Meet Astrid!

By Dr. Hayley Grove

Topics include: reducing stress for cats, herpes viral infection, corneal ulceration, Persistent Pupillary Membranes

Background: Astrid, 1 year old cat, was recently adopted from a shelter by a loving family! After adoption, Astrid was experiencing severe complications of herpes viral infection of the eye and the eye had to be removed to make her comfortable.  

As you can see from the image, Astrid’s left eye has an unusual appearance. Fortunately, this is a congenital condition, meaning Astrid was born this way. It is not painful or harmful to her and her vision is normal.

This condition is called Persistent Pupillary Membranes, and these strands that you can see in the photo come from the center of the iris (colored portion of the eye around the black pupil). You can also see a slight haziness on the surface of the cornea. With her history of herpes viral infection and corneal ulceration, this is likely a scar on the cornea where a previous ulcer healed. 

Did you know that almost all cats are exposed to herpes when they are still young kittens?

Yes, it is true. Almost all cats are exposed to herpes when they are still young kittens by another cat or their mother. While it is a very common condition, it can still be serious as it was in Astrid’s case.

Cats and kittens in shelters (aka in high stress situations) are more likely to develop a herpes viral infection. This is usually seen as conjunctivitis – meaning the pink tissue around the eye is redder and the tissue is puffy and may cover the cornea if severe. This can lead to ulceration in some cases. Rubbing or pawing at the eyes can also increase the risk of ulceration. You can also see discharge from the corners of the eyes, and it will usually be whitish to yellow/green. 

Other stressful scenarios for cats include their family being out of town, renovations being done on the home, introducing new pets, and visitors being in the home.

How do we reduce stress for cats?

It is most important to reduce stress to help avoid illness in the first place. One solution is to try FELIWAY spray which mimicks the cat’s natural facial pheromones – creating a state of familiarity and security in the cat’s local environment. Besides your veterinarian, another great resource is the Indoor Cat Initiative.

Treatments

There are good treatment options if this condition is detected and treated early in its course.

  • Antibiotic Ointment: We have antibiotic ointment that helps especially if there is a secondary bacterial infection. This is very common with herpes viral infections. Oral antiviral medications are also very effective and can be given in pill form. 
  • Probiotics: Recently, studies have shown that feeding probiotics to kittens in shelters can help improve the outcome of herpes viral infections. Probiotics are very important because they support the immune system, especially in young animals. 
  • Elizabeth Collar: Another necessary intervention if the cat is rubbing the face or pawing at the eyes is an Elizabethan collar. Remember, we need to prevent accidental trauma to the cornea, so “the cone” is our friend. 
  • Eye Drops: I also like to use drops that help with the cornea heal faster i.e. Remend.
  • Before starting a new routine or administering supplements, please consult your veterinarian.

If you have recently adopted a cat or changed your cat’s routine, they are at risk of a herpes virus flare up. Some cats are more susceptible than others, as with everything in life. 

The most important thing to do as a pet owner is pay attention. Your pet’s eyes need careful attention, as problems can develop very quickly and be very severe. I recommend that the family watch for pawing the eyes, rubbing the face on floor/bedding, squinting, shying away from light, and if there are differences in pupil size/shape and how the third eyelid looks.

If your cat is experiencing any of the symptoms in this article, please book an appointment at our clinic by calling 404-907-1404.

Want to learn more about Persistent Pupillary Membranes and herpes viral infection of the eye? Check out the full Astrid case study here.