Squinting (Blepharospasm) in Cats

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Key takeaways

Blepharospasm is a term that describes repeated, spasmodic movement of the eyelids, commonly referred to as squinting. 

  • Blepharospasm is a broad symptom that is seen as a feature of different underlying diseases in cats, including injury, infection, inflammation, and developmental abnormalities
  • Cats with blepharospasm present with significant, recurrent closure of one or both eyes
  • While all cats blink or squint occasionally, particularly in bright light, true blepharospasm is an obvious, persistent abnormality
  • In many cases cats keep the eyelids of the affected eye completely shut
  • Investigation involves physical and ophthalmic examination
  • Treatment depends on the underlying disease process but often includes topical eye drops or medications such as anti inflammatories, pain relief, steroids, antibiotics, and eye lubricants
  • Prognosis varies; most cases resolve with treatment, but some underlying conditions result in severe disease and loss of the eye
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A closer look: Squinting (Blepharospasm) in Cats

Blepharospasm is a common presentation in cats that normally indicates pain in or around the eye. Severe blepharospasm makes examination of the eye difficult and sometimes conceals severe underlying injury.

Triggers of blepharospasm are rarely life-threatening but are usually painful and require prompt veterinary attention to avoid further damage to the eye and potential blindness.

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Possible causes

Blepharospasm is associated with a number of different conditions.

Risk factors

The severity of blepharospasm varies significantly depending on the severity of the underlying trigger.

Mild disease such as allergic conjunctivitis results in mild symptoms, and sometimes resolves without intervention. Injuries, such as a penetrating foreign body to the eye, results in severe pain and persistent blepharospasm.

Blepharospasm may affect one or both eyes. Injuries normally affect one eye, whereas blepharospasm of both eyes often indicates infections such as calicivirus.

Testing and diagnosis

Investigation of blepharospasm involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Ophthalmic examination, often under sedation for a full examination, and includes fluorescein staining, measurement of intraocular pressure, and measurement of tear production
  • Bloodwork
  • Testing for specific bacteria or viruses

Treatment options vary depending on the underlying disease. Medications may be topical or systemic. Common options include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Steroids
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Lubricants
  • Pain relief

In addition, treatment may include wound management and surgery. In severe cases, surgical removal of the eye may be necessary.

Similar symptoms

Associated symptoms


No Author - Writing for Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital
No Author - Writing for People's Dispensary for Sick Animals
Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Corrina Snook Parsons VMD, CVA - Writing for PetPlace
Kirk N. Gelatt , VMD, DACVO - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Peter Renwick MA Vet MB DVOphthal MRCVS; David Scarff BVetMed CertSAD MRCVS; Dennis Brooks DVM PhD DipACVO - Writing for Vetlexicon

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