Eyelash and Eyelid Disorders in Cats

Key Takeaways

Eyelash and eyelid disorders in cats are uncommon. Brachycephalic breeds (those with flat faces) are at higher risk of these disorders. 

• These disorders are almost always congenital, meaning the animal was born with the abnormality

• Abnormal eyelash growth can develop later in life with no known cause

• The most common symptoms are an abnormal appearance to the eyelashes and eyelids, squinting, and tear-staining on the hair under the eyes

• Thorough physical examination leads to diagnosis

• Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and may involve topical eye medications and surgery

• Eyelash and eyelid disorders are not life-threatening, but do have the potential to threaten vision and cause discomfort

A Closer Look: What are 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.

Risk Factors

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.

Possible Causes

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.

Main Symptoms

Eyelid and eyelash disorders typically lead to obvious physical abnormalities including abnormal positioning of the eyelids and eyelashes, squinting, tearing, redness and elevation of the third eyelid. 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.

Prevention

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 Common in Cats?

Eyelid and lash disorders are not common in cats. Brachycephalic breeds are most commonly affected.

Typical Treatment

• Prescription eye drops

• Lubricating eye gels, drops or ointments

• Surgical correction

• Ablation of abnormal hair follicles

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