Is this a cat emergency?
December 2, 2011 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday or the day before I noticed one of my cats was squinting a little in one eye. Then she started producing thick yellow goop. This morning there was a lot more thick yellow goop. This evening I noticed the nictating membrane of that eye is a little pinker and more swollen than the other one. She is having no trouble breathing and her appetite, thirst, and energy are normal. I don't have a lot of money. How urgent is this situation?

I contacted a low-cost clinic and they don't have appointments open for another week. There is a walk-in clinic I could take her to tomorrow, but when I took my cats there a week ago between medications and exam fees and everything it was $200 (SPCA does NOT equal low-cost, apparently). I'm on public assistance so that bill was a little harsh.

My bank account would prefer for me to wait but if this might be something serious I don't want her to lose an eye or anything. What is the likelihood of this being something very bad?
posted by schroedinger to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't weigh in on the condition itself, but I would try calling a 24-hour clinic to see what they think. I had a situation once that seemed to require late-night care and I called the clinic my vet recommends - they seemed very reasonable about telling me how likely it was that my cat needed immediate care, as opposed to trying to just gauge money out of me.
posted by AthenaPolias at 6:14 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

This happened to our farm cats all the time. Seemed to resolve itself. I would call a vet office though, there's probably some simple drops for it. Have fun putting them in!
posted by sanka at 6:16 PM on December 2, 2011

IANAV, but I do know that in people, conjunctivitis ("pink eye") can be caused by a virus or bacteria. It's usually treated with antibacterial eye drops, but if it's a virus, it usually goes away on its own in about a week and you can use warm compresses to the eye (and avoiding touching the other eye with anything that touches the infected eye).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:16 PM on December 2, 2011

I find this vet clinic chart, Is It An Emergency?, helpful when I am trying to make a decision about bringing my cats to the vet.

According to the chart, a cat with eye problems should be seen within 24 hours if there are no other symptoms. Here is an article by someone who used to work in a vet clinic explaining why.

You might try calling the low-cost clinic again and explaining that it's an eye problem that needs immediate attention; they might be able to squeeze you in between appointments. I've done this before on the advice of the afterhours emergency vet, who said the cat didn't need to come in immediately but needed to be attended to within 24 hours. I got the impression this was standard procedure and quite OK as long as I was willing to come a few minutes before they officially opened and sit in the waiting room until they could fit me in.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:27 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ugh, I just took them last week. Is there any chance she got this from the clinic itself? I adopted one of them from the same place and I'm pretty sure he had the worms they removed from both of them last week when he came home with me.
posted by schroedinger at 6:39 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAV either, and this is not meant to substitute for true veterinary advice, but I'm in the business. Eye "problems" can be hard to gauge over the phone.
Not many eye problems are life-threatening in themselves, but some really do need quick attention to save the eye. Others are "only" a painful aggravation and not so serious.
Eye problems like you describe are usually "owwie!", though.
There is no way to tell for sure if it's serious or not without an exam. So I say take him in as soon as you can; his eye health +/- vision could be at risk, but it's likely it hurts a lot too.
Don't use or put anything on it till you see the doc.
posted by bebrave! at 6:42 PM on December 2, 2011

Re: Worms.

As treehorn said, use a warm compress (/flannel), and be careful not to contaminate the other eye.
If you have unused eye-drops from a previous episode, you could probably get away with applying them, and see if cat gets better by monday.

On bebravel's note:
If you really want to be on the safe side as bebravel said, it is still ok to use plain saline drops, and warm flannel.
posted by Elysum at 6:45 PM on December 2, 2011

IANAV, but I am a long term cat owner - I've had this happen a few times with various different types of cats (indoor and outdoor) and it's never been anything serious. I just make sure to clean the area at least once a day with a clean, moist cloth/cotton pad in a manner much like others are describing. In my experience, it seems to resolve itself after a day or two. If there is any increase in severity or if the inflammation/oozing lasts longer than two days, that's when you call a vet.
posted by saturnine at 7:25 PM on December 2, 2011

A boric acid eyewash can be good for this. You can find it at many pharmacies.
posted by drhydro at 7:58 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Squinty eye + goop could = scratched cornea. Infection & permanent eye damage can set in pretty quickly. Maybe try warm packing it with a damp washcloth, but I wouldn't let colored goop (yellow, green, pus, etc) go for more than 24 hrs max. IANAV, but have been through this twice with our tabby. Better safe than sorry...
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 9:17 PM on December 2, 2011

Seconding Boric acid eyewash. Rinse several times a day. Get it at the drugstore. If things don't improve within two or three rinses, see the vet. Call the clinic to verify you're on the right track with this if you don't feel comfortable. This is the first thing I do with goopy eyes, and after a multitude of indoor, farm, and feral cats, it's always been given the thumbs up by the vet.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:40 PM on December 2, 2011

Get some eye drops. REALLY GOOD eye drops. we like gen-teal. put a drop or two in your cat's eye. if it clears up after 2-3 times per day after a day or two, you're fine. if it doesn't, go to the vet. or if it gets noticably worse, take kitty to the vet.

our cat gets squinty every few months. we put drops in it 2-3 times and it's cleared up.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:51 PM on December 2, 2011

I agree about calling the low-cost vet &asking if they can fit you in as a possible emergency (especially if you have time/willingness to go and wait early/late); the low-cost clinic in my area explicitly gives priority to 911ish cases. If this doesn't work, ask the cheap clinic for recs for other, regular vets in the area (preferably cheap), and call them & repeat the story that it's an emergency, can one slip you in?

If/when you see a vet, stress at the start that you're broke &JUST want an exam if possible to determine how serious the problem is Ask which if any necessary tests will be an additional expense. The eye may be treatable with warm cloths &OTC antibiotics, so ask. If not &kitty needs meds, ask the same questions as when you're bargain shopping for human meds: is the med available in an OTC or generic form? Does the vet have any samples? Can you get the med in concentrated/larger form to dilute/split to make it go further? Request a scrip to take with you; many human pharmacies now have stocks of pet meds now, and websites like could be cheaper still. You've proved that you were good for 1 vet bill, so maybe you can pay these costs on layaway installment planning.

It's now the weekend, which is when a lot of animal groups and petstores host free/reduced vaccination and/or neutering clinics. Sometimes (not always) these clinics offer a brief, free/cheap vet exam as part of the vacc package. Call and ask. This is how my cat got examined for worms. 

Too sleepy to type; plz forgive errors
posted by nicebookrack at 10:00 PM on December 2, 2011

Cats sometimes get eye infections when they are stressed. Personally, as long as the cat wasn't pawing at the eye, I'd wait a couple of days to see if it resolved itself. If it started to get worse at anytime, then I would go to the vet.

My anxious cat gets an eye infection every once in awhile, and it resolves itself in a couple of days.
posted by Mittenz at 5:10 AM on December 3, 2011

We have a cat that gets occasional eye infections with the same symptoms as your cat's, and she's always prescribed erythromycin opthalmic ointment (I even have an AskMe about whether my daughter and my cat's ointment are the same thing and the answer appears to be "pretty much, yeah.")

I'd call the low-cost vet and ask if they could just write you a prescription for it and sell it to you. Should be 30-40 bucks. If they won't do it, it's pretty common, so here are a couple other strategies you might consider:
  • Ask your friends if they have any lying around. Ask friends with cats and young children first. I have two (possibly three) tubes sitting around and if we lived in the same area I'd just say "pick a time and place to meet me and you can have some."
  • Call other vets. Explain your situation: "Money's really tight, I just spent more than I can afford on the cats care last week, can you prescribe some erythromycin ointment for my cat and I'll buy the ointment from you?" There's basically no potential for abuse here. You can't freebase antibiotic eye ointment. Worst that can happen is they say "no, we don't do that."
  • Have insurance and a decent relationship with your doctor? Explain the situation and ask if s/he will write you a scrip.
  • Craigslist/local forum or listserve plea: "Anyone have some leftover erythromycin eye ointment after treating a person or cat? I need some for my cat and money's tight." If someone like me read it, you'd get some.
In the meantime, I'd use boric acid solution as previously suggested. It does some good.

Good luck. And be warned that some well-intentioned but lacking-perspective person is probably going to post in this thread and tell you your cat's going to go blind by this evening and if you love your cat you will pawn, steal or turn tricks to get the cat to the vet. It comes with the territory and you can just ignore them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:49 AM on December 3, 2011

Sorry but I really think you have to treat this as serious. I know it might not be, but eyes are something you can't be too careful with. And anecdotally, we had a cat with similar symptoms and if I hadn't taken him in he might not have survived it and/or could have lost his eye.

Sorry. Hopefully when your financial situation improves you can insure the little guy.
posted by tel3path at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2011

Don't EVER use eye ointment that contains a steroid without doing a dye test for corneal abrasion. You can blind the animal. Antibiotic ointment is fine as long as its unopened. Don't ever use the same tube on different eyes on the same animal or other animals.

Warm wash cloths and gen teal are ok tho.
posted by fshgrl at 8:59 PM on December 3, 2011

OK, took her in over the weekend to a walk-in clinic and just paid the money, as I wasn't able to find any low-cost people who could immediately take her. They did a corneal abrasion test and she's fine there, gave me triple antibiotic ointment. Which looks like it's basically neosporin, only $22. Sigh. It's been nearly a week, the goop is gone but she's still squinting and the nictating membrane still looks red. I'm going to keep applying the ointment but in the meantime I've got an appointment with the low-cost clinic for next week in case it doesn't clear up by then.
posted by schroedinger at 9:36 PM on December 8, 2011

The other clinic gave me erythromycin cream, an oral antibiotic, and a lysine supplement. The combination seems to have done the trick and she's doing fine! The vet there was really surprised she was so amenable to anyone going near her eyes, he said they were very irritated.
posted by schroedinger at 3:17 PM on January 2, 2012

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