Eyelid Problems and Squinting in Cats

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Eyelid Problems and Squinting in Cats

Blepharitis, or inflammation of the eyelids, primarily occurs when the eyelids are injured during cat fights. Scratches and surface injuries can easily become infected. This leads to itching and scratching, crust formation, and the accumulation of pus and debris on the eyelids.

Blepharitis can also be caused by head mange mites (Notoedres cati), demodectic mange mites, or ringworm infection. Head mange causes intense itching. Because of persistent scratching, there is hair loss, redness, and scab formation. Ringworm affects the hair on the eyelid, causing it to become brittle and break off next to the skin. This is not an itchy condition. The skin may look scaly and crusted but is seldom red or irritated.

Treatment: Protect the eye by instilling mineral oil, and then loosen the scabs by soaking them with warm compresses. Keep the eye clean and seek veterinary attention. Antibiotics, topical or oral or both, may be required for infected eyelids.


Spasm of the muscles around the eye is induced by pain. This can have numerous causes, including irritation from a foreign body. The irritation causes tightening of the eyelid muscles, which partially closes the eye and rolls the eyelids inward against the cornea. Once rolled in, the rough margins of the lids rub against the eyeball, causing further pain and spasm.

Treatment: Anesthetic drops can be applied to the eyeball to relieve the pain and break the cycle. The relief is temporary if the underlying irritant is not found and removed.

Chemosis (Sudden Swelling)

In cats with this condition, the conjunctiva and eyelids are fluid-filled, puffy, and soft. Water has passed out of the circulation into the tissues in response to the allergen.

Sudden swelling of the eyelids and conjunctiva is generally caused by an allergic reaction. Insect bites and allergens in foods and drugs are the most common causes.

Chlamydophila and viral infections may also cause swelling, but it is primarily of just the conjunctiva.

Treatment: This is not a serious problem. It is of short duration and improves when the allergen is removed. Simple cases may be treated with drops or eye ointments prescribed by your veterinarian that contain a corticosteroid. Some cats may need systemic treatment for the allergic reaction, such as a corticosteroid or an antihistamine.

Foreign Bodies in the Eye

Foreign material such as dust, grass seed, dirt, or specks of vegetable matter can become trapped behind the eyelids and nictitating membranes. Although this is more common in cats who go outdoors, indoor cats may get hairs or dust in their eyes and on their corneas, as well. The first indication is tearing and watering, along with signs of irritation such as blinking and squinting. The third membrane may protrude to protect the irritated eye.

Treatment: You might be able to see a foreign body on the surface of the eye or behind the upper or lower eyelid. If not, the foreign body may be caught behind the third eyelid, and the cat will need a topical eye anesthetic before you can lift up the eyelid and remove the foreign matter. This is something your veterinarian should do, especially if your cat is not cooperative with being restrained.

For dirt and loose debris in the eye, hold the eyelid open and flush the eye with artificial tears, a sterile saline eye solution, or cool water for 10 to 15 minutes. Soak a wad of cotton and squeeze it into the eye, or drop it into the eye from the bottle of solution. If a foreign body can be seen but cannot be removed by irrigation, you may be able to remove it by gently swabbing the eye with a moistened cotton-tipped applicator. The foreign body may adhere to it.


This condition, in which the eyelid rolls in, occurs sporadically as a hereditary defect in Persians and related breeds, but it can occur in any cat because of scarring of the lower lid following a bout of purulent conjunctivitis or a lacerated eyelid. The rolled-in lid produces eye irritation with tearing and severe squinting.

Treatment: Entropion can be corrected surgically.


In cats with this condition, the lower eyelid rolls out from the face, exposing the surface of the eye to irritants. It may be caused by a birth defect, but in most cases it is due to an improperly healed laceration of the lid. This condition is less common than entropion.

Treatment: Surgery may be necessary to tighten the lid and protect the eye.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.

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Reviewed on 12/3/2009 11:30:09 AM

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