Question: Our cat, Crystal, has been suffering with her eyes on and off. She rubs them and even has discharge from them, which comes and goes. Are there any holistic options instead of repeated trips to the vet, who usually gives us the same antibiotic eye drops?
C.C., via email
Answer: Any eye condition can be serious and should always be checked by your vet. Immediate treatment is essential to prevent permanent damage or even blindness in some cases. This is mainly because most eye conditions, from simple to serious, have the same symptoms and can look alike. There are more than 50 conditions that can affect the eye and eyelids—the most common ones are conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, foreign objects in the eyes and cataracts.
Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelids and external surface of the eyeball, known as the conjunctiva—in cats this also includes the third eyelid. Allergies, infections and dry eye can all cause conjunctivitis. Dry eye, known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, occurs when tears don't form properly and is more common in certain dog breeds like Cocker Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso.
Corneal ulcers are basically craters on the surface of the cornea caused by a foreign object, like pollen, or self-inflicted from scratching the eye. In dog breeds like Boxers with protruding eyes, these ulcers are more common. Cataracts can be related to diabetes but are most often a sign of aging.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The most commonly seen symptom in conjunctivitis and ulcers is a weepy eye with clear, greenish or yellowish discharge. Your pet may rub its eye, squint and avoid bright lights. Redness, blood, dullness and swelling may also be seen. A tendency to bump into things suggests that your pet is partially or fully blind or has cataracts.
After taking a thorough history and performing a general exam, your vet will conduct a complete ophthalmic exam, possibly with additional tests to rule out dry eye, increased eye pressure, ingrown eyelashes and foreign bodies in the corners of the eye and under the third eyelid. If the situation is more complicated, your pet may be referred to a specialist for further tests.
In some cases, recurrent mild eye infections can be treated at home using holistic remedies. Here are a few that I've found to be effective.
Herbs Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis):
This is a very useful herb with both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Eyebright can be combined with an equal volume of goldenseal if the eye is swollen or painful. Soak a cotton swab in a dilute solution of eyebright or eyebright/goldenseal (two drops of tincture in 3.4 fl oz [100 mL] of saline solution) and gently dab the eyes. Apply the solution three times a day to help alleviate pain and discharge.
Chamomile eye-soothing wash:
Add two chamomile teabags to 16 oz (600 mL) of boiling water, steep for two hours until cool and then use as a soothing compress for conditions such as mild conjunctivitis. Using a clean cotton cloth, gently dab around the eye area, making sure you don't get any in the eye itself.
Traditional Chinese medicine
Eye problems can be an indication of an underlying liver problem. The conjunctival mucus membranes turn yellow in jaundice and emit a thick discharge in cases of dry eye caused by liver imbalance. If your pet's problem is severe, a vet trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) may be able to help.
Chinese remedy Juhua powder contains a species of chrysanthemum and helps alleviate eye irritation.
Suggested dosage: Dogs and cats <15 lbs (7 kg), ¼ tsp twice daily; 15-50 lbs (7-23 kg), ½ tsp twice daily; large dogs >50 lbs (23 kg), 1 Tbsp twice daily
Dr Francis Hunter, in his book Everyday Homeopathy for Animals (Beaconsfield Homeopathic Library, 2004), advises using two pellets of the following remedies, depending on the symptoms.
Euphrasia 30c: For reddening of the lids with lots of watery discharge, dose orally every two hours for up to four doses initially, then three to four times daily.
Sulfur 30c: For reddening of the lids without much discharge, dose three times daily, four to seven days.
Silica 6c: Dose three times daily for seven to 10 days after an eye injury, a foreign body like pollen in the eye, or during chronic conjunctivitis. This can also be used to delay cataract progression.
Symphytum 30c: For painful corneal ulcers, dose every two hours up to four doses initially, then three to four times daily until there is improvement.
Arnica 30c: For bruising and swelling, dose three times daily.
Pulsatilla 30c: If the eye is pink with a yellow or greenish discharge, dose three
Homeopathic eye drops are also widely available to help with symptoms. Similasan's Allergy Eye Relief contains eyebright and may provide temporary relief from itchy eyes, while Complete Eye Relief includes belladonna, eyebright and mercurius sublimatus for a range of eye conditions.
Apply gentle pressure on the following points for one to three minutes up to five times daily. (There's more information in my book, You Can Heal Your Pet.)
GB1: Located at the outer corner of the eye
GB41: Located on the hind foot just below the ankle
ST2: Located in the middle of the eye socket just under the lower eyelid
Top tips for healthy eyes in cats and dogs
Be diligent. Beyond regularly cleaning your pet's eyes, simply keeping fur out of them could be the single most useful thing you can do to avoid eye problems, as this is a major cause of infections and ulcers. Have a groomer trim the fur on the head, or if your pet will allow it, fasten or tie their hair up. Hair on the face can even make some dogs fearful and photophobic.
Be prepared. When accidents happen, over-the-counter antibacterial treatments like MicrocynAH ophthalmic gel and Vetericyn Plus All Animal ophthalmic gel and eyewash are useful to clean minor injuries around the eye. Bathing your pet's eye gently with clean water can help remove any sticky discharge. However, do not treat your pet with any leftover eye medications without getting a diagnosis from your vet. The wrong drug could make problems worse.
Have a plan. In certain dog breeds with protruding eyes and shallow eye sockets, like Pugs and Bulldogs, trauma can easily dislodge the eye. This is an emergency, and your pet's eye can be saved only if you get them to the vet quickly. For any such situation, get informed about local 24-hour veterinary hospitals you could turn to on a weekend or holiday.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com