cats and eye infections

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Your cat is not really winking at you

Your cat may be great at vocalizing when it’s time for food, but a total flop at speaking up when there’s something wrong with their eyes. That’s why it helps to keep a lookout for unusual behavior, changes in appearance, or weird leakage. A winking or squinting cat isn’t being witty — they’re using body language to let you know it’s time to come see the vet.

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Cats with eye infections may also show other symptoms, like sneezing and runny noses.

Signs and symptoms of eye infections in cats

Because many of eye infection symptoms overlap with other conditions, it’s always your best bet to confirm your suspicions with your veterinary team.

  • Winking
  • Squinting
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Pawing or rubbing at eyes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Red and elevated third eyelid that may partially cover the eye
  • Clear, green, or yellow eyeball discharge

Common causes of cat eye infections

Germs and spores

Some eye infections in cats are caused by infectious agents, which include bacteria, viruses, and even fungal spores. Most commonly, these include

  • Viruses: Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), calicivirus, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Bacteria: Chlamydia, Mycoplasma

See more about vaccinations for cats >

Trauma or disease

There are also many non-contagious causes for kitty eyeball woes.

  • Eye trauma or injury
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the body

How your vet can help

Because so many things could be bugging your cat’s eyeballs, your veterinary team will need some history and perform a detailed eye exam. Here’s what to expect.

  • Be prepared to answer questions about your cat’s symptoms and their medical history 
  • In addition to an eye exam, your veterinary team will also run a complete physical exam to identify signs of an upper respiratory infection or other issues
  • Your veterinary team will take a small sample of eye discharge and perhaps a very thin scrape of cells for testing
  • Additional blood work may be required to confirm your cat’s diagnosis


Never use dog or human eye drops on your cat. The wrong meds could further irritate or damage your kittyBAE’s pretty eyes.

Treating cat eye infections 

Treatment for eye infections depends on what’s causing the infection. While viral eye infections may clear up on their own, bacterial eye infections often require antibiotic eye drops to help recovery along. Your veterinary team will show you how to safely and effectively apply eye meds to your cat’s unhappy eyes. Always complete the full course of any treatment, even if the eye looks better, to help your kitty get back to normal function.

Safety first! If there’s no chance whatsoever your cat will allow you to apply eye meds, don’t force it — stress can make eye infections worse (and claws are sharp!). Ask your veterinary team what they recommend.