The transparent cornea enclosing the front portion of the eye is a remarkable organ in itself. Responsible for gathering light and directing it into the eye, healthy corneas are essential for proper vision.
It stands to reason, then, that ulcerations (loss of surface epithelium) or scratches involving one or more corneal surfaces can seriously threaten eyesight if not managed promptly. Corneal ulcerations in cats can occur secondary to poor tear production, entropion or ectropion, dust and foreign debris in the eye(s), nail scratches and other direct trauma, and infections.
Some of the most common sources of corneal ulceration seen by veterinarians are soap or shampoo burns caused by inadequate eye protection when bathing. Pet owners should always apply a sterile ophthalmic ointment to their pet’s eyes prior to any procedure that involves potentially caustic substances around the eyes.
Since corneas are so sensitive, even shampoos with touted “no tears” formulations should never be used without applying this protection first. Clinical signs of a corneal ulcer include squinting and aversion to light, ocular discharge, and obvious discomfort, often signified by pawing at or rubbing the affected eye.
A change in the normal color or transparency of the corneal surface is also an indicator that something is wrong. Definitive diagnosis of a corneal ulcer is made by veterinarians using special fluorescein dyes to stain the corneal surfaces.
Dead, diseased corneal tissue will readily take up such stains whereas healthy tissue will not. Fortunately, the cornea is one organ that will heal quite rapidly if treatment is administered quickly and vigorously.
For ulcers involving only the superficial layers of the cornea, topical antibiotic ointments or solutions designed for use in the eyes and applied three to six times daily will help speed healing.
Of course, if an underlying cause, such as foreign debris, still exists in the eye, it must be removed before proper healing can take place.
Superficial ulcers can heal in 36 to 48 hours with proper treatment applied.