A closer look: Eyelash and Eyelid Disorders in Cats
There are different types of eyelid and lash disorders in cats.
Entropion and ectropion : the rolling in or out of the eyelid margin. These are most commonly due to anatomical malformations typical of some breeds. The bottom eyelids are more commonly affected than the top. Scarring of the eyelid or damage to the nerves in the muscles around the eyes are other possible causes.
Ectopic cilia: the eyelashes grow in an abnormal location, typically the underside of the eyelid.
Distichiasis: occurs when eyelashes arise from an abnormal location on the eyelid.
Trichiasis: describes eyelashes in a normal location that grow towards the eye.
Lagophthalmos: the inability to fully close the eyelids, resulting in exposure of part of the eye. This condition is very rare in cats, but flat-faced breeds are predisposed due to their shortened skulls. Damage to facial nerves or the eyelids themselves sometimes leads to lagophthalmos.
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Eyelash and eyelid disorders are rare in cats. Prognosis depends on the condition and whether symptoms are chronic or transient. Severe cases can lead to complications such as vision loss, permanent dilation of the pupils, and trouble navigating.
In severe cases, ectopic cilia, distichiasis, and trichiasis lead to deep ulcers in the cornea, which sometimes result in loss of vision, or even loss of the entire eye.
Brachycephalic breeds (those with flat faces) such as Persians and Himalayans, are more prone to eyelash and eyelid disorders. Disorders causing damage to the surface of the eye are more serious than those that are mainly cosmetic in nature, but eyelash and eyelid disorders are generally not emergencies.
Sudden development entropion or ectropion is abnormal and indicates that something has happened to the face or eye, usually an injury. A cat with sudden onset entropion/ectropion and eye discomfort should be assessed by a veterinarian immediately. Injuries to the face causing lacerations of the eyelids are an emergency.
Eyelash and eyelid disorders in cats are generally congenital and due to anatomical abnormalities. The main concern is subsequent exposure of the sensitive and vulnerable eye tissues, and trauma to the cornea caused by abnormal friction against eyelashes.
Eyelid and eyelash disorders typically lead to obvious physical abnormalities.
In cases of lagophthalmos, part of the eye is still visible even when the eyelids are closed. That part of the eye typically has abnormal pigment or scarring from chronic exposure.
Testing and diagnosis
Eyelash and eyelid disorders are diagnosed via physical exam. Magnification aids in assessing eyelashes.
Steps to Recovery
Treatment depends on the condition, the cause of the condition, and complications secondary to the condition. Eyelash conditions causing complications require permanent removal of the abnormal hair follicles, usually by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Eyelid disorders might be managed with topical eye lubricants to protect the eye, but more advanced cases require surgical correction.
Injury to the eyelids themselves often heals quickly but may require surgery and medications.
Eyelash and eyelid disorders in cats tend to be lifelong unless surgically addressed. Many cases do not cause eye irritation, but those that do need medical attention in order to avoid life-long discomfort and trauma to the eye.
Eyelash and eyelid disorders cannot be prevented, since they are most often congenital. Breeders of flat-faced breeds play a role in prevention by not breeding cats born with these disorders or who produce kittens similarly affected. These conditions are not contagious.
Are Eyelash and Eyelid Disorders in Cats common?
Eyelid and lash disorders are not common in cats. Brachycephalic breeds are most commonly affected.
- Prescription eye drops
- Lubricating eye gels, drops or ointments
- Surgical correction
- Ablation of abnormal hair follicles