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How do I know if my cat is going blind?

Similar to people, many cats suffer from blindness due to disease, injury, trauma, or other causes. Today, our Renton veterinary ophthalmologists share a few signs of blindness in cats and list the conditions that can cause loss of vision. We also explore treatment options and prevention methods.

Is my cat blind?

Blindess in cats varies in severity and can include partial or full blindness, and may occur gradually or suddenly. Health issues such as tumors, viruses, retinal degeneration, trauma, and other factors can contribute to a decrease in feline and eye health, and even blindness. This may also lead to noticeable symptoms, which we'll discuss below. 

Signs & Symptoms of Blindness in Cats 

Sometimes, cat parents will call our veterinary ophthalmologists to ask, "How can I tell if my cat is going blind?"

Regardless of what's causing your cat's blindness, there are a number of symptoms to watch for if you are concerned that your cat is experiencing blindness: 

  • Uneven or very wide pupils 
  • Changes in the appearance of the eye, such as cloudy eyes 
  • Disorientation and bumping into objects, especially in low light 
  • Walking slowly or cautiously with their legs wider apart than usual (some cats will walk close to a wall and use it as a guide)
  • Having problems finding familiar items such as food bowls and litter trays 
  • Not wanting to go out at night, if they spend time outdoors 
  • Behavioral changes, such as hiding away or becoming nervous 
  • Reluctance to jump or misjudging a jump 

Gradual or Sudden Vision Loss 

Blindness may develop gradually or suddenly depending on the cause

Gradual Vision Loss 

Cats that loose their sight gradually often adapt and are able to lead normal, happy lives by using their sense of hearing. They are often able to navigate their surroundings. Their whiskers also serve an important function, as they are finely tuned to guide a cat through their daily functions, such as navigating their environment. They provide additional sensory input, similar to antennae on insects. 

Sudden Vision Loss 

Cats that experience sudden blindness often struggle, and typically take longer to adapt. Symptoms of this type of blindness will be much more obvious. If your cat has suddenly lost their vision, it's important to consider their quality of life when planning treatment and management with your vet. 

Common Causes of Blindness in Cats 

Similar to people, cats can become blind due to disease, injury, trauma, and other causes. Here are some common eye conditions that can cause vision loss and blindness in cats: 

Conjunctivitis

The most common feline eye disorder is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of a cat's eyelids and coats the outer surface of the eyeball). Many cats will experience at least a mild case of this condition at some point in their lives. 

Cataracts 

The term cataract refers to an increase in the opacity of the lens of the eye. When a cataract develops, the normally clear lens develops an opaque or cloudy appearance that interferes with the ability of light to reach the retina. This can significantly impact a cat's vision depending on the severity of the cataract. 

Glaucoma 

Glaucoma is a painful eye condition that develops due to increased pressure on your cat's eyes. Caused by a failure of the eye's drainage system, it can strike suddenly and quickly, and lead to blindness if left untreated. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) 

Similar to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, the cause of AIDS in people), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) attacks and weakens the immune system. There is no cure for the condition. There are different strains of FIV, and some may be more harmful than others. 

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

One of the most common infectious diseases in cats in the United States, feline leukemia virus (FeLV) typically affects cats that are experiencing other conditions. It can cause a variety of potential eye issues, including chronic anterior uveitis (inflammation of one or more of the structures making up the uvea, the part of the eye comprised of the iris, the ciliary body, and the choroid) and conjunctivitis. There is no known cure for this virus.  

Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIP)

Associated with the viral infection feline coronavirus, feline infectious peritonitis is a severe, usually fatal disease. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that primarily cause respiratory infections. Cats of all ages and either sex can develop FIP. However, the disease is most frequently diagnosed in cats aged six months to two years old. 

Though the disease can occur in any breed, purebred cats, including Abyssinian, Bengal, Birman, Himalayan, Ragdoll, Persian, and Rex breeds, are most likely to be affected. 

Feline Herpesvirus (FHV-1) 

Feline herpesvirus is a viral infection that's unique to cats. While it's not contagious to dogs or people, it is a highly contagious among cats and kittens who are housed with other cats.

Many kittens are affected by their mothers early in life and the virus is common in both shelter cats and cats obtained via a breeder. Infection is passed through direct contact with nasal and ocular secretions, or from the virus on common surfaces such as bedding and bowls. It can cause severe inflammation of the eyes and nose. 

Retinal Detachment & Hemorrhages

Retinal detachment is a separation between the neurosensory retina and the underlying layer. Retinal hemorrhage is bleeding within the retina or pooled in front or behind the retina. While there are some forms of treatment, retinal detachment may lead to permanent blindness. 

Toxoplasmosis 

Caused by the protozoal parasite Toxoplasma gondii, this relatively common disease is generally mild.However, symptoms vary depending on which organs become affected, and may go unnoticed in cats who appear healthy. These symptoms can include behavioral changes, weakness, neck pain, seizures, weight loss, fever, and vision loss. 

Cryptococcosis

Cryptoccoccosis is a systemic fungal disease that often affects the respiratory tract (especially the nasal cavity), skin, central nervous system, and eyes. It is caused by the infection-containing spores of the fungi Cryptococcus complex. Cryptococcosis occurs when a cat breathes in infectious fungi spores, which are naturally present in the environment and can be found in animal tissues in yeast form. 

Central nervous system cryptococcosis can cause severe changes, such as spinal or head pain, seizures, and sudden blindness. 

Treatment & Prevention of Blindness in Cats 

Treatment of the conditions described above will depend on your cat's specific needs and circumstances. In cases that require further medical intervention, treatments may include topical treatments, systemic medications, surgery, and palliative care. 

Your veterinary ophthalmologist can also recommend environmental adaptations to help your cat maintain quality of life. Enrichment, including increased verbal interaction with your cat, maintaining furniture arrangements your cat is familiar with, engaging their other senses (such as touch and hearing), and keeping a close eye on them if they are in dangerous or unfamiliar environments are all essential to helping manage blindness in cats. 

Early detection and prevention of serious eye conditions and diseases are also key to helping your cat maintaining their eye health. Remember to schedule routine exams with your primary care veterinarian and mention any issues you have been noticing regarding your cat's ocular or overall health.

For eye issues that require specialized care, our board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists can perform eye exams to diagnose and treat a variety of eye conditions. 

Note: Northwest Animal Eye Specialists specializes in treating eye conditions and illnesses. The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Do you have questions about how to tell if a cat is going blind? Contact our Renton vets to book a consultation with a veterinary ophthalmologist.

New Patients Welcome By Referral

Northwest Animal Eye Specialists is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the eye health of animals. Talk to your vet today about getting a referral to our clinics serving patients from Renton, Kirkland, and the surrounding areas.

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