Cat Eye Operation

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen

I often find myself sympathising with my patients, and feeling for their distress and pain when they are suffering from illnesses or injuries – and never more so than when their problem involves their eyes. There’s something about injuries and diseases of eyes that really affects me more than almost any other type of problem and I can really empathise with how my patient must be feeling. Having an ulcer or other injury to an eye must be horribly painful, not to mention the psychological impact of dealing with the loss of some or all of your sense of sight.

When Sylvester the cat came into the consulting room last week and clambered miserably out of his wicker basket, my heart sank and I felt an immediate sense of shock and distress when I saw his problem. His left eye was barely recognisable, with a large grey ulcer dominating the cornea and angry red blood vessels invading the usually clear surface of the eye from the sides. This was not Sylvester’s first visit to the surgery for this problem, but it was the first time that I’d seen him, and I immediately knew that we needed to do something drastic if we were going to save his eye – and bring his obvious suffering to an end. Looking at his records it was clear that this ulcer had been grumbling on for a couple of weeks by this stage, and despite ongoing treatment with medicated drops it was getting worse rather than better.

At this stage we had a couple of options to consider. One was to refer Sylvester to an eye specialist, but this was quickly ruled out by his owner on the ground of cost and lack of pet insurance cover. The second option would be to continue with medical therapy, taking a swab to find out exactly which bacteria were causing the ongoing damage and preventing the ulcer from healing and potentially changing the eye drops once these results were known. The downside of this course of action was that it would do little to alleviate Sylvester’s discomfort in the short term, but after talking to his owner and explaining that the only other option would be surgery to remove the eye, we agreed that we would try this first.

So I took a swab from Sylvester’s eye and sent it away to the laboratory to see what they could tell us about the infection. While we waited for the results we did what we could to manage Sylvester’s discomfort with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and then as soon as the results were in we started him on an aggressive course of antibiotics that were targeted specifically at the bacteria the swab had isolated. At this stage I was still optimistic that we could save Sylvester’s eye, but unfortunately things didn’t work out as planned and despite our new treatment regime, the ulcer stubbornly refused to respond and after a week of treatment it became clear to me that we were left with only one option – to remove Sylvester’s eye.

Breaking this news to his owner was not easy, but she did appreciate that it wasn’t fair to let him continue to suffer as he was doing given the now very slim chance that we would be able to save his eye. After a couple of long – and emotional – consultations, we agreed to go ahead and last Friday Sylvester came into the surgery for his operation.

Sylvester the cat after the operation to remove his eye

Sylvester the cat under anaesthetic after the operation to remove his eye

Removing an eye is an operation I really don’t enjoy, as I can’t help but really feel for the poor animal that is losing such a crucial part of their anatomy, and the operation itself is also technically tricky and pretty gruesome. Sylvester’s operation went as well as I could expect, but it was not one that I finished with a sense of satisfaction – I felt good that we had brought Sylvester’s suffering to an end, but I also felt as though we’d failed him by having to resort to such a procedure.

If you have any concerns about your cat’s eye please contact your vet or use the interactive cat symptom guide to help you decide what to do next.

  • Lynda Kelly says:

    Sadly my 16 year old Westie girl lost an eye in October.
    It developed a funny looking mark which looked like cracked ice. Took her to one vet-no idea-then another had no idea either (though both prescribed differing drops and charged me nonetheless)….
    In July I was made redundant so tried PDSA as a third option. They too had no idea but did observe it was now ulcerated into the bargain.
    Eyedrops didn’t help so they cleaned it under a local with a cotton bud. Still no improvement so had her in and debrided it. Waited 2 weeks-no improvement so had her in to sew the eyelid down. However once they had her under they phoned to ask permission for a removal as it was too badly damaged and a chance of it working was less that 50%. I didn’t want her knocked out yet again so agreed.
    I was very angry that the previous 2 vets had had no idea and showed little interest in bothering to find a solution for her. I feel if they’d helped us more her eye may well have been saved.
    She has done well without it and has been far less bumpy without it than while she still had it. It looked shocking at first and I was very distressed at having to resort to this solution but she adapted beautifully.

  • joe says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your dog’s eye and I can understand your frustration with your vets. However problems with eyes can be challenging to treat and unless you’re able to go for a referral to a specialist, most general vets can only offer quite limited treatment options and can sometimes struggle with more unusual cases.

    For future reference it’s probably worth asking to be seen by the vet at the practice who has most experience in dealing with eye problems as there is usually one vet in any practice who is has more expertise than the others, or, if possible asking to be referred to a specialist, although this can get expensive.
    Anyway, I’m glad the end result is not too bad, and I’m sure she’s much better off now without the eye than with a painful eye.

  • adam says:

    My Persian, Ollie, has a similar problem. I thought he originally had conjunctivitis, however, the vet said there was an ulcer – a prominent red lump at the top of his eye. He’s on drops and tablets at the moment – to be honest, it actually looks worse now than it did before.

    The vet talked about an opthalmic specialist – £200 per consultation – yikes! That was quickly dismissed as soon as the vet found out Ollie wasn’t insured. Funny thing is, Ollie shows no sign of discomfort – it’s as though nothing was wrong with his eye at all.

    The vet gave me a collar to put on him – waste of time. Because of his flat face, he can’t reach his water or food, so I took it off, and he hasn’t gone anywhere near his eye, even after the drops.

    The vet mentioned something called “melting eye” – and delivered quite a lengthy monologue on its causes. I’m sorry, but vets exaggerate – they all do.

    Anyway, I don’t know how long his eye will take to heal. He’s in no visible discomfort, he’s eating and drinking as usual, so losing his eye is not an option for me.

  • adam says:

    Ollie stayed in the vets over night – so they could administer his drops throughout the night. I had to tell the vet it was only one night for definite – he had written on the admission form “indefinite.”

    I picked him up this morning, and the nurse said he need to come back every 24hrs. Guess what? I get charged a consultation fee every time I take him back. Handy, that.

    She told me that his eye might not be saved – how on earth can I possibly know any difference to what they tell me? Do I just trust them at face value – or do I get a second opinion? He does not look to be in any discomfort at all.

  • Susie says:

    Adam, I’m so sorry your trust seems to have broken down with your vet, its really important that you go and discuss with them how you are feeling. You always have the right to ask for a second opinion either with a different vet within your existing practice or a vet from a completely different practice. Unfortunately exactly as Joe said in the last post eye problems can be very difficult to treat, its a specialist area and your own vets cannot give the same level of service as a specialist would.

  • Jooles says:

    We got the dreaded phone call at 1230 this morning to say our youngest cat, not even 12 months old, has been in a RTA. She has lost an eye, and not very responsive this morning. No broken bones or internal injuries have shown up on the xray, but breathing not good. So worried.

  • Susie says:

    Hi Jooles, So sorry to hear that, if the sight in the other eye is not affected she should adapt well to life with one eye. I hope the breathing is better now.

  • Jooles says:

    Been for another visit to the vets, breathing still not good and now has high temperature. Wish we could have stayed to comfort her but she is in an incubator of oxygen. Only couple more hours and we can visit again. Not bothered about the eye, she has another one! but worried what damage has been done. fingers crossed.

  • very inspiring – thanks for the post.

  • RIchard says:

    My cat Charlie was a recused stray from the RSPCA. He had already had an operation to resolve turned in eye lids before we adopted him. He had been to the Vet a number of times where we mentioned his right eye always seem to have a grey tinge and the pupil seem grey. We were always told be the various Vet’s that the eye was fine.

    Recently he walked in with his right eye closed with discharge. After a trip to the Vet we were prescribed drops. After checkups the Vet’s said the eye was much better. That was far from the truth, after checking the eye ourselves we could see that it was completely cloudy, almost white. Again the Vet gave us drops for conjunctivitis.

    Three days later we asked to be referred to a eye specialist. After one question and a quick look in the eye, he immediately diagnosed the problem. Anterior Lens Subluxation, basically the Len’s had detached and fallen into the space at the front of the eye. A condition that needs immediate treatment to save the eye, he actually operated that day. Because of the time it had been left undiagnosed it was hit and miss if the the lens could be removed or if he would loose the eye. What was also confirmed is he had a long standing cataract in the Lens and actually could never see out of the eye!

    Charlie is on the road to recovery, hence lots of drops, antibiotics and not being able to go out (and £1200 light). However, he now has sight in both eyes!

    If a Vet cannot diagnose a condition or you are not happy with the diagnosis then a visit a specialist for a consultation, it will not cost much more than a standard Vet. At least the problem will be diagnosed correctly and you can make an informed decision on treatment. Vets taking pot luck on treatments is just not acceptable! I know its only a cat, but its my cat!

  • wendy says:

    our cat who is 15 has been diagnosed a few weeks back with a detatched lense and the other eye was going the same. The vet said he was not in pain and nothing could be done for him as it was age related and he could no longer be an outdoor cat, and that if it became infected then he would lose the eye. It is so sad to see his white eyes.
    I have just read the article Richard Aug. 11th and feel sorry that I have not been given this information , that an operation is possible. I do not have the finances to pay for such an operation as a pensioner but wonder if the cats protection league or similar have funds for such a thing.Does anyone know? If my cat does need an operation to remove the eye how would I finance it? But I would love to be able to save his sight and this makes me feel really guilty.Itsounds that if left it will become infected. Any info please.

  • Susan Palmer says:

    My 16 year old cat Buttons Strached the cornea of her eye and the doctor sent her home at1st with drops.She WENT BACK FOR Afollowup and the doctor then says hhe wants to clean her teeth ,she went in and the next thing I know her eye had burst while she was on the table[this was after he said he did not want to try to take out the eye] .She got through the operation ok and is fine after he took the eye and now because the teeth were not healed where he extracted them he says she has Cancer, I want to take her for another opion should I? SmPALMER OF OHIO

  • Lydia chilton says:

    A couple of weeks ago I noticed there was something wrong with my cats eye when my son took a photo of him, and the eye didn’t reflect the flash…I thought it was the start of a cataract, and after research, thought it best just to leave it (BIG MISTAKE)…3 days after noticing it I went on holiday for 10 days..5 days in my dad rang me to say there was a yellowish lump protuding from his eye, as I was away there wasn’t anything I could do, another 3 days later my dad rang again to say the eye looked like a raspberry, and was weeping. I returned home last saturday and decided he needed to see a vet asap!!!..so i booked an appointment for the following monday….On sunday he went missing..I looked everywhere for him, with no avail !!!..I came to the assumption he had gone somewhere to die….that night I was doing some research on the internet and I found out what was wrong with his eye..it is called a descemetocele !!..I read on, and it said the eye starts oozing fluid from inside it…and this is what had started happening to him…it said the eye eventually collapses..well all that night i was beside myself knowing he was out there somewhere in excruciating pain with an eye ready to implode!!..I cannot tell you the trauma I was going through!!!!…well, Monday came and he never returned so I cancelled the vets and cried all night….at 3am Tuesday morning I was woken up by my son, with Felix in his arms!!..I was elated!!!!!…as soon as the vets opened I rang them up and that afternoon I took him there..they agreed that his eye would be removed..so they kept him in overnight..and on wednesday he had his eye removed. He is doing well now, even though he hates his buster collar immensley!!!..When i picked Felix up from the vets he crawled up me and snuggled my face and licked me profusely…it was the best feeling i had ever had!!!!!…..the vets said he had most probably suffered an injury to his eye to cause such trauma to it..and unfortunately he has limited vision in his “good” eye…I have spent the last 24 hours on poo and wee watch, as he has been struggling to go…2am sat in the garden watching an elderly cat bump about trying to wee is no fun I can tell you….he has had a good wee since and an explosion of poo…but he still is not as regular as he once was..I was told the operation and anaesthetic would have upset his bowel and bladder!!!!….anyway..the total bill came to just short of £600, and sadly i had no insurance for him, but the vets have been good and let me pay it in bits!!!!!….I just wish I hadn’t have been away when he got so ill, the speed of his eyes’ degeneration was alarming!!!…he must have been in total agony!!!!…please please, if you see this in your own cat..get them seen urgently..dont wait !!!!!

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