Everyone knows the annoying feeling of having something in your eye. This irritating feeling can be caused by a common eye problem known as conjunctivitis—which is sometimes referred to as “pink eye.” Pet owners should be aware that conjunctivitis is also common among cats and dogs and there are simple ways to identify this condition so appropriate treatment can be obtained.
According to Dr. Lucien Vallone, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, some of the most common signs of conjunctivitis in dogs and cats include mild redness in the white of the eye, swelling in the eyelids, eye discharge or tearing and squinting. Some pets may even scratch their face in an attempt to relieve the eye irritation.
“The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that lines the surface of the eye and eyelids and covers the white of your eye,” Vallone explained. “This mucous membrane provides a barrier to infections and also creates a portion of your tears. When this tissue becomes inflamed, it is known as conjunctivitis. Common causes of conjunctivitis in cats and dogs include allergies and certain bacteria and viruses.”
Specifically, cats may develop conjunctivitis after contracting the feline herpesvirus—a virus that is known to cause upper respiratory infections in cats, similar to the common cold. Vallone said this virus is extremely prevalent in cats and can flare up any time a cat is stressed, such as when new cats are added to a household. In comparison, dogs often develop conjunctivitis as they mature through adolescence. Veterinarians most often attribute this type of conjunctivitis to viruses or allergies.
Routine puppy and kitten vaccinations can drastically reduce the risk of viral conjunctivitis in cats and dogs, Vallone said. To further decrease your dog or cat’s risk, limit their exposure to other animals that are displaying signs of eye disease and may have infectious conjunctivitis. If you see a pet that has red and inflamed eyes, or any other symptoms that may appear to be a sign of conjunctivitis, try to prevent your pet from coming into contact with them.
“If your pet develops conjunctivitis, there are specific treatments that can be tailored to your pet depending on the underlying cause of the conjunctivitis,” Vallone said. “For example, conjunctivitis associated with feline herpesvirus can be treated with certain antiviral medications paired with methods to reduce stress. This can drastically improve discomfort associated with this specific form of conjunctivitis.”
Just like humans, pets can develop eye irritations and diseases that may cause discomfort. If you notice any signs of conjunctivitis in your pet, or any sign of eye discomfort, see your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan for your pet.