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Recognizing glaucoma in cats

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January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, making it a perfect time to discuss the fact that glaucoma isn't limited to people. Cats (and dogs, and other animals) can develop glaucoma also. But since we generally don't get our cats' eyes checked regularly like we do for our own eyes, we may not realize our beloved furry family members are quietly suffering from this painful condition.

As in people, glaucoma in cats is a buildup of pressure inside the eye. As the pressure builds, it presses on the optic nerve, eventually causing damage. That causes impaired vision and even blindness. It can also push the lens out of place, and cause retinal damage.

There are two types of glaucoma in cats: primary and secondary. Primary glaucoma happens when there's a problem with fluid drainage from the eye, and is rare in cats. On the other hand, secondary glaucoma often comes from another eye condition known as chronic uveitis. Uveitis is an inflammation of the iris and surrounding fibers and structures. Other causes include a displaced lens, a tumor, a cataract, or an injury.

It's important to diagnose and treat glaucoma as quickly as possible. Here is a list of symptoms to watch out for:

  • Redness
  • Squinting/rubbing/other signs of pain in the eye
  • Overly watery eye
  • Enlargement of the eye
  • Pupil that doesn't react to light, or reacts very little
  • Cloudy cornea (like a cataract)

Glaucoma in cats is treated either with medicine or surgery. Medicine is generally used when the underlying cause is inflammation. Its purpose is to reduce fluid production to bring down the pressure in the eye, and also to control inflammation.

A vet will perform surgery when medicine isn't working, or when the cause is something like a displaced lens, a tumor, or when the cat's already lost its vision, but is still in pain. In that last one, removing the eye will improve the cat's quality of life by taking away the pain.

As always, when it comes to your cat's health, prompt care is important. So remember to take her to the vet if you notice any ongoing eye problems. Glaucoma in cats can be just as dangerous and damaging as it is in people. Early detection and treatment is key.

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