Blindness in cats
- There are many different things that can cause a cat to go blind, some are treatable and some are not.
- Sight loss in cats can be gradual or sudden depending on the cause.
- Fortunately, many cats cope well with blindness, especially if they have lost vision gradually and adapted well. Cats who lose their vision suddenly usually find it difficult to adapt quickly.
- If you suspect your cat is losing their sight, contact your vet for advice.
How can I tell if my cat is blind?
Signs to look out for include:
- Changes in the appearance of the eye such as cloudy eyes
- Uneven or very wide pupils
- Disorientation and bumping into things, especially in low light
- Walking slowly/cautiously with their legs wider apart than usual (some cats will stay close to a wall to guide them)
- Reluctance to jump or misjudging a jump
- Hiding away/becoming nervous
- Not wanting to go out at night
- Having trouble finding familiar objects such as a litter tray or food bowls
Gradual or sudden loss of vision
Blindness can develop suddenly or gradually depending on the cause.
Gradual loss of vision - cats that lose their sight gradually often learn to adapt and can lead a normal, happy life (by using their hearing, whiskers, and set routes around the house). Often, they can adapt so well that you may not notice anything different straight away.
Sudden loss of vision - cats that go blind suddenly often struggle, and usually take longer to adapt. The symptoms of blindness will be much more obvious. There are certain things that can help at home when caring for a blind cat (see below). If your cat has suddenly lost their vision, it’s important to consider their quality of life when deciding on a treatment plan with your vet.
There are many different things that can cause blindness in a cat, including:
- Eye injuries – which can happen as a result of cat fights or other penetrating injuries.
- Retinal detachment - when the back of the eye (the retina) comes loose and detaches, common in cats with high blood pressure and kidney disease.
- Uveitis - inflammation inside the eye which can be caused by viruses or trauma.
- Eye infections – severe infections (viral or bacterial) or infections that are left untreated can cause inflammation of the eye and may eventually lead to blindness.
- Bleeding in the eye (hyphaema) - often due to high blood pressure (common in cats with kidney disease).
- Head trauma - blindness can be caused by head injuries for example after road traffic accidents or any blunt trauma to the head.
- Glaucoma - increased pressure inside the eye.
- Breed specific causes for example Abyssinian cats are prone to having retinal atrophy.
- Cataracts – most often seen in older cats and usually causes gradual blindness.
- Optic nerve disease - a problem with the nerve that connects the brain to the eye for example inflammation of the nerve (optic neuritis).
- Brain disease - such as an inflammation, stroke, or tumour.
- Tumours in the eye - tumours in and around the eye can cause blindness.
- Anaesthetic complications - very occasionally, complications under anaesthetic can lead to blindness (this is rare).
As there are many different causes of blindness, the tests your cat might need can vary. An ophthalmoscope (an instrument that can look into the eye) may be used to assess the whole eye (front and back) for issues. Your cat’s blood pressure may be checked using a blood pressure machine similar to how a humans would be checked. Your vet may also use a ‘tonometer’, an instrument, to measure the pressures in your cat’s eyes to check for glaucoma.
Your vet may also suggest doing further tests for example taking a blood sample to see if there are any underlying issues. In some cases, your vet may suggest that your cat has a CT (computerised tomography) scan to check if there are any underlying issues with your cat’s brain.
Blindness is usually permanent but there are some causes of blindness in cats where it may be possible to reverse the blindness if it is caught very early. Your vet will be able to guide you on your cat’s individual prognosis.
If your cat has lost their vision and their eye is still painful, your vet may advise an enucleation surgery, where your cat’s eye is removed to allow them to lead a pain-free life.
Caring for a blind cat
If you’ve been told your cat is losing their sight, or if you’re thinking about adopting a blind cat, there are some simple things you can do to help them adjust.
A lot of owners worry about how their cat will cope with blindness but luckily, most cats adapt really well and continue to live happy lives.
Keep your home the same – don’t make any sudden changes to the layout of your home. Your cat will gradually learn to find their way around furniture and through doorways, so try to keep things the same so you don’t throw them off. (Cats also use their sense of smell and whiskers to help guide them).
If you do need to make a change in your home, guide them around the new layout several times to help them learn the new route through the room. You can also leave a radio playing softly near where they sleep. The sound coming from the same place will help them to orientate themselves.
A blind cat will likely rely more on their sense of hearing so it can be helpful to talk to your cat so they can orientate themselves. It’s always a good idea to talk to them before stroking them or picking them up to let them know you are nearby first.
Keep them indoors – Keeping your blind cat indoors will ensure they avoid any outdoor dangers. Although if possible, a securely fenced garden or fully enclosed run would be a suitable addition to your blind cat’s environment. It’s a good idea to think about where your cat may be able to get access to the great outdoors and have a plan in place for this for example using screens on windows or preventing access to balconies.
Be their lookout in the garden – If they have access to a fenced garden or run, keep a lookout for anything that might be dangerous for your cat, such as low hanging branches, thorns or uneven surfaces. You could try putting up a wind chime near the door to help them 'map' out the area and guide them when they want to come back in.
Keep their litter trays, food, and water bowls in the same places – Moving your cat’s items somewhere new could confuse them. If you need to move their things, guide them to the new locations a few times to help them adjust.
Cat-proof your home – Think about removing any furniture with sharp edges or pad the corners. Make sure wires and other trip hazards are tucked away and your cat can't accidentally bump into anything hot or dangerous, like a wood burning stove or fireplace. Ensure there are no raised surfaces where they can get stuck or fall from.
Try new toys – If your cat has lost interest in their old toys, or is struggling to play the games they used to, make the most of their keen sense of hearing and smell. There are lots of scent-based games you can play with cats, although these might take a bit of training and practice. You can buy toys which you can stuff with tasty treats that your blind cat can sniff out. Rubber balls with a bell inside are great, as the sound helps them to track their play-thing.
Your cat’s outlook will depend on why they have lost their sight, if their health is otherwise affected, and how they cope with their loss of vision. Cats tend to cope well with losing their sight slowly, and can often still lead a long, happy life. However, sudden loss of vision can be extremely stressful and difficult to cope with. If you or your cat are struggling to cope, sadly, there may be some instances where it may be kindest to consider putting them to sleep.
Treatment for eye conditions can become very expensive, so it’s important to speak openly with your vet about the cost of treatment, your finances, and what you think is right for your cat. There is sometimes more than one treatment option, so if one doesn’t work for you/your cat then your vet may be able to offer another.
Consider insuring your cat as soon as you get them, before any signs of illness start. This will ensure you have all the support you need to care for them.
Published: January 2023
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.