Think Your Cat Has An Eye Infection? 5 Possible Causes

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7 min read
7 min read

Updated - Jan 31st, 2023

Key Points

  • Eye infections in cats can range from mild to severe, and sometimes point to a deeper health issue
  • Symptoms of cat eye infections might include redness, puffiness, and discharge in the eyes
  • Cat eye infections can be caused by anything from allergies, to pink eye, to feline herpes virus and more
  • If you think your cat has an eye infection, reach out to your primary vet for guidance

Eye infections in cats are very common, with some mild infections easily clearing up on their own, and others more serious indicating an underlying illness.

Knowing the most common causes and symptoms for cat eye infections can help you prevent them – or quickly deal with them – if your cat is suffering from red or gunky eyes.

What are the symptoms of a cat eye infection?

If your kitty is displaying one or more of these symptoms, they could be suffering from an eye infection:

  • Redness
  • Puffiness of one or both eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Discharge
  • Cloudiness
  • The nictating membrane a.k.a. the third eyelid is prominent

Let’s look at some common types of eye infections in cats, and their causes. 

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Common causes of cat eye infections


Cats can have allergies just like humans do! Allergies can come from many sources and need a vet’s diagnosis to confirm them.

Common allergens:

  • Fleas
  • Pollen
  • Chemicals
  • Smoke
  • Shampoo
  • Ear mites and other parasites


  • Watery or runny eyes or nose
  • Excessive itching or scratching
  • Sudden snoring due to inflammation in the back of the throat
  • Sneezing

Diagnosis & Treatment:

  • Skin tests and cultures to rule out bacteria, fungal infections, or parasites
  • Allergen tests to determine the type of allergy
  • Eye stains, ocular exams
  • Eye drops or ointments may be prescribed to decrease inflammation


Conjunctivitis aka pink eye is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is all the tissue around the eye that is normally pink. In a cat, you shouldn’t really see conjunctiva unless there is a problem with it, and if the conjunctiva is inflamed by foreign bodies, infection, or injury, then the eye will appear red, puffy, and irritated. Whether the Conjunctivitis is bacterial, viral, or fungi-based, it can be cleared up quickly with a vet visit, diagnosis, and treatment.



  • Whites of the eyes are red and possibly swollen
  • Frequent blinking or rubbing of the eyes 
  • Squinting
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Eye discharge that is white, yellow, or green
  • Third eyelid covering part of the eye 

Diagnosis & Treatment: 

  • Ocular tests, including ocular staining to check for corneal ulcers on the surface of the eye, ocular pressure testing to check for glaucoma, ocular exam, and possibly culture to determine the origin of the infection
  • Blood or urine samples to assess overall health 
  • Eye drops or topical ointments applied to the eyes to reduce inflammation and heal the eyes
  • Surgical removal of any foreign bodies such as corneal ulcers
  • Oral antibiotics or anti-viral medications may be prescribed if an infection is present

Feline Herpesvirus (FHV-1)

Most cats have at one time or another been exposed to Feline Herpesvirus – it is very common. Some cats will show symptoms for the virus, whereas other cats will be carriers and show no symptoms because the virus lies dormant in their systems.

The virus can activate at any time, especially when a cat is stressed. Unfortunately, there’s no cure, but FHV-1 can be managed to make the cat more comfortable and minimize flare-ups.


  • Upper respiratory symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, or sneezing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcerations

Diagnosis & Treatment:

  • Blood and urine samples
  • Fluorescein eye stain test to detect if an ulcer or injury is present
  • Eye drops or a topical ointment to ease symptoms and heal infections
  • Oral antibiotics or antiviral medications to treat an upper respiratory infection if present
  • Lowering stress to prevent reactivation of the virus
  • Lysine vitamin supplements may help reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with virus flares


Blepharitis is an inflammation and infection of the eyelids. It’s more common in flat-faced cats like Persians and Himalayans, but other breeds of cats can get it, too. It can be caused by allergic reactions (like a flea bite) tumors, trauma to the eyelid, and other conditions like diabetes. Your cat’s own hair can also cause Blepharitis if it irritates their eyes. In addition, if your cat’s eyelid rolls in or out, that can also cause inflammation. 



  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Rubbing or scratching at the eyes
  • Dry or crusty areas around the eyes and discharge
  • Hair may come out leaving leathery or bare areas around the eyes

Diagnosis & Treatment:

  • Examination of the eyelids and surrounding areas to determine the presence and extent of inflammation, plus the cause of the infection 
  • Blood or urine tests and possibly cultures or biopsies to detect if an infection is present
  • Clean around the eyes while they’re healing with cotton balls wet with warm water 
  • Apply warm compresses to the area to help soothe the eyes
  • Get an Elizabethan collar (Blepharitis can be very itchy) to protect the eyes during the healing process and prevent pawing at the eye
  • Topical ointments and eye drops may be prescribed to treat inflammation or infection
  • Oral antibiotics  for bacterial infections, in these cases the underlying cause still needs be addressed for a longer-term solution

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca also known as Keratitis, or more simply, dry eyes can be a secondary bacterial infection of FVH-1, but can also crop up with Conjunctivitis, allergies, or for genetic reasons. 

Tears have antibacterial properties in them and protect the eyes by flushing irritants and providing lubrication. Having a dry eye condition is very uncomfortable and can cause severe issues if not treated. You will need to manage the symptoms to keep your feline buddy comfortable.


  • Excessive blinking
  • Swollen, red, crusty eyes
  • Green goop around eyes
  • Your cat may be reluctant to open their eyes
  • Inflammation of the eyelids
  • Light sensitivity
  • A dull coating or dry look to the cornea or outside of the eye


  • Eye examination to determine if dry eye may be the problem
  • A Schirmer tear test to measure  the percentage of moisture in the eye
  • A fluorescein stain test to check for any ulcers or erosion of the cornea
  • Eye drops may be prescribed to stimulate the production of tears, or antibiotics if an infection is present. Eye lubrication may also be prescribed to provide comfort. 

Cat eye infection FAQs

How can I treat my cat’s eye infection at home?

If your cat’s eyes are irritated and filled with discharge try cleaning their eyes with a damp cotton ball or gauze. This can help provide temporary relief but you’ll want to see your vet if your feline friend’s eye issues persist. Although it can be tempting, try to avoid any over-the-counter eye medication unless your vet prescribes it.


Do cat eye infections go away on their own?

Sometimes, your cat’s eye infection will pass on its own, other times, their eye infection is pointing to a deeper issue such as feline herpes or feline calicivirus. In more severe cases, your vet may prescribe an eye ointment or an antibiotic to help resolve the infection.

Should I take my cat to the vet for an eye infection?

If your cat’s eye is inflamed, red, filled with discharge, or they’re experiencing additional upper respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, you should take your cat to the vet. Even if you don’t think your cat’s eye infection is serious, it certainly doesn’t hurt to give them a call and describe your kitty’s symptoms.

How can I prevent my cat from getting an eye infection?

Be sure to clean your cat’s eyes gently with lukewarm water and a cotton ball to help prevent eye infections. If your cat seems to get recurring eye infections, seek out advice from your vet as there could be a deeper health condition involved.

As you can see, there are many reasons your cat can develop an eye infection. Some are not as serious as others, but all can be treated to keep your kitty comfortable.

If you look at your beloved kitty and their eyes are not as clear and beautiful as they usually are, maybe it’s time to see your vet. A pet insurance plan can help pay for the best treatment possible for unexpected illnesses like eye infections.

Lynn Guthrie

Lynn Guthrie

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!
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