Medically known as enucleation, eye removal is sometimes a necessary surgery in cats. The entire globe, sclera, cornea and a portion of the optic nerve are removed. It is most often carried out in blind and painful eyes which are unresponsive to treatment.
Removing the eye is often a very difficult decision for the pet owner to make, but always the right one. Cats do fine with one eye and can live out a long and happy life. The loss of an eye should have very little impact on your cat's quality of life. In most cases, it will be improved if your cat has been living with pain and discomfort for a while.
What are the reasons for eye removal?
Cancer - This may either be cancer of the eye or cancer behind the eye. There are several types of cancer which can affect the cat's eye including iris melanoma, conjunctival squamous cell carcinoma, intraocular lymphosarcoma and iris/ciliary body melanoma. These cancers have the potential to spread (metastisise) to other parts of the body, therefore removal of the cancerous eye is indicated. Most information discusses removal of the eye due to intraocular malignancy, however, in some cases, the cancer may be behind the eye, such as in the case of my own cat who had osteosarcoma.
Eye infection or inflammation - There are many causes of eye infection or inflammation in cats some are the result of infections such as herpes, injuries or scratches may occur to the eye resulting in an infection which remains unresponsive to treatment.
Severe glaucoma - This painful condition is caused by an increase in pressure in the eye. As this pressure builds up, extreme pain occurs.
Trauma - Enucleation may be required in cases of trauma, particularly if vision in the eye has been lost. There is always a risk of a condition known as sympathetic ophthalmia, in which the undamaged eye becomes inflamed and can potentially lose vision. Removing the damaged eye prevents this condition.
Congenital deformities - These may render the eye unworkable or abnormalities can lead to permanent damage over time requiring the eye be removed.
Enucleation is a last resort surgery and is only carried out if there is no hope of sparing the eye. In many cases, the eye is already blind and causing your cat pain.
How is the surgery performed?
This surgery is performed under general anesthetic. Your veterinarian may want to run routine blood work prior to surgery to check the overall health of your cat to make sure he's strong enough for surgery.
He will need to be fasted the evening before and the morning of surgery. This is a safety measure in case your cat vomits while he is unconscious.
The surgery itself is reasonably straightforward. Once the eyeball has been removed the veterinarian will stitch the eyelids together.
Your cat will stay overnight in the veterinary practice and when he is released will need to wear an Elizabethan collar until the surgery site has healed, usually between 7-14 days.
He will be sent home with antibiotics and painkillers/anti-inflammatories to relieve discomfort. While your cat is recovering, he should be kept reasonably quiet and indoors.
The eye may need to be gently wiped daily with a damp gauze.
Mild swelling may be seen shortly after surgery, usually due to the formation of a hematoma underneath the eyelid. If you notice severe swelling or oozing from the area, contact your veterinarian immediately. A warm compress may be applied to the area to relieve discomfort.
How long does it take to recover from surgery?
This depends on the age and overall health of your cat. Your cat will experience some soreness and possibly swelling for a few days post surgery.
If non-absorbable stitches have been used, your veterinarian will remove them around 10-12 days post surgery.
Long term the outcome is good, there will be some loss of binocular vision, however most cats adapt well and do fine with just one eye.