Ulcerative Keratitis in Cats
The cornea — the transparent part of the eye — forms a cover over the iris and pupil. It also admits light to the inside of the eye, making vision possible. A corneal ulcer occurs when deeper layers of the cornea are lost; these ulcers are classified as either superficial or deep. If your cat is squinting or its eyes are tearing excessively, there is a possibility of a corneal ulcer (or ulcerative keratitis).
Symptoms and Types
- Red, painful eye
- Watery eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Rubbing at the eyes with a paw
- Eye may remain closed
- Eye discharge
- Film over the eye
- Trauma — blunt or penetrating
- Tear deficiency
- Cannot close the eyelids completely
- Paralysis of facial nerve
- Foreign body
- Burns from a chemical substance
Wounds are often the cause, usually from playing or scuffling with another cat or with a dog. However, there also may be a foreign object under the eyelid.
Breeds with short faces (i.e., brachycephalic breeds), such as Persians and Himalayans, are more prone to corneal ulcers
Your vet will conduct a thorough eye examination, including an inspection of the eye and cornea. Diagnostic dyes are often used to look for corneal erosions or ulcers. In addition, samples will be collected and cultured for bacteria and fungi — this will also rule out conjunctivitis. Blood tests may be done to rule out any viral infections.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. If the ulcers are deep or are growing, surgery (with hospitalization) may be required and activity will be restricted. Your veterinarian may also put a collar on the cat’s neck to keep it from clawing at its eyes. If the erosion or tumor are superficial, surgery will probably not be recommended. If the ulcer is deep, your veterinarian may take a cotton swab and remove loose layers of the cornea. Any corneal laceration requires immediate treatment and repair. An incision is sometimes made into the cornea for purposes of repairing it.
Antibiotics and other cat medications will be prescribed and are applied topically onto the eye, including those used to stimulate tear production. Inflammation and pain may be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. In certain cases contact lenses may be inserted to reduce eyelid irritation; this can sometimes substitute for surgery.
Living and Management
Follow your veterinarian's instructions. Activity should be limited during the treatment and healing period. If the ulcer in the cornea is superficial, it should heal in about a week with proper care. If is more serious, it may require extensive treatment and/or surgery, in which case the cornea will need about two weeks to heal after the surgery.