I often get phone calls about litters of kittens with “eyes full of gunk” and questions follow wondering what they can do to help the kittens. These are usually kittens on farms with high numbers of other cats living on the farm. I call this condition Kitten Conjunctivitis.
The cause of this Kitten Conjunctivitis is usually a virus. Herpes, Chlamydia, and Calici virus are the most common. Although these are viruses, veterinarians often prescribe antibiotics to treat and prevent secondary (opportunistic) infections.
If the kittens are thinner than normal, not eating well, have noses full of snot and sneezing a ton, then take them to your veterinarian as soon as you can as this condition can be fatal. However, if they are full of energy and eating well, then my can try some things at home first.
There are a few things you can try at home before taking the litter of kittens to your veterinarian:
Make sure kittens (and mom if still nursing) are moved to a location that is not crowded with other cats as stress will add to the immune system stress and more severe symptoms.
Kitten location should be warm, dry, dust free and have plenty of fresh food and water.
Wipe the kittens eyes with a warm wet washcloth several times a day. If any kittens eyes are glued shut due the the dry drainage then gently open the eyes with the washcloth.
In some cases, topical antibiotic ointment will be needed. My go to eye ointment, which you can buy right at Farm and Fleet is Terramycin (oxytetracycline with polymyxin B). You will want to put this in the kittens eyes three times daily for at least 5-7 days. Keep cleaning the eyes before placing the ointment. Note of caution: some kittens can be allergic to the eye ointment. If eyes do not start to improve within 2-3 days or eyes get worse and kittens rub eyes then they may be allergic to the medication. Call your veterinarian in this case.
If you have tried these suggestions and the kittens are not improving within 2-3 days, then it is time to take them into your veterinarian. The veterinarian will likely want to test them for some contagious diseases (Feline Leukemia Virus-FeLV and Feline Infection Viremia-FIV) and prescribe oral antibiotics.
You can easily prevent your kittens from getting this Kitten Conjunctivitis by vaccinating all cats on your farm. The vaccine is called a 3-way vaccine or “distemper”. The vaccine doesn’t guard against every single virus that causes Kitten Conjunctivitis, but, by preventing some of the infections, the kittens own immune system will be able fight off the rest much easier. The 3-way vaccine that your veterinarian carries is going to be the best quality vaccine. However, farms often cannot afford to have the veterinarian vaccinate the cats. In that case, head down to Farm and Fleet and get their cat vaccination Rhinotracheitis-Calicivirus-Panleukopenia.