Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cat anophthalmia: Your kitty's tiny, missing eyes might need surgery

Lucy looks beautiful after her enucleation surgery
I think Lucy is a stunning kitty. But she wasn't born looking this way. When she was a very small kitten, I took her to my local veterinarian, and she went through two enucleation surgeries.

Lucy needed those surgeries because she was born with a genetic condition called anophthalmia. In essence, she had no functional eyeballs in her eye sockets. But she did have functional eyelids, tear ducts and eye lashes. Here's what she looked like the day I brought her home.

Small and blind cat Lucy before her enucleation surgery

You'll notice that she had really beautiful eye lids here, ringing her sockets with black mascara. She didn't have any pain from her eyes at all, and in theory, she could have gone on living like this for the rest of her life. But, those functional eye parts didn't make Lucy's life very easy.

Her tear ducts went on working, even though she had no eyeballs to lubricate. So at the end of a long day, her cheeks were caked with tears she didn't need. She often looked a lot like this.

Lucy the blind cat before her surgery with her pug
Liam the pug has always been a great big brother.

Her poor cheeks are wet with tears, and her eye sockets are also a little pinker than they should be. That's a concern, as it seems to indicate that the tissues are inflamed, either by bacteria or from the cleanings I had to give her every night to wash the excess tears away.

My veterinarian advised a surgery for Lucy to improve her overall heath. Those two moist, open, dark eye sockets in her head were a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, and if she got an infection in there, she'd need eye drops and other stinging treatments in order to heal.

Lucy the blind cat before her enucleation surgery
Lucy didn't have a huge mane when she was a kitten. That came later!

Plus, surgery could improve her quality of life. Enduring a face cleaning every night just wasn't fun for this little girl, and it's possible that she would tolerate it less and less as she grew into an adult. Kittens are accustomed to momma's work, but older cats might not handle the same level of attention.

So we scheduled surgery. The doctor examined her eye sockets and removed any eye globe tissues he found, and then he removed her tear ducts and eyelashes, and sewed everything shut. She was sent home with pain medications, and she's never looked back.

I've seen other cats with Lucy's condition. In fact, we had a kitten pass through the shelter last month (with the adorable name Megatron), and he had anophthalmia in one eye.

Megatron the kitten with anophthalmia

Notice that his left eye socket is open, and that it's a little gooey. In theory, he could simply deal with this for the rest of his life. Plenty of cats with this condition do.

But, based on Lucy's experience, I think that surgery really is the way to go. She has never had an open infection in her eyes, simply because I got it handled before her inflammation turned south. And she recovered from surgery really quickly, too, and may not have done the same with a daily cleansing.

So I'm the first to recommend surgery. In my opinion, it's a great choice for cats with this (unfortunately common) eye deformity.


  1. This is interesting. I have not had any experience with cats with this condition, but definitely sounds like you made the right decision. She's a beauty

    1. Thanks! I think she's beautiful, too.

  2. I'd never heard of this condition before, so thank you for an informative post. Lucy is just gorgeous!!

    1. I had thought it was a rare thing, but seeing that little kitten at the shelter made me reconsider. I think it might happen much more frequently than I had assumed!

  3. I fostered a kitten who had this issue as well, fortunately for her the tear ducts were not an issue so they never bothered to sew her eyes shut. It has been several years now since I had her and she is doing very well still.

    1. Oh, that's interesting! Glad to hear the little one is doing well.

  4. Thank you for this. I have a young lady,not quite adult not quite kitten amymore,she was born without side has no problems but the other is always having to be cleaned and she HATES it. The vet I use never mentioned this option,but I am going to get in touch with her soon. I think my baby would be much happier if I keep my hands off her face.

    1. Oh, I'm glad to hear this helped! I really do think it's the right choice for these little guys. And now, I've seen it done in the shelter on 3 other cats, including an adult stray boy who didn't have it done as a kitten and had a nasty head abscess when he came to us. Surgery really does make a difference.