Kitten Conjunctivitis

By: Talin Seta Shahinian

Dr. Angie frequently fields phone calls about litters of kittens with eyes full of gunk, asking what they can do to help these kittens. These calls are usually regarding farm kittens living with a bunch of other cats. This condition is called kitten conjunctivitis.

What Causes Kitten Conjunctivitis?

Viruses such as herpes, chlamydia, or calicivirus are the most common causes of conjunctivitis. While viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, veterinarians often prescribe antibiotics to treat and prevent secondary, opportunistic infections. 

Is it Kitten Conjunctivitis or Something More Serious?

If the kittens are thinner than normal, not eating well, have noses full of snot, and are sneezing a lot, take them to your veterinarian as soon as possible, as this may indicate they have a more serious condition which can be fatal. However, if they’re full of energy and eating well, you can try some treatments at home first.

Home Care Tips for Kitten Conjunctivitis

You can treat kitten conjunctivitis at home. Steps include:

  • To lower their stress level, move the kittens and mother if still nursing, to a peaceful, secluded spot without other cats around. Being crowded by too many other cats will add to the stress on their immune systems and can result in more severe symptoms.
  • This location should be warm, dry, dust-free, and the kittens should have fresh water available and plenty of food if they’re not still nursing.
  • Wipe the kitten’s eyes with a warm wet washcloth several times a day. If any of the kitten’s eyes are sealed shut due to drainage that’s dried, gently open their eyes with the washcloth.
  • In some cases, topical antibiotic ointment will be needed. A go-to eye ointment is Terramycin (oxytetracycline with polymyxin B) which can be purchased at Farm and Fleet. Put this in the kitten’s eyes three times daily for at least five to seven days. Make sure their eyes are clean, using the warm washcloth again, if needed, before treating their eyes with the ointment. 
  • A word of caution: some kittens can be allergic to eye ointment. If their eyes don’t start to improve within two to three days, their eyes get worse, or you notice the kittens rubbing their eyes, then they may be allergic to the ointment. If this is the case, call your vet, and they can advise you on the next steps to take at home or if you should bring them in to be treated.
  • Likewise, if you’ve tried these suggestions and the kittens are not improving within two to three days, then it’s time to take them to your vet. The veterinarian will likely want to test them for contagious diseases, such as the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline infection viremia (FIV), and prescribe oral antibiotics.

Prevention of Kitten Conjunctivitis

The good news is that you can easily prevent your kittens from getting kitten conjunctivitis by vaccinating all the kittens on your farm. This vaccine is called a 3-way vaccine or a distemper shot. The vaccine doesn’t guard against every single virus that causes kitten conjunctivitis. Still, by preventing some of the most common infections, the kittens’ immune system will have an easier time fighting off the rest. 

Making sure all your adult cats are also properly vaccinated protects kittens when they’re born. Following the recommended guidelines for kitten vaccinations and the schedule for booster shots will keep your kittens safe from conjunctivitis. These immunizations are first given to kittens at six to eight weeks and then repeated every three to four weeks until your kitten is four months old. These core vaccines not only protect your kitten from conjunctivitis but from the most common diseases: feline distemper (panleukopenia), feline viral rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus 1), calicivirus, and rabies. 

The 3-way vaccine that your vet carries is going to be the best quality one. However, if you have a farm with many cats, it’s often too costly to have a vet vaccinate all of them. In that case, pay a visit to Farm and Fleet and buy their cat vaccination called rhinotracheitis-calicivirus-panleukopenia. 

While you may balk at the cost of vaccines, not skimping on vaccinations saves you money in the long run, as you won’t have to spend money on veterinary care for conjunctivitis. Unvaccinated cats are also at risk for other health conditions that can be costly to treat. Last but certainly not least, proper prevention through vaccination also spares your kittens from the discomfort of conjunctivitis. So protect your kittens through routine vaccination, and give them a great start in life! They’ll be healthier, and you’ll both be happier. 

If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We’re a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. Find information for scheduling on our website. You can also look on our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!


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