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Imagine you’ve noticed your furry friend’s eyes are looking a little sore. Perhaps there is nasty discharge coming from them, or maybe they just look red and inflamed. You don’t have time to run to the vet for advice or visit your local pet store to pick up some specific cat-friendly eye drops.
But you do have some human eye drops in your medicine cabinet. Can you use human eye drops on cats? Or will this make whatever eye condition they’re dealing with far worse? The answer to this question depends on whether you’re using artificial tears or a medicated solution.
Artificial tears are generally safe for use on cats, whereas medicated eye drops are not. You can learn why in this article. Plus, I run through come common feline eye conditions and treatment options available to help your cat make a full recovery.
Are Human Eye Drops Safe for Cats?
Whether or not you can use eye drops on your cat depends on the type of eye drops in question. Many people assume that all human eye drops are the same. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! There are three primary categories of eye drops which are each used to treat different issues with the eyes:
- Artificial Tears: These eye drops are specifically used to treat dry eyes and add moisture to the surface of the eye. They are designed to replicate real tears and so are at the same pH as the eye. You can get artificial tears both with and without preservatives.
- Allergy Drops: These eye drops are intended to help soothe red, itchy, and watery eyes that usually result from allergies. These contain antihistamines, a drug well-known for its allergy-busting qualities.
- Anti-Redness Drops: These eye drops are used to treat red bloodshot eyes. They contain a vasoconstrictor which causes the diameter of the blood vessels in your eyes to decrease to combat redness. Many also contain antihistamines as well.
Of these three, allergy drops and anti-redness drops are not safe for cats. Both contain human medications which can cause adverse effects in our feline friends. They have not been tested on cats and can make your cat’s sore and watery eyes far worse.
On the other hand, artificial tears are generally safe for cats. The physiology of human eyes and cat eyes are very similar and they are at the same pH. This means that any artificial tears will not cause any pH fluctuations. The only minor risk is if your cat has a rare allergy to one of the ingredients.
For this reason, you should always opt for preservative-free eye drops if you will be using them on your kitty. Of all the ingredients in artificial tears, cats are most likely to have a sensitivity to preservatives. Even so, I would still recommend speaking to your vet first before using any human products on your cat’s eyes.
When Can I Use Human Eye Drops On My Cat?
There are so many different eye problems in cats, and not all of them can be treated with eye drops. If there is an infection of the eye, your cat will need a course of antibiotics. Corneal disorders might require surgical removal of the corneal tissue to heal properly. For something like conjunctivitis, your vet will need to prescribe steroid ointments.
Moreover, some diseases manifest as ocular systems but aren’t anything to do with the eyes at all. For example, my cat’s eyes are always dilated because he suffers from hypertension. Eye drops would be useless here. Instead, my vet prescribed medication to correct his blood pressure and I didn’t need to bother with any eye medication whatsoever.
However, there are some eye conditions where using artificial tears could be beneficial.
1. Blocked Tear Ducts
Blocked tear ducts aren’t common in cats, but you might come across them from time to time. The tear duct is where the water on the surface of the eye drains. When the duct becomes blocked, there will be a lot of watery discharge coming from the eyes.
Tear ducts can be blocked for all kinds of reasons. One common one is allergies. If your cat has watery eyes and sneezes, allergies are pretty likely. However, blocked ducts can also be hereditary, due to infections of the eye, or even obstruction by a foreign body.
The treatment of a blocked tear duct will depend on the cause. However, human eye drops might come in handy if the condition is due to obstruction by a foreign body. It is best to leave this to your vet though – you won’t want to flush your cat’s eyes with the drops, you’ll need to flush the tear ducts themselves. This should be done under a general anesthetic.
2. Dry Eye Syndrome
Keratoconjunctivitis (KCS), better known as dry eye syndrome, is when your cat’s tear ducts don’t produce fluid as they should. This will cause the surface of their eyes to lack moisture. Yet keeping the cornea lubricated is crucial for overall good eye health and in removing debris from the eyes.
İf your cat has dry eye syndrome, you’ll notice some of the following symptoms:
- Excessive blinking or squinting
- Redness and inflammation of the eye
- An overall dull appearance
- Discharge from the eyes
Artificial tears can be useful here. They provide the moisture that the eye is lacking, helping to lubricate it so that it functions like normal. However, there are several different causes of dry eye and usually, there is an underlying condition responsible. Thus while artificial tears will temporarily ease symptoms, you’ll still need to see your vet to receive treatment for the underlying cause.
Common causes of dry eye in cats are bacterial and viral infections, immune diseases, and tumors in the brain or inner ear. Thus, treatments can range from immune-suppressing drugs to antibiotics. You might still need to use artificial tears alongside these drugs while the medication does its job.
3. Lodged Foreign Material
Is your cat keeping one eye closed? If so, they might have debris or a foreign body lodged in the outer layer of the eye. Other clinical signs include:
- Repetitive winking, blinking, and squinting
- Cloudiness over the surface of the eye
- Pawing at the eye due to discomfort
- Pus or watery discharge from the eye
Common examples of debris that get stuck inside the eyes of our furry friends include pieces of hair, plant material, seeds, and dust particles. Artificial tears are useful here as you can use them to flush out the eye. By doing so, you’re trying to dislodge the foreign material so that it stops causing your cat pain and discomfort.
However, when something gets lodged inside your cat’s eye it can cause minor scratches on the surface. These have the potential to become infected. So, if you are sure you have removed the foreign material but your cat’s eye remained red and irritated, definitely speak to your vet.
4. General Eye Cleaning
You can use artificial tears for general cleaning rather than to treat a specific condition. Maintaining clean eyes is important in ensuring good ocular health and preventing infections and other complications from developing in the future. There are a couple of options for this:
- Soak a cotton wool ball in the solution and use it to gently wipe away any discharge from your cat’s eyes. You can also use water straight out of the tap for this – it doesn’t need to be eye drops or artificial tears.
- Use the eye drops to lubricate your cat’s eyes at the first sign of redness or irritation. The lubrication can help remove anything that is causing discomfort immediately before it leads to infection and other complications.
When Should I See A Vet?
If you’re still unsure whether or not to see your vet, I suggest you make the trip. Cats’ eyes are very delicate and there are so many different conditions that they can be hard to diagnose at home. Each will need specific treatment depending precisely on what is wrong.
Therefore, relying solely on human eye drops to treat all eye conditions is silly. This will give time for infections to worsen, inflammation to increase in severity, and the overall health of your cat’s eyes to deteriorate. Take a trip to the vet, and if human eye drops are what your cat needs your vet will advise you of this.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
So, can you use human eye drops on cats? This depends on the type of eye drops you’re talking about. Medicated eye drops are a no, but artificial tears without preservatives are generally safe to use on our furry friends.
With that being said, don’t rely on these eye drops to cure eye conditions. They might be useful for treating dry eyes or cleaning away debris, but eye infections and other disorders will need specific medicated treatment from a vet. Cat’s eyes are extremely delicate and sensitive, so I suggest taking your cat to the vet every time just to be sure you’re not causing more harm than good.