Is Your Furry Friend Giving You Pink Eye? The Contagious Truth About Cat Conjunctivitis

What is Cat Conjunctivitis?

Cat conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eyes [source]. It is commonly referred to as “pink eye” in cats. The conjunctiva becomes reddened (inflamed) and may produce discharge. There are several possible causes of feline conjunctivitis.

Common symptoms of cat conjunctivitis include:

  • Redness, swelling, and discharge from the eyes
  • Squinting or blinking frequently
  • Pawing at the eyes
  • Rubbing the face and eyes on furniture
  • Sensitivity to light

The condition can be caused by:

  • Bacterial infections (most commonly chlamydia)
  • Viral infections (feline herpesvirus)
  • Allergies
  • Irritants getting in the eyes (dust, dirt, smoke)
  • Foreign objects getting stuck in the eyes

Conjunctivitis ranges in severity but often causes discomfort and pain for cats. Getting prompt veterinary attention and proper treatment is important.

Is Cat Conjunctivitis Contagious to Other Cats?

cat with red, irritated eyes

Yes, cat conjunctivitis is highly contagious between cats. The viruses, bacteria, and parasites that cause conjunctivitis can spread through direct contact between cats, airborne transmission through sneezing and coughing, and contact with contaminated objects like food bowls, toys, and bedding (Source).

Cats with infectious conjunctivitis should be isolated from other household cats to prevent spreading the infection. Any objects the infected cat touches should be thoroughly disinfected. Even after treatment it can take a few weeks for a cat to no longer be contagious, so isolation should continue during this time.

Due to the very contagious nature of feline conjunctivitis, it can spread quickly between cats in multi-cat households and shelters. Routine vaccination against common causes like herpesvirus and calicivirus can help reduce outbreaks.

Can Humans Get Cat Conjunctivitis?

Humans cannot directly get the main viral or bacterial infections that cause cat conjunctivitis, according to veterinary sources. The feline viruses such as feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are species-specific and do not infect humans (https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/healthcare/conjunctivitis-in-cats). The same applies to the common bacterial causes like Chlamydophila felis.

However, there is a small risk that humans could develop a secondary infection if exposed to a cat with active conjunctivitis. For example, if the discharge from a cat’s infected eye comes into contact with a person’s eye, bacteria present could potentially cause an infection. But this would not be the same illness as feline viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.

To prevent any potential for secondary infections, proper hygiene is recommended when handling cats with conjunctivitis. Washing hands after touching the cat and avoiding direct contact with eye discharge can help reduce risk.

What are the Risks to Humans?

Although rare, humans can become infected with cat conjunctivitis. The risk is higher for people with compromised immune systems. If a person does get infected, symptoms are generally mild and may include redness, itching, and discharge from the eyes (1).

For healthy adults and older children, the risks are low. Good hygiene like washing hands after touching an infected cat can prevent transmission. Avoid rubbing your eyes after petting a cat with conjunctivitis as well. If symptoms do develop, see an optometrist for evaluation and treatment, which usually includes antibiotic eye drops (2).

Infants and individuals with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for contracting cat conjunctivitis. Take extra precautions with at-risk groups, like carefully washing hands before handling a baby after touching an infected cat. Monitor for symptoms and see a doctor promptly if they appear (3).

How is Cat Conjunctivitis Treated?

person administering eye drops to cat

Cat conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial infection is typically treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment prescribed by a veterinarian. Common antibiotics used include oxytetracycline, chloramphenicol, and ciprofloxacin. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, antibiotic treatment usually lasts 7-10 days.

Viral conjunctivitis will often resolve on its own within 2 to 3 weeks, so treatment is focused on managing symptoms. This can include artificial tear ointment to lubricate the eyes, eye flushes, cold compresses for swelling, and antiviral medication in severe cases. According to MedVet, topical antivirals like idoxuridine 0.1% or cidofovir 0.2% may be prescribed.

Regardless of the cause, it is also important to treat any underlying conditions contributing to conjunctivitis, such as allergies, environmental irritants, or eye defects. This may require medications like antihistamines or decongestants. Keeping the cat’s face clean and removing discharge around the eyes helps prevent worsening.

How to Prevent Spread to Other Cats

If your cat has infectious conjunctivitis, it’s important to take steps to prevent spreading it to other cats in your home or neighborhood:

Isolate infected cats. Keep cats with conjunctivitis separated from other cats in the household. Confine them to one room if possible to reduce contact and contamination of shared spaces. Wash hands thoroughly after handling the infected cat.

Disinfect shared items. Use disinfectants to clean food bowls, litter boxes, bedding, toys or other items used by the infected cat. Anything they touch should be disinfected regularly.

Avoid sharing food/water. Do not allow infected cats to share food or water bowls with other cats. The infection can spread through contaminated surfaces.

Monitor other cats. Keep an eye out for conjunctivitis symptoms in any cats that came into contact with the infected cat. Seek prompt vet treatment if their eyes become irritated, red or have discharge.

Allow time to recover. Keep cats with conjunctivitis isolated until treatment is complete and symptoms have fully resolved. This helps prevent recurrence in other cats.

How to Prevent Human Infection

While cat conjunctivitis is not highly contagious to humans, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of transmission:

woman washing hands thoroughly

Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching your cat, especially near their eyes. This helps prevent transferring infected eye discharge to your own eyes or other surfaces.

Avoid rubbing your eyes until you have washed your hands. Touching your eyes with contaminated hands is a key way conjunctivitis could spread.

Clean and disinfect any surfaces that may have been contaminated by your cat’s eye discharge. This includes bedding, food bowls, toys, floors, countertops, and any other items your cat contacts.

Using disinfectants or sanitizing wipes can help kill bacteria and viruses that cause conjunctivitis. Be sure to follow all label instructions.

If your cat’s conjunctivitis worsens or you develop any eye redness, irritation, or discharge, see your doctor. Prompt treatment can help clear up the infection.

With good hygiene and monitoring your pet’s condition, you can greatly reduce the already low risks of contracting cat conjunctivitis.

When to See a Vet

Cat conjunctivitis can often resolve on its own, but there are certain symptoms that indicate a veterinary visit is needed:

Persistent Symptoms

If conjunctivitis symptoms like eye discharge, swelling, or irritation persist for more than 2-3 days without improvement, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your vet. Chronic conjunctivitis that doesn’t resolve can lead to complications.

Eye Discharge/Irritation


Significant eye discharge, swelling, or irritation that makes your cat’s eyes uncomfortable warrants a vet visit. Discharge may be green, yellow, or contain mucus or pus. Swelling around the eyes or crusty eyelids can also be problematic.

Lethargy, Appetite Loss

If your cat seems lethargic, stops eating, or shows other signs of feeling unwell in addition to conjunctivitis, they should see a vet promptly. This may indicate a more serious illness or complication.

It’s always better to be safe when it comes to your cat’s eyes. At the first signs of persistent conjunctivitis, take your cat to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. This can help prevent long-term issues and vision problems.

Prognosis for Cat Conjunctivitis

The prognosis for cat conjunctivitis depends on the underlying cause. Viral conjunctivitis will typically resolve on its own within 1 to 3 weeks without treatment, as the cat’s immune system fights off the infection. Bacterial conjunctivitis has a good prognosis when treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment as prescribed by a veterinarian. With appropriate treatment, symptoms should improve within a few days.

Most cases of feline conjunctivitis have a good overall prognosis. However, chronic or recurrent conjunctivitis may occur in some cats. Close follow up with a veterinarian is recommended if symptoms persist or return. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications like corneal scarring or ulceration which can impact vision. With treatment guided by a vet, most cats make a full recovery from conjunctivitis.

Key Takeaways

vet examining cat's eyes with light

Cat conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva membrane in a cat’s eye. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, irritants or allergies. While contagious between cats, cat conjunctivitis poses little risk to humans. There have only been a few documented cases of humans contracting cat chlamydia infections from infected cats.

To prevent spreading conjunctivitis between cats, isolate affected cats and disinfect any shared items like food bowls. Wash hands after touching infected cats. To prevent human infection, avoid touching the eyes after handling affected cats and wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

Key points:

  • Cat conjunctivitis is contagious between cats but rarely spreads to humans
  • Isolate infected cats and disinfect shared items to prevent spread
  • Wash hands after handling affected cats to prevent human infection

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