Learning that your cat needs eye removal surgery can be shocking, and you'll likely have many questions. In this post, our Doraville veterinarians explain what happens when a cat loses an eye and what happens during the enucleation (removal) surgery.

Enucleation in Cats

Finding out that your cat needs an eye removed can invoke many emotions, including shock, alarm, sadness, and concern for your cat's health during surgery and the recovery process.

Your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist performs enucleation, a procedure to remove a cat's eye surgically.

This procedure may be recommended as a permanent and irreversible solution if:

  • Your cat's eye is badly or irreparably damaged
  • Your cat's eye pain is unmanageable
  • Your cat has an untreatable eye condition or tumor

There are two types of enucleation surgery: transconjunctival and transpalpebral. The transconjunctival approach reduces orbital tissue loss and subsequent orbital sinking. There is less risk of hemorrhaging, and the procedure time is faster overall.

Your veterinary ophthalmologist may opt for the transpalpebral approach if the eye is damaged beyond repair. During this surgery, the entire eye globe, including the elements contained by the conjunctival sac (eyelids, conjunctiva, and nictitating membrane) is removed. 

Sometimes, a veterinary ophthalmologist may be able to replace the inner contents of the eye with a prosthesis, which creates a more natural-looking eye. However, this is not appropriate for eyes with tumors or infections. 

Eye Removal Surgery: Procedure & Cost

Hospital staff will take your cat's vital signs before administering pre-anesthetic drugs. After sedation is achieved, general anesthesia will be started. Staff will then shave the fur around the affected eye and trim the upper eyelashes with fine scissors before using tape to remove fine hair from the skin.

The surgery will be completed depending on the surgical approach you and your veterinary ophthalmologist have chosen based on your cat's eye condition and needs. The eyeball and eyelids will be carefully removed and their wound stitched.

Stitches are used to close wounds. Some stitches or made of absorbable, invisible material and will not have to be removed because they gradually dissolve. Stitches are often non-absorbable and visible on the skin's surface. Your vet can discuss which kind of stitches were used and provide instructions on when to return to have them removed. 

Once the surgery is complete, the empty eye socket will be covered by skin. While the eye may remain swollen for a week, the scar should hardly be visible once the fur grows back.

The cost of your cat's enucleation surgery will depend on many factors, including their pre-operative and post-operative care needs. Ask your vet for a specific, detailed cost estimate of your cat's procedure.

Cat Eye Enucleation: Possible Complications

If an infection occurs, the eye area will remain swollen for an extended period (longer than the week or so it would typically take to heal), and you may notice pus draining from the incision. In this case, the infection would require drainage and antibiotics. 

If you notice these symptoms and suspect your cat may have a post-surgical infection, check in with your vet as soon as possible. 

When veterinary ophthalmologists remove a cat's eyes due to severe damage, they sometimes have difficulty removing the eye in one piece. A small fragment of the rear eye membranes may remain. If enough of this tissue is left, fluid secretion may continue to ooze from the incision. If this is excessive, a second surgery may be required to clean the cat's eye socket thoroughly. 

Recovery After Enucleation in Cats

This procedure is a permanent solution for eye conditions that have not or will not respond to treatment. Completely removing an eye that's been damaged by injury, infection, or cancer will ideally eliminate the issue and prevent the condition from spreading. 

Here's what you can expect and some actions to take to ensure your cat's recovery from surgery goes as smoothly as possible:

Bruising: Soon after your cat's surgery, some mild bruising and swelling may occur. It's normal for this to worsen in the first 24 hours and then ease gradually over the first week of recovery.

Weeping: You may see a small amount of blood-stained fluid come from your cat's wound or, occasionally, from the nose. This is because the tear ducts are connected to the inner nostrils. Contact your vet for further instruction and care if there are more than a few drips.

Blood dripping from the nose should diminish about two to four days after the operation. 

Pain: Your cat will likely feel a small amount of pain and discomfort post-surgery. Most of this can be managed with medication. Once your kitty has returned home, administer all medicines correctly. Contact your vet if your cat still seems to be in severe pain. Once healing is complete, the surgical area should be pain-free and comfortable. 

Protect the Wound: You must prevent your cat from pawing at or damaging the surgical site to avoid infection or reopening the wound, especially in the first three to five days post-surgery. To do this you should fit your cat with an e-collar and keep them away from other pets.

Keep Your Cat Indoors: If your cat normally ventures outside, it's important to keep them indoors as they recover. This decreases the risk of injury or infection. Don't forget to provide a litter box, too.

Administer Medication as Directed: Your vet will prescribe pain medication to be administered while your cat recovers, likely for a week or so after surgery. Make sure to provide this as instructed.

Make Sure Your Cat Gets Lots of Rest & TLC: Arrange a warm, comfortable, quiet place for your cat to rest and recover after the surgery.

Provide Soft Food: If your cat is experiencing pain or a loss of appetite, soft food may help. Try warming their normal food slightly or giving them something with a strong scent, such as tuna.

Return to Your Vet for Stitch Removal: Stitches typically need to be removed within 7 to 14 days after the operation.

Monitor Health & Whisker Regrowth: After enucleation surgery, whiskers won't typically grow back for six to eight weeks. Since cats use their whiskers to sense their surroundings, they should be monitored and protected during this timeframe, as cats without whiskers are prone to becoming imbalanced. 

How Your Cat Will Adjust After Eye Removal Surgery

Many pet parents wonder, 'What happens when a cat loses an eye?' Some worry for their pet's safety and ability to enjoy a good quality of life.

Owning a one-eyed cat will come with challenges, but it shouldn't be notably different from having a fully-sighted cat, as they adapt well. You can help them by: 

  • Moving any objects the same height as your cat's head may cause harm or injury (since your cat will not be able to see from the side where they've had the eye removed). 
  • If your cat has a condition that may threaten the remaining eye, take other preventive measures as directed by your vet.
  • Speak to them when approaching on their blind side to avoid startling them. Tell guests to do the same and take extra care when bringing small children and other animals around your cat. 

Most cats respond well to partial blindness and resume regular activities quickly. 

Preventing the Need for Eye Removal Surgery

Cat eye removal surgery is often recommended for felines with eye conditions with unknown causes. As such, prevention is not always possible. However, preventing eye trauma is a good start, and seeking veterinary care immediately if you detect a problem is important. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat showing signs of issues with their eye? Contact our Doraville veterinary team today to book an examination right away.