A closer look: Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) in Cats
KCS is a rare condition in cats, and symptoms overlap with other, more common ocular conditions, such as conjunctivitis, eye injuries, or a foreign body. Prompt veterinary attention is needed for all signs of eye disease to ensure proper diagnosis before ulcers, permanent scarring, or vision loss occurs.
Since KCS is commonly caused by FHV infection, additional symptoms include nasal discharge, sneezing, lethargy, and appetite loss.
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Severe cases where KCS has resulted in extensive scarring may present with impared vision or blindness. This can manifest by way of the cat bumping into things, or having difficulty navigating different heights (such as stairs).
Complications may occur, especially if the cat is difficult to medicate. KSC can result in loss of vision, chronic pain, and in severe cases loss of the eye.
The cause of KCS is often unknown. Numerous factors can temporarily reduce tear production, such as side effects of medication or sedatives, systemic illnesses, or stress, which complicates diagnosis.
In most cases the condition remains mild and asymptomatic.
Testing and diagnosis
A Schirmer tear test measures tear production and confirms the diagnosis. Affected cats typically undergo a complete physical and ophthalmologic exam as well as blood work to identify any underlying causes.
Steps to Recovery
The goal of treatment for KCS is to stimulate tear production and replace the lost tear film. If the underlying condition which triggered it can be identified, treatment for that may be all that is needed for symptoms to resolve.
Topical antibiotics are commonly used, as are moisturizing eye drops. Artificial tear ointments help moisten the eye, although they are not an appropriate substitute for normal tear production. Surgical intervention may be required.
The prognosis and duration of KCS primarily depends on the underlying condition which triggered it. Some cases of FHV-associated KCS resolve when appropriate anti-herpesvirus therapy is initiated.
The condition may last a lifetime, with treatment focused on symptomatic management.
Return visits to the vet with multiple follow-ups may be required in the weeks and months following treatment, to monitor recovery.
Regular wellness exams for early identification and treatment of conditions that lead to KCS are the most reliable way to avoid serious cases and prevent complications which lead to more severe damage. KCS is not contagious.
Is Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) in Cats common?
KCS is rare in cats.
- Treatment for the underlying condition
- Topical cyclosporine (immune suppressing eye drops)
- Topical antibiotics
- Artificial tear ointments