Third eyelid in cats – What is it, causes and treatment

If we stop to see the eyes of a cat we can notice that they are impressive, many are those who wonder why there is a third eyelid in cats? And it is true, many animals have it, but few know what it is and its function.

Third eyelid in cats

What is the third eyelid in cats?

The third eyelid has its scientific name “Tertia palpebra” and is a membrane possessed by many mammalian animals.

It is a tissue that is positioned around the cornea, the conjunctiva and the mucous membrane.

This connective tissue membrane is free of hairs and its framework is composed of a cartilage that has a “T” or anchor shape. In this can be found a gland that is responsible for a high supply of lacrimal secretion of the eye.

When there is a possibility that the eye may suffer some kind of trauma, the external eyelids (upper and lower) tend to contract and allow the appearance of the third eyelid.

It acts as a kind of curtain that will cover the eye either partially or completely.

The third eyelid has no musculature of its own, so its movement is completely dependent on the external membranes. Once the external eyelids relax again, the third eyelid will return to its original position and will be hidden.

What is its function?

The third eyelid in cats, as well as in other animals, fulfills a very important function, since it is in charge of protecting the feline eyeball in several ways. These functions are:

  • It protects the eye from possible external aggressions that can be suffered. It prevents parasites from entering the eye, as well as dirt, dust, sand and other particles that may damage it in one way or another.
  • It is in charge of a great part of the cat’s tear production, since it produces between 30% and 40% of them.
  • It gives a great contribution of defenses for the eyeball, so there is less risk of damage.
  • It is responsible for the expulsion of any foreign object that may have entered the eye or that intends to do so.

Is it normal for my cat’s third eyelid to show a lot?

The answer to this question is simple. No, it is not normal for a feline to constantly show the third eyelid. If your cat starts to see the third eyelid in one or both eyes or has inflammation, it may be an indicator that something is happening, there may be some discomfort in the eyeball, pain or some condition.

According to some investigations that have been carried out, it is said that the appearance of this membrane could be associated with the appearance of parasites in the feline’s intestine or problems in the digestive system.

Other investigations indicate that the appearance of this membrane is only associated with eye problems.

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Can dehydration cause nictitating membrane prolapse?

Dehydration is one of the causes for the third eyelid membrane to become visible. Once there is an extreme lack of water, the appearance of the membrane will be almost immediate.

This will be a clear alarm signal, since it would indicate that the feline’s condition is serious and that it should be taken immediately to a veterinarian for proper treatment and rehydration.

You should always keep in mind that, once you notice something unusual in your cat, the ideal is to take him to the veterinarian, so that the professional is the one who indicates whether something bad is happening with the feline or not. Never diagnose your pet yourself, as you could put it in serious danger.

What is the nictitating membrane?

When we talk about “nictitating membrane” we are referring to the third eyelid itself. This is one of the ways in which this ocular membrane is called in cats. Its name comes from the Latin “nictare” which literally means “to blink”.

Other reasons why the third eyelid is very visible?

There are many times when the appearance of the third eyelid is related to some pain condition or damage that may have occurred in the eyeball. An example of this is when a feline has an ocular disease such as uveitis.

As we have already mentioned above, there are many experts who also associate the appearance of this ocular membrane with some problems or disorders at the gastrointestinal level, since many cases have given indications that this could be a cause.

There is also a link that says that the appearance of the membrane is associated with the presence of intestinal parasites, although this theory is still very widespread and without a complete basis.

Among the most common causes of the appearance of the third eyelid we have:

Ocular diseases

There are a great number of diseases or traumas associated with the eyes, when there is the presence of ocular pain, usually the nictitating membrane appears to protect the eye.

Other symptoms include constant tearing (which can be watery or purulent), ocular redness, photophobia, visible changes in the feline’s pupils, and other symptoms.

When there is a trauma, Horner’s syndrome may appear, which has among its symptomatology the prolapse of the third eyelid membrane, in addition to this, it also has symptoms such as pupil contraction, upper eyelid drooping and strong lacrimation.

Tumors

Tumors are one of the least frequent causes for the appearance of the third eyelid. Among the squamous cells that most commonly appear in the eyelids of cats are: melanomas, lymphomas, leukemia and carcinomas.

Adenocarcinoma is one of the most common tumors within the low impact of the same, this carcinoma directly affects the nictitating membrane making it frequently visible.

Third eyelid in cats

If I want it cured, what is the treatment of the third eyelid in cats?

Since there are several causes for the third eyelid to be visible, the treatments to be used for its cure will also be different. Each one will be carried out according to the symptomatology presented by the cat.

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Depending on the cause that provokes the prolapse of the nictitating membrane, one or another treatment should be performed. Let us know some of them:

  • In the case that it occurs due to dehydration, it is advisable that the feline is provided with food that is moist and that it has access to plenty of water, in this way the dehydration process can be stopped. However, even if these steps are taken, a veterinarian should be consulted, as the prolonged lack of liquids in the animal’s body can be very dangerous and will require medical supervision.
  • When we talk about felines suffering from conjunctivitis, ocular wounds, foreign body invasion inside the eye or cancer, the first thing to do is to get a diagnosis from the veterinarian, because only he will be the one to say what treatment will be performed based on the symptoms and the cause of the appearance of the third eyelid. One of the most common treatments in these cases are eye drops and some other medications, depending on the severity of the condition.

In the case of cancer, it will be the veterinarian who will indicate which treatment is best for the feline, always taking into account a good quality of life and its health.

  • When we talk about the presence of the third eyelid due to Haw syndrome, this does not need a particular treatment, because it will disappear when the intestinal problems, which evidenced the membrane, also disappear.
  • In case the nictitating membrane prolapse is due to genetic origins, it will be the veterinarian who will decide the treatment to follow. Certain medical studies should be performed, especially if the membrane is affecting the feline’s vision or if it is causing any type of discomfort, pain or discomfort.

In these cases, surgical intervention may be necessary, although this will only be determined by the veterinarian.

What is Haw syndrome?

This is the term used when the presence of the nictitating membrane is linked to the cat suffering from some intestinal problem, intense diarrhea, vomiting or parasites.

This syndrome affects cats older than 3 years, however, there is no distinction in the breed of cat or sex of the feline.

The diagnosis can be achieved through the installation of a sympathomimetic agent. Changes in the postganglionic sympathetic system usually respond to medications within an average of 20 minutes.

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If there is prolapse or inflammation, what do I do?

This is the term used when the presence of the nictitating membrane is linked to the cat suffering from some intestinal problem, intense diarrhea, vomiting or parasites.

This syndrome affects cats older than 3 years, however, there is no distinction in the breed of cat or sex of the feline.

The diagnosis can be achieved through the installation of a sympathomimetic agent. Changes in the postganglionic sympathetic system usually respond to medications within an average of 20 minutes.

If there is prolapse or inflammation, what do I do?

In case you notice that your cat has a prolapse in the third eyelid membrane or that it is inflamed, the first and most advisable thing to do is to go to a veterinarian. This will be the one who will make an examination and the appropriate diagnosis that will allow you to know the causes that have provoked some of these symptoms.

It will be the same doctor who will prescribe the appropriate treatment that should be administered to your feline and treat the condition that causes the symptom and to help the membrane to return to its place of origin.

In the worst case, is third eyelid surgery necessary?

Third eyelid surgery will be necessary if conventional treatment does not work or if the disease the animal is suffering from has caused severe damage to the membrane.

A third eyelid surgery is not too invasive. However, it will require full sedation and complex care, because if it is not done correctly, the surgeon could affect the feline’s vision or eye.

It will be the veterinarian who will determine whether or not it is necessary for the cat to undergo surgery for the correction of the third eyelid in cats. In some cases, depending on the disease causing the appearance, it will be strictly necessary to perform this surgery.

There are many cats that have had to undergo corrective surgery for these cases, however, there are more cats that, with proper treatment, can improve without having to undergo surgery.

Everything will depend on the cause of the nictitating membrane visualization and the effectiveness of the treatment prescribed to the feline.

In case the cause is a dirt, trauma or other simple factor, the treatment is simple and will not require surgery.

Now that you know all about the third eyelid in cats, we would like you to leave a comment regarding the subject or tell us if you have had any experience with a feline that had any of these problems with its nictitating membrane.

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