Help! My Cat Is Bumping Into Things

If we have to pick favourite diseases, mine is retinal detachment in cats. One day your cat goes suddenly blind, and the next they can see again. All thanks to a simple and low cost treatment.

However, for this to happen, you need to know what to look for, and act quickly.

How To Tell If Your Cat Has Poor Vision

Here are the common signs of vision loss or blindness in cats:

  • Bumping into things they should be able to see
  • Dilated pupils (large black eyes)
  • Sudden anxiety about moving around or going outside
  • Crying or aimless wandering
  • Blood in the eye or a cloudy eye

The cat pictured above has a dilated pupil, but even that is not as wide as we typically see in a blind eye. Often you can barely see any of the usual yellow or green iris colour.

The actual cause of blindness does not always come on as suddenly as it seems. Cats can cope very well with poor vision and it’s often only when the lights go out completely that you will notice.

The Causes Of Sudden Blindness In Cats

There is a long list of possible causes of blindness in adult cats, of which only two are common.

  • Hypertension
  • Anterior uveitis
  • Damage to the eye or its nerve supply
  • Tumours anywhere along the vision pathways
  • Progressive retinal atrophy or PRA
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma

Of these, eye damage can be from head trauma secondary to car injury or lacerations from cat fights. PRA is a genetic disease causing retinal degeneration, and only likely in young purebreeds (I saw my first ever case just last week in a Toyger). Tumours are rare (often iris melanoma) and cataracts and glaucoma even rarer (these diseases are explained here).

Of the two common causes, anterior uveitis is seen as a red, painful or cloudy eye that’s no longer clear inside. The cause is usually an immune response to infections like FIV, FIP or toxoplasmosis. It needs to be treated quickly to avoid blindness but is usually quite obvious.

The one I want to focus on in depth is feline hypertension. This is the most likely reason for sudden blindness in older cats and its effects are often reversible.

How Hypertension Causes Blindness

detached retina cat

Hypertension, or raised blood pressure, is common in old cats. It’s often secondary to kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, but also occurs on its own. If untreated, it can cause two things to happen the eye:

  1. The retina (the light sensitive layer) separates from the rest of the back of the eye. This is retinal detachment.
  2. Blood vessels burst leading to bleeding inside the eye or on the retina. The blood then blocks vision.

The picture shows a severe case of retinal detachment. You can see a widely dilated yellow pupil, and the greenish bulging retina in the middle.

Treatment Of Hypertension

My experience is this: if retinal detachment is detected while the retina is only partly peeled away, it will reattach once the blood pressure is controlled. In other words, cats who are brought in as soon as the problem is noted have a very good chance of their vision being restored.

When we see a disease known to be linked with hypertension, we will measure blood pressure. I saw such a cat a few weeks ago with blood in the eye. Within a few hours we had tested her and started her on antihypertensive medication. Her blood pressure is now normal, and she’s made a full recovery.

Medication for high blood pressure in cats is only once daily, cheap and generally very effective. Of course, we always check the response after a few weeks just to be sure.

So the take home message is not to overlook even the slightest hint of eyesight problems. While cats can live happily even after losing their sight, for many of them, it never needs to happen.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

10 Replies to “Help! My Cat Is Bumping Into Things”

  1. My cat has dilated pupils 95% of the day everyday for few months. Eyes are clear but reflect light all the time. I went to vet and dr checked her eyes and said everything looks normal.
    Do you know what is happening to my cat?

    1. Hi Camilla. Sometimes dilated pupils can be caused by stress or fear so consider that possibility too. Please keep a watch on things, especially if the retina was not examined and consider going back to your vet if you’re concerned.

  2. My deaf cat went suddenly blind 5 days ago. I was very quick getting her to the vet where she was diagnosed with detached retinas from hypertension and we had the meds in hand 3 days ago. Unfortunately she spat out the first amodip pill and I didn’t find it until 24 hours later. Clearly she wants to stay blind! She’s reliably having them in cubes of cheese now without complaint.

    I have noticed a few things that give me hope she’s likely to recover some useful vision and wondered if you can tell me if they are good signs, neutral signs or wishful thinking. I don’t want to read too much into anything and get my hopes up.

    She has a pupillary response and a dazzle reflex. If you shine a torch towards her and move it around she will reliably track the light source with her head. Before she started the meds her pupils were cloudy, but they seem to be going more black over the last 24 hours or so.

    She’s coping as well as can be expected this week, but deaf and blind seems like such a tough combination to deal with! She has trouble finding me when she’s in the mood for cuddles.

    1. Hi Amanda. Those are indeed good signs. Any sign of a pupil light response or vision indicates that some of the retina remains attached, and this can lead to further reattachment from that point.

  3. Thanks for the article Andrew. Just found this problem in my 17 year old, fortunately took her in today and started the medication immediately. My questions are, how long can the recovery period be and is there anything that can be done to enhance or improve the healing process?

    1. Hi Ned. Cats will not recover if the condition has become irreversible, but those that do will regain vision over a period of several weeks. The main thing you can do is make sure that the medication has effectively reduced the BP at a recheck appointment.

  4. My cat has the red eye talked about in your article and seemed to go blind overnight. He’s 14. I brought him to the vet and she gave me a script for Semintra for high blood pressure. It’s over $105 and after spending $474.00 at the vets I was hoping for a cheaper high blood pressure medicine. The closest pet smart that has this med is 45 minutes away. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi Andrea. You can ask your vets about amlodipine. It’s an inexpensive and generally very effective treatment for hypertension in cats. Good luck.

  5. My old cat (19 years) seems to have gone blind overnight. It’s possibly been about a week since I first noticed. I just thought he was losing his vision because he’s getting old. I had no idea that it could be treatable. I’m going to take him to our vet. Could his vision be restored with medication or is it too late for him?

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