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Cat Stories Newsletter, Issue #016 -- WARNING: Pets are Going Blind in Hawaii!
September 30, 2016
WARNING: Pets are Going Blind in Hawaii
Sydney Singer from FireAntEye.org recently contacted me, asking me to help spread the word about the epidemic of cat blindness in tropical climates.
“If you are a pet owner moving to Hawaii you know how stringent the Hawaii health requirements are for dogs and cats imported into the state. But, did you know that, once in Hawaii, your pet could become partially or totally blind, depending on where you live? There is currently an epidemic affecting the eyes of thousands of animals in east Hawaii Island, where over 50% of the cats and dogs are developing mysterious white spots on their eyes. The spots can grow to cause partial to total blindness. It affects pets of all ages. The cause is unknown, and there is no treatment or cure. The most popular theory for a cause is that the Little Fire Ant, a noxious tiny ant with a big sting that has now invaded Hawaii, is stinging the eyes of cats and dogs, and this somehow allows some bacteria or other pathogen into the cornea of the eye, resulting in the cloudiness. That's why we call this “Fire Ant” Eye. It is also called Tropical Keratopathy, Florida Keratopathy, and Florida Spots, and is a problem in other tropical and sub-tropical locations, including Florida (hence the name), Tahiti, Martinique, and Brazil. It seems to be spreading along with the introduction of the Little Fire Ant, even to such places as Israel. But the Little Fire Ant link cannot explain it all. Some pathogen is involved, too. In fact, research has shown that removing the affected pet from the tropics to cooler climates helps reduce the cloudiness, which returns once the animal is brought back to the tropics. This suggests some infectious agent that is living in the cornea and is sensitive to environmental conditions. And infected corneas have been shown to be infectious to other pets. But to date, no antibiotic or antifungal medications have been effective. So, there is no treatment or cure at this time. There is no vaccine to prevent this. In fact, veterinarians are not even sure what this condition really is. There is nothing that can be done for the pet, but pray that the cloudiness does not get worse. However, efforts are underway to discover the cause and cure for this condition. The Good Shepherd Foundation is working with local veterinarians and a Mainland lab, called the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory of Wisconsin, to determine a diagnosis and find a treatment. For more information, and to see images of what eyes look like with this condition, go to FireAntEye.org. In the meantime, pet owners beware! Depending on where you choose to live, you may be putting your pet's eyesight at risk.”
By Sydney Ross Singer Medical Anthropologist Director, Good Shepherd Foundation Pahoa, Hawaii
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