Saline Solution for Kitty Eye Infections. Should You Do It?

Causes of Eye Infections in Cats

Some common causes of eye infections in cats include:

  • Viruses – Feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and feline immunodeficiency virus can cause upper respiratory infections that lead to conjunctivitis (pink eye). These viral infections are very contagious between cats. [1]

  • Bacteria – Bacterial conjunctivitis is often secondary to viral infection. Common bacteria include Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Chlamydophila. Bacteria can also infect eyes via scratches. [2]

  • Fungi – Fungal infections are less common but can occur, especially in immunocompromised cats. Candida albicans is one fungal culprit. [3]

  • Parasites – Parasites like Toxoplasma gondii can cause inflammation of interior eye structures like the retina. [2]

  • Allergies – Allergies to pollen, dander, food, smoke, dust, and other irritants can cause allergic conjunctivitis. [3]

  • Trauma – Scratches, foreign objects, chemical burns can physically damage the eye and provide an entry point for bacteria. [1]

Symptoms of Eye Infections

Cats with eye infections often exhibit several common symptoms. These include redness, swelling, discharge, excessive squinting or blinking, and pawing or rubbing at the eyes. According to, “If your cat looks at you with red, watery and scratchy eyes, it’s important to call your veterinarian right away.”

Specifically, symptoms of an eye infection in cats include:

  • Redness in the whites of the eyes or inner eyelids
  • Swelling of the eyelids or tissue around the eyes
  • Eye discharge, which may be clear, yellow, green, or contain mucus
  • Excessive squinting, blinking, or closing of the eyes
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eyes
  • Apparent sensitivity to light

These symptoms indicate irritation, inflammation, or infection of the eye structures. Cats may rub their eyes in an attempt to relieve discomfort. Left untreated, eye infections can worsen and spread. Eye redness, discharge, or swelling, especially when paired with squinting or eye rubbing, warrant veterinary examination.

Dangers of Self-Treatment

While it may be tempting to try home remedies or over-the-counter treatments for a cat’s eye infection, self-treating can actually make the condition worse and delay proper veterinary care, leading to more severe complications. According to the VCA, “Although these infections are usually mild and self-limiting, infected cats remain carriers of the virus and may have intermittent relapses.”

Trying to treat an eye infection at home without knowing the exact cause and severity can worsen inflammation, damage the cornea, or even spread infection to the inner structures of the eye. Cats are also very good at masking symptoms when they feel ill, so an infection may appear minor on the surface but actually be quite serious.

As Purina advises, “It’s always best to seek prompt veterinary advice as soon as you notice any eye abnormality in your cat. Catching problems early maximises the chances of a good outcome.” Delaying veterinary treatment could allow the infection to permanently impair vision or penetrate deeper into the eye.

While rinsing the eye with a sterile saline solution can provide some relief, this does not treat the root cause. Only a veterinarian can diagnose the specific infection through tests and prescribe the proper medication to resolve eye issues. Self-treatment risks making the problem worse. Cats require professional veterinary care to fully treat eye infections and prevent recurrences or complications.

Salt Water Use for Eye Infections

Using a saline (salt water) solution can provide temporary relief for a cat’s eye infection by helping flush out irritants, allergens, and discharge. The salt water can also help soothe inflammation and irritation. However, saline solution does not treat the underlying cause of the infection itself. According to veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec from Natural Eye Care, a simple saline rinse made with 1/4 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of boiled, cooled water can be used to gently flush the eye. She recommends using an eyedropper or bulb syringe to apply the solution.

While saline can temporarily relieve symptoms, it does not cure eye infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. Relying solely on salt water would allow the infection to continue worsening without addressing the root cause. Veterinarian care and proper medication is essential to properly clear up eye infections in cats.

Veterinarian Diagnosis and Treatment

If your cat has symptoms of an eye infection like discharge, redness or swelling, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. The vet will start with a full eye exam to determine the cause and severity of the infection.

Tests like a corneal stain, bloodwork or cultures may be recommended to identify the type of infection. Common eye infections in cats include viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic causes. Knowing the source of the infection will allow the vet to prescribe an effective medication.

For bacterial eye infections, the vet may prescribe topical antibiotic drops or ointments like Terramycin® (Source 1), Vetropolycin® (Source 2) or oral antibiotics. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and finish the entire course of medication.

For other types of eye infections, prescription antiviral or antifungal eye medications may be prescribed. Never try to self-diagnose and treat your cat’s eye infection without guidance from a vet, as this can worsen the condition.

Home Care While Treating Eye Infection

While your cat is being treated for an eye infection by a veterinarian, there are some things you can do at home to help care for your cat and support the treatment process:

Cleaning – Gently wipe away any discharge from around the eyes using a soft, damp cloth. Be very gentle, avoiding pressure on the eye itself. You can use a saline eye wash to help loosen discharge and soothe irritation. According to Vetericyn, flushing the affected eye 3-4 times per day with a gentle, non-toxic eye wash can be helpful [1].

Bathing – Your cat may benefit from a gentle wipe down with a warm, damp cloth to keep the face and eyes clean during an infection. Avoid excessive bathing which could further irritate the eyes.

Diet – Make sure your cat stays hydrated by encouraging them to drink. Cats with eye infections often don’t feel well and may not eat as much, but getting adequate nutrition supports healing.

Rest – Allow your cat to rest in a comfortable, quiet space while their body fights the infection. Plenty of rest and sleep will help them recover.

While providing supportive care at home, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely. Call them right away if symptoms worsen or you have any concerns about your cat’s condition.

Preventing Eye Infections

While it’s not always possible to completely prevent eye infections in cats, there are some steps cat owners can take to reduce the risks:

Practice good hygiene around your cat’s eyes. Gently wipe away any discharge daily with a separate tissue or cotton ball for each eye. Avoid reusing tissues. Wash your hands before and after touching your cat’s eyes or face.

Keep your home clean and disinfect any surfaces your cat contacts regularly. Vacuum and mop floors weekly. Wash cat bedding frequently.

Make sure your cat stays up to date on vaccines. Feline herpesvirus and chlamydia are common causes of eye infections in cats, and vaccines can help prevent them.

Control parasites like fleas which can transmit infections. Use monthly flea prevention medication prescribed by your vet.

Keep hazardous objects out of reach and supervise playtime to avoid eye injuries. Trim nails regularly to reduce scratches.

Feed a healthy diet and avoid table scraps or sugary treats which may weaken immunity. Keep water bowls clean.

Reduce stress for your cat. Increased stress can trigger latent viral infections.

See your vet annually and at the first signs of eye redness, swelling or discharge. Prompt treatment can often clear up minor issues before they become serious.

When to See a Veterinarian

If your cat has an eye infection, it’s important to seek veterinary care if symptoms persist or worsen. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, you should take your cat to the vet if you notice excessive tearing or discharge, reddened conjunctival membranes, or vision loss. These can be signs of a serious eye infection that requires medical treatment.

In particular, cat owners should watch for persistent symptoms that don’t improve with home care after a few days. Cats with eye infections may squint or keep their eyes closed due to discomfort. Vision loss or obvious impairment is also a red flag requiring prompt vet attention. Severe redness and swelling around the eyes that continues to worsen is another sign it’s time to seek professional veterinary assessment and care.

Left untreated, eye infections in cats can lead to permanent damage and blindness. It’s crucial not to delay if symptoms are severe or getting worse. At the first signs of eye trouble, call your vet to discuss your cat’s symptoms and make an appointment for an exam if needed. With proper treatment guided by a vet, most cat eye infections can be cured.

Prognosis for Eye Infections

With prompt veterinary treatment, the prognosis for most feline eye infections is good. However, some infections like herpesvirus may come and go throughout the cat’s lifetime. According to VCA Hospitals, the prognosis depends on the specific diagnosis1. Infections caused by bacteria or fungi often respond well to appropriate medication. However, viral infections like feline herpesvirus tend to recur as the virus remains dormant in the body. Cats can experience flare-ups during times of stress.

For non-infectious causes of conjunctivitis like allergies or irritation, the eyes should heal once the source of irritation is removed. Prognosis is best when treatment starts early before the infection worsens. Following veterinary recommendations for medication, eye drops, and follow-up visits is important to fully resolve the problem. With prompt care, most cats make a full recovery. However, neglecting treatment can allow the infection to progress, risking damage to the eye.


Eye infections in cats can be caused by bacteria, viruses or allergens. Typical symptoms include redness, swelling, discharge and squinting. While salt water may seem like a convenient at-home treatment, it’s important not to attempt to treat eye infections without guidance from a veterinarian, as this can make the problem worse.

Cats with eye infections require a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from the vet, which may include prescription eye drops/ointments and sometimes oral antibiotics. Gently cleaning around the eyes and applying warm compresses at home can provide comfort while treatment runs its course. Prevent eye infections by keeping the area around your cat’s eyes clean and watching for early symptoms.

Eye infections usually clear up within 1-2 weeks when treated promptly and properly under veterinary care. Never hesitate to consult your vet if your cat is showing concerning eye symptoms, as they can guide you on the best treatment options for a full recovery.

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