much as usual.

Possible causes of swollen eyes in cats

From minor irritants to serious, but rare, health conditions, here are some causes for eye inflammation in cats.


Conjunctivitis in cats, also known as “pink eye,” is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye. In cats, this condition can cause red, swollen, and watery eyes. Your cat may frequently blink or squint, and the eyes may appear glossy.


Cats, like humans, can have allergic reactions to various substances, resulting in eye inflammation and/or allergic conjunctivitis. If your cat has allergies, you may notice itching, redness, and swelling in the eyes. They may also have a clear discharge from the eyes and may frequently paw at them due to discomfort.

Injury to the eye

Physical trauma to the eye, such as scratches or punctures, can lead to inflammation. Signs of an eye injury in cats include visible discomfort, excessive blinking, watering of the eye, or even keeping the eye closed. There may also be visible signs of injury such as scratches or blood.


Eye infections in cats can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Symptoms of an eye infection include redness, swelling, and a thick, possibly colored, discharge. The cat might also blink excessively or keep the affected eye closed.


Glaucoma is a serious eye condition that results from increased pressure in the eye. It can cause visible swelling, redness, and pain. Your cat’s eye may look larger than normal, and the cornea may appear cloudy. The cornea is like a clear window at the front part of your cat’s eye. It lets light in so they can see and when damaged from a condition like glaucoma, it can make your cat’s vision blurry or hurt their eye.

Eye tumors

Eye tumors are growths that occur in or around the eye. Symptoms can include visible lumps or bumps, changes in the color of the eye, swelling, and sometimes, vision loss. If the tumor is large, it may cause the eye to bulge out noticeably.

The conditions listed above are some of the most common reasons for eye inflammation in cats. In addition to these, there are three others that are considered less common but may still be the cause of your cat experiencing a swollen eye: feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, and feline leukemia virus.

Feline herpesvirus

Feline herpesvirus, or feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) , is a common cause of respiratory disease and eye issues in cats. Symptoms can include redness and inflammation of the eye, watery or cloudy discharge, and frequent blinking or squinting. The cat may also show signs of respiratory distress such as sneezing or nasal discharge.

Feline calicivirus

Like feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus (FCV) also starts as an upper respiratory infection in cats. It can cause painful sores in your cat’s mouth, corneal ulcers, sneezing, sudden lameness, runny nose, and teary eyes.

Feline leukemia virus

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus that can cause a variety of health problems in cats, including eye inflammation. Cats with FeLV might have red, swollen eyes with discharge. Other symptoms can include weight loss, poor appetite, and lethargy.

Diagnosing a swollen eye in a cat

During diagnosis, your vet will first conduct a thorough physical examination of the cat, focusing particularly on its eyes. They’ll assess the overall appearance of the eye, checking for redness, discharge, foreign bodies, and any visible injuries.

The vet will also observe the cat’s behavior, noting any obvious signs of pain or unusual blinking patterns. If the cause of the swelling is not immediately apparent from the physical exam, your vet may order and perform additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause.

  • Fluorescein stain. This test involves applying a dye to the eye that can reveal corneal ulcers or scratches.
  • Schirmer tear test. This measures tear production in the cat’s eye, which can help diagnose conditions like dry eye.
  • Tonometry. This test measures the pressure inside the cat’s eye which is useful for diagnosing glaucoma. Your vet may need to refer to an eye specialist for this test.
  • Bacterial culture and sensitivity test. If an infection is suspected, your vet may take a sample from the eye to identify the bacteria causing the infection.
  • Blood tests. These can be performed to rule out systemic diseases like feline leukemia virus that can cause eye inflammation.
  • Biopsy. In cases where a tumor is suspected, a biopsy may be taken to determine the type of growth. If the tumor is in the eye, the entire eye will need to be surgically removed.

Treatment options for cats with swollen eyes

Treatment will depend largely on the underlying cause of the inflammation. It can range from medication to manage symptoms, natural remedies to soothe irritation, or, in more severe cases, surgical procedures may be necessary. The goal is always to preserve your cat’s vision and ensure their overall health and comfort.

Here are some potential treatment options:

  • Medication. This could include antibiotics for bacterial infections, antiviral drugs for viral infections, or steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation. Pain medication such as eye drops or ointments may also be prescribed to alleviate discomfort.
  • Natural remedies. Certain natural remedies, such as saline washes or chamomile tea soaks, may be used to gently soothe your cat’s eyes. Always consult your vet before trying any home remedies to ensure they’re safe for your cat.
  • Surgical options. In severe cases where the eye is significantly damaged or if there is a tumor, surgery may be required. This could involve removing foreign objects, repairing injuries, or, in extreme cases, removing the eye (also called enucleation).
  • Supportive care. This might include keeping your cat’s eyes clean by gently wiping away any discharge with a damp cloth, ensuring they’re comfortable and well-fed, and minimizing stress.

Possible complications of swollen eyes in cats

If left untreated, a swollen eye in a cat can lead to several complications that can impact the cat’s quality of life. The most serious complication is vision loss, which can occur if the inflammation damages the structures of the eye responsible for sight. Vision loss can be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the condition and how quickly it is treated.

Chronic eye issues may also develop, which can lead to persistent discomfort and more bouts of inflammation for your feline friend. These can require ongoing treatment and management, placing stress on both the cat and their owner. Here are some potential complications of untreated inflammation:

  • Vision loss. Inflammation can damage the cornea, retina, or other parts of the eye, leading to partial or complete vision loss.
  • Chronic eye issues. Conditions like chronic conjunctivitis or glaucoma can result in recurring episodes of eye swelling and discomfort.
  • Secondary infections. Untreated eye inflammation can make the eye more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections, which can further complicate treatment.
  • Behavioral changes. Persistent discomfort can lead to changes in behavior, such as increased aggression or decreased activity levels.

Preventing swollen eyes in cats

Keeping your cat’s eyes healthy is an important part of pet ownership. Here are some key preventive measures you can implement to keep eye swelling to a minimum.

Schedule regular vet checkups — Regular veterinary exams can help catch any eye problems early before they become severe. Your vet can also provide advice on keeping your cat’s eyes healthy based on their specific needs.

Maintain eye health at home — Keep your cat’s living area clean to reduce exposure to irritants like dust and pollen. If your cat’s eyes appear irritated or have discharge, try cleaning them with a damp cotton ball or gauze.

Lead your cat away from scratching their face — Cats often scratch their faces due to irritation or allergies. Regular grooming, including claw clipping, can help reduce the risk of eye injuries.

Your cat’s eyes may swell up due to different health problems. It’s important to treat this quickly because it can lead to big problems like loss of sight or lasting eye troubles. There are many ways to help a cat with swollen eyes, like giving them medicine, using natural treatments, or sometimes even surgery.

To stop a cat’s eyes from swelling in the first place, owners should take their feline friend to the vet regularly, keep their eyes clean at home, and stop them from scratching their face. By doing these things, we can keep our cats’ eyes healthy and comfortable.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do if my cat’s eye is swollen?

If your cat’s eye is swollen, it’s best to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can figure out why the eye is swollen and provide the right treatment. Don’t try to treat the swelling without professional medical advice, as it could make the problem worse.

Why is one of my cat’s eyes swollen?

There can be many reasons for one of your cat’s eyes to be swollen. It could be due to an infection, an injury, an allergy, or a disease like glaucoma. Your vet will be able to determine the exact cause.

What are the most common causes of eye swelling in cats?

The most common causes of eye swelling in cats include infections (like conjunctivitis), injuries, allergies, and diseases (like glaucoma or uveitis). Less common causes can include tumors or systemic diseases. Diagnosing and treating your cat’s eye infection is critical to protecting their overall eye health.

What home remedies can I try if my cat’s eye is swollen?

While it’s always best to consult with a vet first, there are a few things you can do at home to help comfort your cat. You can gently clean the affected eye with a damp cotton ball to remove any discharge. However, never try to treat your cat’s swollen eye with human eye drops or medication without consulting a vet first.

When should I seek veterinary help for my cat’s swollen eye?

You should seek veterinary help as soon as you notice your cat’s eye is swollen. Even if the swelling seems minor, it’s important to get it checked out to prevent any potential complications. Delaying treatment could lead to serious problems such as vision loss. If your cat is squinting, tearing excessively, pawing at their eye, or showing signs of discomfort, take them to the vet immediately.