Uveitis in Cats

Key Takeaways

The uvea describes the internal structures of the eyeball. Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, and has a number of underlying causes.  

• Urgent care is required for any cat that develops symptoms of uveitis, as the condition is often painful and can result in vision loss

• Feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) are among the most common causes of uveitis in cats

• A diagnosis of uveitis is made during an ophthalmic exam, and additional testing may be necessary to determine the underlying cause

• Treatment targets both the relief of inflammation and the underlying cause

• In rare cases, surgical intervention is required

A Closer Look: What is Uveitis in Cats?

The uvea describes the internal structures of the eyeball and includes the iris and the ciliary body behind it as well as the choroid body in the rear of the eye.

Anterior uveitis occurs at the front of the eye, resulting in visible reddened irritation, corneal edema, and dry eye. Posterior uveitis is more difficult to see, as it originates towards the back of the eye. It can cause the pupil and iris to appear to bulge.

Uveitis often develops alongside serious medical conditions such as FeLV, FIP, injuries, infections, or poisoning. Uveitis itself is often not as concerning as these other conditions. Prompt veterinary assistance is warranted to identify the underlying cause and intervene early in an effort to prevent complications like loss of vision.

Risk Factors

Uveitis can cause pain and vision loss. Symptoms of progressing eye disease include:

• Pawing at the sore eye

• Squinting

• Excessive or abnormal blinking

• Avoiding bright lights (photophobia)

• Bumping into walls/furniture

• Difficulty navigating stairs

Vision loss in cats may be difficult to detect unless both eyes are affected. Since uveitis is often associated with other infectious diseases, cats with a higher risk of these infections- such as outdoor, unaltered, and unvaccinated animals- are also at higher risk of uveitis. Uveitis is also associated with other ocular conditions, such as cataracts or a displaced (luxated) lens.

Possible Causes

Uveitis has a variety of potential causes, although it is not always possible to determine. Infections, including FeLV, FIV, and FIP are among the most common causes, although other viral, bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infections can also result in uveitis. 

Other causes include:

Diabetes mellitus

Chemical burns

• Injury

Corneal ulcers (ulcerative keratitis)

• Reaction to medication

• Parasites, including toxoplasmosis and cuterebriasis

• Fungal infections like histoplasmosis and blastomycosis

• Bacterial infections like actinomycosis and bartonellosis

• Tumor of the eye

Main Symptoms

Symptoms of uveitis can occur gradually (chronic) or quickly (acute). 

Primary symptoms include

• Red eye • Watery, bloody, or pus-like eye discharge 

• Pupil constriction • Pupil dilation • Unequal pupils

Cloudy eye • Change of iris color

Testing and Diagnosis

While an ophthalmic examination identifies uveitis, other diagnostics are often necessary to determine the underlying cause. These include a physical examination, urinalysis,  diagnostic imaging, and bloodwork.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment for uveitis focuses on reducing pain and inflammation, and preserving vision. Topical and oral steroidal and anti-inflammatory medications are the most common treatments. 

When possible, treatment will be targeted at the underlying condition causing uveitis.

The prognosis for uveitis is variable, depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. In mild cases of uveitis, the condition may improve within the days of treatment. Follow up monitoring may be required for weeks. The prognosis for severe uveitis is more guarded, and may require surgical removal of the affected eye.

Prevention

Due to the variety of different conditions which may result in uveitis, it is difficult to reliably prevent it. Indoor lifestyle and current vaccination helps avoid injury and exposure to infectious diseases associated with uveitis. Uveitis is not contagious, but conditions which result in uveitis may be. Routine health screening aids in early detection and maximizes outcomes.

Is Uveitis Common in Cats?

Uveitis alone is not a common condition affecting cats, but it is common alongside other ocular conditions.

Typical Treatment

• Anti Inflammatory medication

• Pain killers

• Steroids

• Treatment of underlying cause

• Surgery

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