How Can I Tell If My Cats Eyesight Is Failing?


Cats rely heavily on their vision to understand and navigate the world around them. Their eyesight allows them to hunt prey, avoid danger, and interact with humans and other animals. While cats don’t see the full spectrum of colors that humans do, their vision is well-adapted for detecting movement and seeing in low light conditions. A cat’s eyes are complex organs with specialized parts including a tapetum lucidum that reflects light back through the retina to enhance night vision.

Since vision is so critical for cats, any degradation in their eyesight can have major impacts on their quality of life. It’s important for cat owners to be aware of signs of vision loss in their feline companions. Catching problems early allows for earlier treatment and prevention of further vision deterioration. This article provides an overview of how to identify if your cat’s eyesight is failing and what can be done to help a cat experiencing vision issues. Proper diagnosis and care from a veterinarian can go a long way in maintaining a cat’s vision and comfort.


Signs of Vision Loss

There are several noticeable signs that may indicate your cat is experiencing vision loss or impairment. One of the most obvious signs is bumping into objects like furniture, walls, or other stationary items in your home. As your cat’s eyesight worsens, it loses depth perception and spatial awareness, making judging distances and avoiding obstacles more difficult.

You may also notice your cat having trouble locating food, toys, or other familiar items. A cat with declining vision will seem unsure of where things are located and may rely more on scent and memory to find them. Your cat may seem hesitant or reluctant to jump up or down from surfaces if its depth perception is compromised from vision loss. Jumping requires precise coordination and distance judgment, so a visually impaired cat may walk away from jumps it used to easily make.

In addition, you may see signs like enlarged or cloudy pupils, increased watering or redness of the eyes, or reluctance to go outside or move around in dim lighting. If your cat is squinting, pawing at its eyes, or keeping its eyes shut for long periods, it could also indicate vision issues. Any sudden changes in eye appearance or behavior warrants a veterinary exam to check for underlying causes.

Causes of Vision Issues

There are several common causes of vision problems in cats:


Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, preventing light from reaching the retina. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, cataracts are one of the most common causes of blindness in cats, especially in older cats [1].


Glaucoma is a condition where pressure builds up inside the eye, damaging the optic nerve. It is often a painful condition that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma is most common in cats over 5 years old [2].

Retinal Disease

Diseases of the retina, like retinal detachment or retinal degeneration, can impair vision or cause blindness in cats. Retinal detachment is often caused by trauma or high blood pressure. Retinal degeneration is usually an inherited condition in cats [3].


Injuries to the eye or head can damage structures like the cornea, lens, retina or optic nerve, leading to partial or complete vision loss. Common causes of traumatic blindness include being hit by a car, falls, or cat fights.

Diagnosing Vision Problems

If you notice any signs of vision issues in your cat, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis from your veterinarian. An eye exam by a vet can help determine the cause and severity of vision loss.

Your vet will start with a full ophthalmic exam, checking the eyes for signs of disease, injury or infection. They will evaluate the pupils’ responsiveness to light, eye pressure, eyelids, cornea, lens, retina and more. Staining drops may be used to highlight parts of the eye.

Vets can also perform visibility tests to assess what your cat can see. These may include:

  • Obstacle course – watching if your cat bumps into objects
  • Cotton ball test – noting if your cat responds to movement of a cotton ball
  • Dropping an object – seeing if your cat tracks and follows a dropped object
  • Menace response – checking if your cat blinks when a hand approaches its eye

Based on the full eye exam and vision tests, the vet can determine where vision is impaired and why. They can then recommend treatment options to stop or slow further vision loss.

Treating Vision Loss

There are several options for treating vision loss in cats depending on the underlying cause. Some treatments aim to restore vision while others focus on managing irreversible blindness.

Surgery may be performed in cases of cataracts, glaucoma, or retinal detachment. Cataract surgery involves removing the lens that has become cloudy and replacing it with an artificial lens. This can restore vision impaired by cataracts. Surgery can also help treat some cases of glaucoma by reducing pressure in the eye. Retinal detachment surgery aims to reattach the retina to the back of the eye, which may restore partial vision if performed promptly.

Medications can help manage certain eye conditions as well. Glaucoma medications reduce pressure in the eyes. Corticosteroids and antibiotics may be prescribed for uveitis to reduce inflammation. Supplements like antioxidants can support eye health.

Making lifestyle adjustments can help blind cats navigate their surroundings. Keeping furniture in the same positions, using scent clues, providing steps/ramps, and using audible toys all help blind cats. Ensuring proper nutrition supports eye health. Follow veterinary guidance for protecting vision in the remaining eye if one eye has blindness.

While some vision loss is irreversible, prompt veterinary treatment offers the best chance to restore vision or prevent further deterioration. Managing irreversible blindness aims to help cats adjust and live comfortably.


Cataracts are a common cause of vision loss in cats, especially as they age. Cataracts form when the normally clear lens in the eye becomes cloudy or opaque. This cloudiness prevents light from properly entering the eye and focusing on the retina, resulting in blurred vision (source).

There are several different types of cataracts:

  • Nuclear cataracts affect the center of the lens and cause nuclear sclerosis, which appears as a gray/blue color change in the pupil.
  • Cortical cataracts affect the lens cortex and look like white spokes coming from the outside of the pupil.
  • Posterior subcapsular cataracts affect the back of the lens and look like a small opaque area by the back of the capsule.

Common symptoms of cataracts include cloudy or bluish pupils, difficulty seeing, clumsiness, reluctance to jump or go on stairs, poor vision at night, and eye color changes. Cataracts tend to progress slowly over weeks to months (source).

Causes include genetics, diabetes, eye injury, radiation, toxicity, poor nutrition, and aging. Cataracts are extremely common in older cats. Treatment options include anti-inflammatory eye drops, nutrition supplements, and surgery to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial one.


Glaucoma is a condition characterized by increased pressure in the eye, which can lead to severe pain and vision loss if left untreated. In cats, glaucoma is most often caused by an underlying disease or defect that prevents proper drainage of fluid from the eye (WebMD Cats). Some potential causes include:

  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Tumors
  • Lens luxation or displacement
  • Eye trauma

As pressure builds up inside the eye, it presses on the retina and optic nerve, eventually resulting in blindness if not treated. According to VCA Hospitals, symptoms of glaucoma in cats can include:

  • Squinting
  • Cloudiness in the front of the eye
  • Enlarged or dilated pupil
  • Redness around the eye
  • Watery discharge
  • Pawing at the eye

Glaucoma is extremely painful and requires immediate veterinary treatment. Medications like eye drops, pills or injectable medication can help reduce production and increase drainage of eye fluid. Surgery may be necessary in some cases to help fluid drain properly. Cats with glaucoma should be closely monitored by a veterinarian to prevent vision loss and relieve pain.

Retinal Disease

Retinal diseases in cats can lead to blindness and vision loss if not treated early. Some common retinal diseases in cats include:

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is when the retina separates from the back of the eye. This can be caused by trauma, cancer, high blood pressure, or eye infections (Merck Veterinary Manual). Symptoms include dilated pupils, cloudiness in the eye, and sudden vision loss. Retinal detachment is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment, usually surgery, to reattach the retina before permanent damage occurs.

Retinal Tumors

Cancerous tumors can develop in the retina, usually secondary to cancer elsewhere in the body. Symptoms may include visual deficits and dilated pupils. Treatment depends on the type of cancer and may include surgery, radiation, or medications (VCA Hospitals).

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is an inherited, degenerative disease of the retina causing progressive vision loss leading to blindness. It is common in Abyssinian, Persian, and Siamese cat breeds. PRA initially causes night blindness followed by loss of peripheral and then central vision as the photoreceptors deteriorate (PetMD). There is no treatment, but responsible breeding can reduce prevalence.

Preventing Vision Loss

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent vision loss in their feline companions:

Get regular veterinary exams. Cats should have a complete exam at least annually, and senior cats may need exams every 6 months. The vet will check the eyes closely for any signs of disease. Early detection and treatment is key for conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal disease.

Feed a nutritious diet. A diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can help prevent oxidative damage to the eyes. Taurine is an amino acid essential for eye health that should be included in all cat foods. Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil may also benefit the eyes.

Avoid trauma. Keep cats safely indoors to prevent injuries from cars, fights with other animals, and more. Cats can also injure their eyes indoors, so watch for hazards like toxic chemicals, plants, or loose wires they could run into.

With attentive, proactive care, cat owners can reduce the chances of vision loss in their pets. But even with the best efforts, genetic and age-related eye disease can still occur. If a cat does start showing signs of visual impairment, promptly consult a veterinarian for an exam and guidance on managing blindness.

Caring for a Blind Cat

Caring for a blind cat requires some adjustments, but with a few safety tips and enrichment ideas you can help your cat maintain a good quality of life.

Some important safety considerations include keeping your blind cat indoors and ensuring they have access to a safely-fenced garden or run if necessary ( Avoid rearranging furniture and leaving objects like shoes on the floor where your cat could trip over them. Place food and water bowls in consistent locations. Adding tactile elements like special mats or rugs can help orient your cat.

Enrichment is important for blind cats. Engage their senses by offering novel smells, textures, and sounds. Food puzzles and auditory toys can provide mental stimulation. Allow time for daily play and interaction. Grooming provides comfort through touch. Encourage movement by guiding walks around familiar spaces.

With some accommodations, blind cats can continue enjoying life. Monitor any emerging health issues and keep up with vet visits. Be patient, maintain routines, and reassure your cat with verbal cues. With a safe environment and engaged caregiving, blind cats can thrive.

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