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Understanding Cataracts in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

In today's post, our Albany vets delve into the topic of cataracts in cats, signs that pet parents should watch for, and what can be done to help.

What are cataracts?

A cataract is characterized by an increase in the opacity of the lens of the eye. The lens, a structure within the eye composed of protein fibers encased within a capsule, is responsible for focusing light on the retina and allowing clear vision.

If your feline friend begins to develop a cataract, the normally clear lens develops a cloudy or opaque appearance that interferes with the ability of light to reach the retina. Depending on how severe the cataract is, it can have significant impacts on the cat’s vision.

Cataracts can occur in cats of any age, sex, or breed. A genetic predisposition to inherited cataracts has been observed in Himalayas, Birmans, and British Shorthairs.

What causes cataracts in cats?

Any type of damage to the lens of your cat's eye can result in the formation of a cataract.

The most common cause of cataracts in cats is inflammation within the eye, which is often described as uveitis. This can occur as a result of several underlying disease processes. Uveitis can lead the body’s immune system to recognize the lens as a foreign material, contributing to the formation of cataracts. Other causes of cataracts in cats include:

  • Inflammation Within The Eye
  • Genetic or Hereditary Factors
  • Trauma to the Eye
  • Metabolic Diseases, Such as Diabetes or High Blood Pressure
  • Nutritional Imbalances
  • Radiation Exposure
  • Cancer
  • Infections Such as Viral, Bacterial, Fungal, or Protozoal

How can I tell if my cat may have cataracts?

Cataracts are often detected early in their development, during a cat's routine annual checkup. These cats may not be showing signs of cataracts at home, because cataracts have not yet progressed to the point that they are affecting the kitty’s vision.

Cats with more advanced cataracts will likely show behavioral signs of failing vision or blindness such as moving more slowly, becoming less agile, bumping into familiar furniture, or appearing to have difficulty finding their food bowl or litterbox. Your cat may also become disorientated if you move furniture around or move house.

Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes. Be sure to monitor your cat's overall appearance. Look for changes in the color of your cat's eyes or a cloudy appearance. If you notice any changes to how your cat's eyes look, it's time to head to the veterinarian.

It is important to note that not all hazy eyes are caused by cataracts. As cats age, the lens often develops a cloudy appearance due to an aging change known as nuclear sclerosis or lenticular sclerosis. Your vet will be able to examine your cat's eyes and determine if cataracts are the issue.

Cataracts in Cats - Pictures

How Are Cataracts In Cats Treated?

In many cases surgery can be an effective treatment for cataracts in cats, helping to preserve your feline friend's vision. This surgery involves breaking down and removing the cataract (a process known as phacoemulsification), then replacing the lens of the eye with an artificial lens.

Unfortunately, cats with significant inflammation within the eye, are not typically good candidates for cataract surgery. At this time there are no medications that can dissolve cataracts or slow their progression. This means that cataracts will persist. Fortunately, cataracts are not painful and cats typically adjust well to blindness.

In cats with untreated cataracts, medications such as corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops are used to decrease the inflammation within the eye. Even though these medications will not affect the actual cataract, it is important to control inflammation to prevent glaucoma (a potential complication of cataracts and inflammation of the eye). Glaucoma does not respond well to medical treatment and often requires the removal of the eye; that's why, treatment for cataracts in cats often focuses on preventing secondary glaucoma.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat showing signs of cataracts? Contact our Albany vets right away to schedule an appointment for your feline friend.

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