Do Cats Eyes Pop Out?

Anatomy of the Cat Eye

Cats have a complex eye anatomy that allows them to see well in low light conditions. The eyeball itself consists of the cornea, iris, pupil, lens, retina, and other interior structures. The cornea is the clear outer layer that refracts light into the eye. Behind that is the iris, which is the colored part of the eye that controls the amount of light entering through the pupil. The lens focuses the incoming light onto the retina at the back of the eyeball. The retina contains photoreceptive cells that convert light into signals to the brain, allowing cats to see.

The eyeball is supported within the eye socket by muscles, ligaments and fatty tissue. Six extraocular muscles control eye movement – four rectus muscles and two oblique muscles. These muscles originate at the back of the eye socket and insert into the surface of the eyeball, allowing the eye to move up, down, left, and right. The nictitating membrane is a third eyelid that sweeps horizontally across the eye to clean and lubricate it. It is supported by the third eyelid cartilage. Fatty tissue and ligaments provide cushioning and anchor the eyeball in the proper position.

Cats also have a lacrimal gland that produces tears, and a drainage system to carry tears away from the eye. The upper and lower eyelids contain cilia (eyelashes) to prevent debris and dust from entering the eye. All these anatomical structures work together to support normal eye function in cats.

When Eyes Can Pop Out

A cat’s eyes can pop out due to certain health conditions or trauma/injury that dislodges the eye. Health conditions like glaucoma, infection, or tumors behind the eye can cause pressure buildup and make the eye protrude forward. According to PetMD, abscess formation from bacterial/fungal infections can also lead to bulging eyes in cats.

Trauma or injury is another common cause of eyes popping out in cats. Blunt force trauma to the head, such as from a car accident, can sometimes dislodge the eye from the socket. PetMD states that eyelid or orbital trauma from a scratch or bite wound could also allow the eye to pop out. This is known medically as proptosis or exophthalmos. According to Vetster, proptosis occurs when the eyeball pops forward, trapping the eyelids behind it. In severe cases, the eye may pop completely out of the socket.

Overall, underlying health conditions or trauma/injury that disrupts the normal structure of the eye socket are the main reasons a cat’s eyes may pop out. Seeking prompt veterinary care is crucial whenever proptosis occurs.

Symptoms of an Eye Popping Out

The most noticeable symptom of an eye popping out is the dramatic appearance of the eye itself. The eyeball will protrude from the socket and can sometimes hang partially out of the socket by the optic nerve or muscles still attached to it ( The amount of protrusion can range from just a slight bulge to the eyeball being completely dislodged from the socket and hanging outside the eyelid. The covering of the eye, called the cornea, can also often appear damaged or ruptured.

Cats experiencing eye protrusion will show clear signs of pain and distress. They may squint or completely close their eyelids in response to the irritation. Excessive tearing and discharge from the affected eye is also common. The cat may paw at the eye or rub their head against surfaces in an effort to relieve discomfort. They are likely to be lethargic and lose interest in food. Severe pain can cause depression, hiding, and anti-social behavior. Cats may cry or whine when the eye is touched or pressure is applied. Extreme cases that damage the optic nerve can cause acute neurological symptoms like loss of vision or disorientation.

Causes and Risk Factors

Some common causes of eyes popping out in cats include:

Traumatic injury to the eye or face – Being hit by a car, falling from a height, or being scratched by another animal can all lead to eye trauma that causes the eye to pop out of the socket.

Infections – Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections in the eye socket or surrounding tissue can cause inflammation and swelling that pushes the eye outward.

Glaucoma – This condition causes a buildup of pressure in the eye that can eventually cause the eye to pop out.

Certain breeds like Persians and Himalayans are more prone to eye popping due to their flattened facial structure and protruding eyes.


If a cat’s eye appears to be popping out or bulging, a veterinarian will conduct a full medical examination to diagnose the condition and determine the underlying cause. They will first check the eye for signs of trauma, infection, inflammation, or cancer. The vet will look for scratches, ulcers, discharge, redness, swelling, and abnormal tissue growths.

To check if the eye is detached, the vet will gently manipulate the eyeball to see if it moves abnormally or pulls away from the socket. They will also measure the intraocular pressure using a tonometer to test for glaucoma. Fluorescein dye may be applied to check for corneal ulcers or damage.

The veterinarian will likely perform several other diagnostic tests as well. Skull and orbital x-rays allow the vet to look for fractures or foreign objects lodged near the eye. An ocular ultrasound lets the vet examine the structures behind the eye for issues like retinal detachment. Bloodwork, urinalysis, and biopsies can help diagnose underlying illnesses causing the protruding eye.

Once the exam and diagnostic tests are complete, the veterinarian will determine whether the cat’s eye is truly protruding/detached and pinpoint the exact cause. This allows them to come up with an appropriate treatment plan to manage the condition.



The main goals of treating an eye that has popped out in a cat are to put the eye back in place if it has become dislocated and address any related health issues. According to PetMD, there are some options for treating proptosis or eye popping out:

  • Surgical reattachment if the eye has become completely detached. A veterinary ophthalmologist may be able to surgically put the eye back in place and reattach the muscles/tissues. This requires anesthesia and has risks but can potentially save vision (source).
  • Medications such as antibiotics, corticosteroids, or lubricating eye drops to treat any associated infections, inflammation, or irritation.
  • Treating underlying health conditions that may contribute to proptosis like infections, trauma, or increased pressure.
  • Pain management medication.

If the eye is too damaged or unlikely to regain function, removal of the eye (enucleation) may be necessary. The vet will assess damage and long-term prognosis when deciding between trying to save the eye or remove it. Addressing any related infections or other health problems will be an important part of treatment and recovery.

Recovery Process

The recovery time for a cat after eye displacement or protrusion surgery can vary depending on the severity of the injury. According to WagWalking, the stitches may be removed as early as 7 days after surgery or up to 3 weeks later. Full healing can take 6-8 weeks.

During recovery, it’s important to follow all post-op instructions from your veterinarian. This usually includes administering medications, keeping the incision site clean, and preventing your cat from rubbing or scratching at their eye. An Elizabethan collar may be recommended to stop irritation. Limit activity to allow the eye to heal.

The prognosis for vision after eye displacement or protrusion depends on how damaged the eye was. If the optical nerve was unaffected, vision has a chance of returning fully or partially over time. However, if the nerve was severely damaged, blindness could be permanent. Cats can adapt well to monocular vision. Follow up exams will assess healing and eye function.


There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent their cat’s eyes from bulging or popping out:

Avoid trauma – Keep cats away from potential sources of eye trauma like sharp objects, other pets, toxic plants, etc. Cats that go outside should be supervised.

Manage diseases – Keeping cats up to date on vaccines and preventing/treating diseases like upper respiratory infections can reduce swelling and pressure in the eye area.

Don’t let cats rub eyes – Discourage excessive face and eye rubbing which can displace the eye.

See the vet for eye issues – Redness, swelling, discharge, squinting, or any change in the eye could signal a problem. Cataracts, glaucoma and eye infections should be treated promptly.

Monitor elderly cats – Senior cats are more prone to eye issues like proptosis. Frequent vet checks can catch problems early.

Avoid eye trauma, manage diseases promptly, discourage eye rubbing, and get veterinary care for any eye changes to help keep cat eyes safely in their sockets.


The cost of treating an eye that has popped out of the socket can vary greatly depending on the cause, severity, and required treatment. Some general cost estimates include:

Initial veterinary exam: $50-$100

Medications: $20-$100

Follow-up exams: $40-$80 per visit

Diagnostic tests like x-rays or bloodwork: $200-$500

Surgery to remove or repair the eye: $1000-$3000 per eye

Hospitalization fees if needed: $80-$150 per night

According to Eyes Specialists for Animals, the cost for cat eye removal surgery is approximately $1600 for one eye or $2000 for both eyes.

To help manage costs, pet insurance can cover a portion of veterinary expenses. Policies vary, but may reimburse 70-90% of eligible costs after the deductible is met. Some policies have annual or lifetime coverage limits. Comparing pet insurance options can help find the best fit for your budget.

When to See the Vet

If your cat’s eye is visibly protruding or bulging out of the socket, it is considered an emergency and requires immediate veterinary care. A protruding eye is extremely painful for cats and can result in permanent blindness if the blood flow to the eye is disrupted. Do not wait to see if the eye goes back to normal on its own. Take your cat to an emergency vet clinic right away.

You should also see a vet promptly if your cat’s eye appears cloudy, discolored, or swollen. While not as urgent as a fully protruding eye, these symptoms may indicate infection, glaucoma, or trauma. Left untreated, eye issues almost always get worse instead of better. It is important to have your vet fully evaluate the cause so proper treatment can begin. With treatment, vision can often be restored. Schedule a non-emergency appointment within 24 hours if your cat is squinting, pawing at their eye, or showing other signs of eye discomfort.

Routine vet exams are crucial for identifying early signs of eye disease in cats. Your vet can check for retinal changes, lens issues, and other problems. Early detection gives the best chance of preventing vision loss. Tell your vet right away if you notice any eye abnormalities between exams.

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