What Are Cataracts in Cats?
Cataracts are changes to the clear lens inside the eye, causing it to take on a cloudy appearance. The lens is a translucent disc-like structure inside the eye. The lens helps to focus incoming light in the back of the eye on the retina. This picture is then sent to the brain to allow a cat to see the world around them. When a cataract develops, the lens is not able to focus the light down, leading to vision changes. Sometimes these changes are subtle, as is the case with small cataracts. Large, advanced cataracts may lead to blindness.
Cataracts are more common in senior cats as they age and their lens degenerates over time. They can occur in one or both eyes.
Symptoms of Cataracts in Cats
Cloudy, hazy appearance in one or both eyes
Bumping into furniture
Difficulty finding food or litter box
Reluctance to move around in unfamiliar settings
Causes of Cataracts in Cats
The most common cause of cataracts in cats is chronic uveitis. Uveitis is inflammation inside the eye that can result from an infection, disease, or trauma. Diseases like feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and toxoplasma gondii may increase a cat’s risk of having chronic uveitis and subsequent cataracts. Trauma itself, like a penetrating injury to the eye, can also result in premature cataract formation.
Cataracts can occur in cats of any age. While cats over age 10 more commonly get cataracts as a consequence of aging, younger cats can get them as well. Cataracts can even be diagnosed in some kittens due to malnutrition or an underlying inherited condition. Certain breeds are more predisposed to cataract formation, including Persian, Birman, Siamese, Russian Blue, and Himalayan cat breeds.
Cataracts can also occur in cats undergoing radiation therapy for cancer on their face or head. Some underlying diseases, like high blood pressure and diabetes, have also been linked to cataract formation in cats. In dogs, diabetes is the most common underlying cause of cataracts. In cats, diabetic cataracts are relatively rare.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Cataracts in Cats
Cataracts are diagnosed by an ophthalmic exam of the eyes. Your veterinarian will use an instrument called an ophthalmoscope to look at the lens inside the eye. Cataracts are not the only thing that can cause cloudiness inside the eye. Nuclear sclerosis is a common aging change that can also lead to an opaque color in the eye, but it does not affect vision. Your vet will be able to distinguish between the two conditions and determine with the ophthalmoscope if cataracts are present. This is most easily done in a dark room with the pupil fully dilated.
If your cat is diagnosed with cataracts, your veterinarian will run several tests to rule out any underlying causes. Blood work, a blood pressure measurement, and a urinalysis will likely be recommended to screen for concurrent conditions.
Treatment of Cataracts in Cats
Cataracts can be removed with a surgery called phacoemulsification. This surgery is done by a veterinary ophthalmologist with special equipment that works with precision to break down and remove the old lens and replace it with a new, artificial lens.
While there are no medications that will remove the cataracts, sometimes medications may be prescribed to delay progression of cataracts. This may be achieved by treating any contributing underlying diseases. For example, anti-inflammatory eye drops may be used to manage uveitis and reduce the risk of secondary glaucoma (high pressure in the eye) that can contribute to cataract progression.
Recovery and Management of Cataracts in Cats
In cats who are good surgical candidates, cataracts can be cured with surgical removal. For non-surgical candidates, cataracts can be managed by reducing inflammation in the eye that may lead to secondary problems.
For many cats, cataracts themselves are not painful and may not require any additional management aside from regular monitoring. If an underlying condition like uveitis, high blood pressure, or ocular pressure (glaucoma) is present, your veterinarian may recommend regular follow-up visits to track progression.
Progression of cataracts can vary depending on the cause, how quickly intervention is sought, and the age of the patient. Sometimes cataracts remain small and do not change much over long periods of time, while other cats may experience sudden blindness.
A young kitten with a juvenile cataract that was a consequence of a nutritional deficiency may have very little change to their small cataract and continue to have normal vision as long as their diet is corrected. A senior cat with elevated blood pressure and retinal issues with secondary cataracts may experience sudden blindness from cataract progression and/or retinal detachment. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a better idea of what to expect regarding the timeline, depending on the severity and type of cataract that is diagnosed.
If your cat is diagnosed with cataracts and has lost some vision, it is important that you make sure they have easy access to all of their resources. Avoid putting necessary resources, like food and water, on high or unstable surfaces. Keep the food and water bowls and litter box in the same place, so your cat is not struggling to find them. Prevent access to potentially dangerous areas of the household like staircases or swimming pools. Avoid moving your furniture around and increasing disorientation in your vision-impaired cat.
Remember, cats can live wonderful, full lives even if they do lose the ability to see.
Cataracts in Cats FAQS
At what age do cats typically get cataracts?
Cataracts are most common in senior cats over the age of 10. However, cats of any age can get cataracts in one or both eyes.
What are the early signs of cataracts in cats?
Some pet parents may notice a cloudy appearance inside the eye, while others may observe behavior changes consistent with vision loss.
Featured Image: Adobe/ Angela Schmidt
Help us make PetMD better
Was this article helpful?