Corneal Ulcer Treatment for Cats

The cornea is the clear part on a mammal’s eyeball that allows light into the pupil, and it is common for cats to get scratches on their corneal tissue. A corneal ulcer is when the cat’s cornea has been heavily damaged, with a relatively sizable erosion of the corneal tissue. If a feline corneal ulcer is left untreated for too long, the eroded area continues to grow, and complications could lead to a permanent loss of the cat’s eyesight.

Causes of Corneal Ulcers in Cats

While corneal ulcers in cats can be the result of a physically traumatic event for the cat’s eyeball, the most common cause is a lack of tears. Tears are the lubricant that allows the eyelid to slide over the eye without damaging it, so if a cat does not produce enough of them, there's too much friction between the cornea and the eyelid. Over an extended period, the cat’s eyelids slowly erode the delicate corneal tissue, resulting in an ulcer. Certain bacterial and fungal infections have also been known to deteriorate the feline cornea.

Symptoms of Feline Corneal Ulcers

Because of how irritated and painful an ulcerated feline cornea can be, affected cats tend to secrete a lot of tear fluid and squint their damaged eye in a reflex called blepharospasm. Corneal ulcers are also itchy for most cats that suffer from them, so they will rub their ulcerated eye with a paw. This makes the problem worse, because it causes further irritation and damage to the cornea. The extra irritation gives rise to more symptoms, including accumulation of discharge at the corner of the eye, and swelling of the blood vesicles in the eye. If the ulcers are a result of an infection, the microbes can erode beyond the first few layers of corneal tissue, and when most of the cornea has been eroded away, a bulge called a descemetocele can form in the center of the ulcer. If this bulge bursts, the contents of the eyeball will spill out and the eye will collapse.

Treatment of Corneal Ulcers

The exact treatment for a feline corneal ulcer depends on three factors:

  • How long the ulcer has been present
  • How deep into the cornea the ulcer penetrates
  • What the root cause of the ulcer is

Most treatments include the administration of the drug atropine, which dilates the pupils and eases ocular pain. Antibiotics are often applied directly to the cat’s affected eye to treat an already present infection, or prevent future infection.

Unfortunately, there is little anyone can do to repair ocular tissue, so feline corneal ulcer treatment usually does little to repair the damage already sustained. Treatment instead focuses on prevention of further damage. Preventative measures include:

  • Protection of the cornea using lubrication
  • Protection of the eye against infection
  • Limiting scar formation

If the ulcer is deep enough to cause a descemetocele, more aggressive treatment must be administered. A flap of membrane attached to the eye, called conjunctivae tissue, is surgically grafted onto the ulcerated area. This graft will protect the cornea until it is healed sufficiently, and then it will be removed.

Corneal ulcers are one of the most painful and disheartening medical conditions that a cat can experience. If you notice a corneal ulcer on your cat, do not waste time in seeking treatment, because the ulcers can get progressively worse over time.