Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is the single most common kind of feline illness. There’s a pretty good chance that your cat will catch pink eye at some point in their lives, and some cats are prone to pink eye and will likely catch it several times. But can cats get pink eye from humans?
Cats cannot get pink eye from humans. That’s because viral pink eye, the most common contagious form of pink eye, isn’t caused by any zoonotic viruses. While related viruses can cause human pink eye and feline pink eye, they aren’t mutually transmissible.
Of course, since cat owners spend a lot of time around their cats, it’s easy to wonder if your cat caught pink eye from you or someone else in your family. It’s even easier to assume transmission if you get pink eye around the same time.
Unsurprisingly for such a common issue, pink eye is a pretty complex topic. One thing that’s worth mentioning right away, before we dig into the details, is that feline pink eye should always be treated by a qualified vet. Even seemingly mild cases of pink eye can quickly get a lot more severe if they aren’t treated, and severe infections can have permanent consequences.
How Do Cats Get Pink Eye
There isn’t one singular cause of pink eye in cats that we can point to. Pink eye is just the name for a standard set of symptoms caused by an extensive range of risk factors.
The two most common causes of pink eye in cats are either viral or bacterial infections. In both cases, though, more than one pathogen can cause pink eye, effectively treating pink eye a little more complicated.
For instance, viral pink eye usually can’t be resolved with anti-bacterial drops necessary for treating bacterial pink eye.
Viral Causes of Feline Pink Eye
The most common viral cause of pink eye in cats is a herpes virus (there are many kinds of herpes viruses, and many kinds of herpes viruses affect other species and aren’t a threat to humans like these). Herpes virus might be the most common cause of pink eye among cats, but it’s hard to know for sure.
We know for sure that most cats are exposed to the herpes virus reasonably early, especially cats raised in a crowded cattery, live in an animal shelter, or are part of a crowded feral cat den.
That’s partly because the herpes virus that causes pink eye in cats is highly communicable and can also infect some prey animals like birds and guinea pigs, making transmission very easy.
Bacterial Feline Pink Eye
Of course, bacteria can also be a common cause of pink eye. Usually, bacterial infections also come with an upper respiratory infection that should also be treated to keep your cat as healthy as possible.
Feline Chlamydophila likely causes most bacterial pink eye infections, but that doesn’t mean that all bacterial pink eye is.
Other Causes of Feline Pink Eye
Cats can also catch pink eye without there being a pathogenic infection. Some cats can catch pink eye thanks to irritation caused by dust, pollen, a wide range of allergens, and almost any other eye irritants they are exposed to. This is one reason that almost all cats will catch pink eye at least once, even if they aren’t ever exposed to an infected animal to catch it from them.
Things like cigarettes or wildfire smoke, local pollution, cologne and perfume, and even household cleaners can also be eye irritants that cause pink eye.
|Symptoms Of Pink Eye In Cats||Symptom Description||Possible Treatments|
|Watery Eye (or Eyes)||Most cats will have watery eyes from time to time, but constant watery eyes can be a sign of something wrong.||Watery eyes may not need treatment, or your vet may give you medicated drops to handle the symptom and some underlying causes.|
|Excessive Tear Production||If your cat’s eyes are watering enough that they are constantly tearing, chances are something has irritated the eye.||Excessive tear production is another symptom that will likely be treated with medicated drops. However, you will also want to help your cat keep their face clean and dry, especially around their eyes.|
|Swollen or Blocked Tear Ducts||Swelling around your cat’s eyes can be a sign of a blocked or irritated tear duct, a common sign of pink eye.||Lacrimal duct obstructions have a wide range of treatments in cats, including everything between flushing the eye through to surgically removing the obstruction.|
|Pink or ‘Meaty’ Tissue surrounding the eye||This is where pink eye gets its name, in addition to bloodshot sclera. If the tissue around your cats’ eyes looks swollen or redder/pinker than normal, it’s likely pink eye.||Likely this will be treated with antibiotic eye drops several times a day. Your vet may also prescribe oral medication either for antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, or both|
|Swollen Eye Lids||Sometimes eyelids will swell without noticeable color changes, but this symptom is still cause for concern.||Swollen eyelids may not need treatment, may be treated with eye drops, or your vet might recommend a cold compress.|
|Excessive Blinking||Even early in a pink eye infection, it’s common for cats to start blinking excessively.||Excessive blinking may not need treatment depending on the cause or may require dry eye drops or other kinds of eye drop treatments.|
|Pawing at or Itching Eyes||Pawing or itching at their eyes is a good sign that the eye is irritated and bothering them, and can be a sign that their eyes hurt.||Your vet may recommend a head cone in addition to other pink eye treatments to help prevent your cat from damaging their eyes accidentally.|
|Coughing, Sneezing, or Runny Nose||Coughing, sneezing, and a wet nose are all pretty good signs of pink eye or an upper respiratory infection… or both.||Likely if your cat is coughing, sneezing, or has a runny nose they will need treatment for an upper respiratory infection, which can include antibiotics, an inhaler treatment, or other interventions depending on the severity of the infection.|
Is Pink Eye Contagious In Cats
Some forms of pink eye, like viral pink eye, are highly contagious in cats, but not all of them. For instance, bacterial pink eye can be contagious. Still, it takes exposure to another cat that’s already infected, or the source of the bacteria, for another cat to catch pink eye.
On the other hand, Viral pink eye can spread just from close proximity and interaction between infected cats.
Meanwhile, other forms of pink eye, like environmental non-pathogenic pink eye, aren’t necessarily contagious.
Two cats exposed to the same environmental pink eye risk factors won’t have the same chance of catching pink eye. Purebred cats are also often more prone to pink eye than others, and in some cases, can catch pink eye without any noticeable environmental risks.
What Does Pink Eye In A Cat Look Like
Pink eye infections usually involve the sclera (the white portion) of the eye and the surrounding tissue looking slightly inflamed or reddened. However, how red or pink the eye becomes, how swollen it seems, and how distressed your cat seems in reaction to the pink eye can vary widely from cat to cat.
At a minimum, pink eye in cats usually means that your cat’s eye will be slightly pink, they might squint a little in that eye, and it may water more than usual. Your cat pawing at their eye, especially in combination with squinting, is also a good early sign of pink eye.
In severe cases, it might look like your cat’s eyes are very red, or they may barely open their eyes, paw at or cover their eyes, and may water quite a bit.
How Long Does Pink Eye Last In Cats
Most of the time, pink eye will resolve within about 5-14 days of showing symptoms, but not always. For instance, immune-compromised cats might not be able to fight off a pink eye infection, which means the infection would likely last longer.
Environmental pink eye can also take longer to resolve if you don’t know what’s causing the problem. For instance, some cats develop pink eye due to seasonal allergies, and you have to treat the allergy to treat the pink eye effectively.
Unfortunately, having caught pink eye and getting better isn’t good protection against future cases of pink eye since there are a wide variety of causes.
Can Pink Eye In Cats Go Away On Its Own
Yes, but we don’t recommend waiting to see if your cat will resolve their pink eye without medical attention. Most cats’ immune systems will take care of a case of pink eye unless they are already immune-suppressed, but that doesn’t mean that the infection won’t damage their eye or surrounding tissue first.
How Do You Treat Pink Eye In Cats
Pink eye in cats has a range of treatments, from treating the discomfort of a viral infection to using antibiotics to help clear a bacterial infection. If your cat has allergy-related pink eye, your vet will likely recommend avoiding the allergens, including getting an air filter or give your cat allergy medication to help minimize the risk of getting pink eye.
Caring for your cat at home often means monitoring their symptoms, giving them eye drops, and making sure they aren’t messing with their eyes too much and risking damage.
Things To Consider
Most cats will get pink eye at some point in their lives, so it’s not a reflection on your care if your cat does get pink eye. If your cat manages to go several years between eye infections or other problems, chances are you are doing a good job providing a healthy environment.
Purebred cats, especially Siamese cats, are also significantly more prone to pink eye than other cats. In some cases, purebred cats will get pink eye with very few possible triggers, including no viral or bacterial infection, along with no allergens.
Purebred cats are also more likely to get allergen-related pink eye and can get viral and bacterial pink eye slightly more often than other cats. That doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable for a purebred cat to get pink eye at some point, but it does mean that you should be prepared for your cat to get pink eye.
In some cases, your vet may also recommend keeping eyedrops around for your cat. Some cats will benefit from regularly flushing their eyes, even if they don’t have any apparent environmental risk factors for pink eye.
It’s also important to know that your cat should be isolated from other cats and some other kinds of pets while they have pink eye. Pink eye is highly transmissible between cats, so an exposed cat is likely to develop its pink eye.
If possible, you should not keep two or more cats that all have pink eye together since that can increase the risk of repeat infection and increased spread.
It’s also important to isolate your cat from rodents (including rabbits), ferrets, and any birds in your home since some common causes of pink eye in cats are transmissible to those species.
While pink eye is usually reasonably easy to resolve with prompt medical treatment, it’s essential to get your cat looked at as soon as possible.
The longer pink eye is allowed to progress without treatment, the more likely your cat will have problems including bad eye pressure, partial or total loss of vision in the eye, and damage to their tear duct and other eye structures.
It’s also important to know that reinfection with pink eye is very common. Your cat might seem to recover for a couple of weeks, only to come down with another case of pink eye.
It’s a good idea to call your vet if that happens because depending on your cat’s medical history, they might ask for an appointment to check your cat, or they might suggest using the same treatment again without needing an appointment.