What’s Making My Cat’s Eyes Water?

Although eye discharge isn’t usually a problem, there are times when it may indicate a medical issue.

This may include a blocked tear duct, conjunctivitis, infections or inflammation.

For this article, we’ll be considering some of the most common reasons for eye discharge in cats, as well as some of the treatments available.

Remember to consult a vet if the discharge from your cat’s eye(s) is excessive.

Common Reasons Your Cat’s Eyes Are Watering

There’s a variety of reasons that your cat’s eyes may be watering. Some of them are serious, others not so much.

Normal/Everyday Discharge

It’s not uncommon for your cat’s eyes to get watery at times. Typically the discharge may appear as dry, crusty and slightly brown.

This is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s an issue.

Bear in mind too that breeds such as Himalayans and Persians are more prone to water eyes.


Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the inside of the eyelid and can be caused by parasitic, viral or bacterial infections.

It’s quite common among cats, given their sensitivity to allegens and irritants.


  • Redness of the eye
  • Discharge from the eye (eyelid may also show a discharge)
  • Swollen eyelids or a bulging third eyelid (the membrane under the eyelid)
  • A watery discharge that may be present on the face, nose, or paws

Treatment Options

Cat conjunctivitis usually goes away on its own. If it doesn’t you should consult a vet.

The vet may prescribe antibiotics to fight off any bacterial infection.

Antibiotics won’t work if the conjunctivities is caused by an allergy or virus though.

So an antihistamines may be prescribed instead.

Corneal Abrasions

Corneal abrasions are scratches to the eye’s surface and may be caused by dust, sand, sharp objects or a fight with ano ther cat.

Exposure to toxic chemicals or a bacterial infection also result in abrasions from time to time.


  • Eye Discharge
  • Rubbing Eye with Paw
  • Squinting
  • Redness of Eye

Treatment Options

Corneal abrasions in cats usually heal within three to five days. However, to assist in pain prevention, relieve spasms and prevent bacterial infections, an atropine ophthalmic ointment or drops may be prescribed.


Feline glaucoma is a condition in which increased pressure from fluid buildup in the eye, damaging the optic nerve.

Although one of the leading causes of blindness in cats, it’s actually quite rare.

This painful condition is caused by infections such as uveitis, turmors and eye lens damage

Symptoms are not always obvious but may include those listed below.


  • Reduced vision
  • Watery Discharge
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Difficulty with depth perception
  • Drooping eyelids

Treatment Options

Although there’s no cure the discomfort can be alleviated with eye-drops or tablets.

These are often used as a first line of treatment in mild cases and can relieve the pressure.

More serious cases may require surgery performed under general anaesthetic.

In very serious cases, the eye may have to be removed.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry Eye Syndrome results in inflammation, redness and irritation of the eye.

The condition is caused by atopy – an immune reaction to an allergens such as dust – as well as exposure to smoke or chemicals.

Other causes include certain medications, trauma to the eye or eyelids, hormonal changes in female cats and some forms of cancer.


  • Excessive Tearing
  • Mucus Discharge
  • Redness
  • Dull Appearance to Eyes
  • Inflammation/Pain in the Eyes
  • Excessive Blinking
  • Excessive Squinting
  • Corneal Ulcers

Treatment Options

Although not life-threatening, dry eye syndrome can be uncomfortable for felines.

It’s usually treated with medications that stimulate tear production, such as cyclosporine or prednisolone. These come in the form of drops.

Artificial tear solutions are often used together with tear-production stimulants as well. For an underlying infection, topical antibiotics may also be prescribed.

Blocked Tear Duct

When your cat’s tear ducts become blocked, a l build-up of fluid in the eye is often the result which in turn may cause discharge.

Blocked tear ducts are often the result of inflammation or infection in the area around the eyes.

Causes may include an overgrown eyelash, trauma to your cat’s face or an insect bit.


  • Excessive Tearing
  • Crusting of the Eyelid
  • Discharge from One or Both Eyes
  • Wet Fur Beneath Eye
  • Excessive Blinking or Squinting

Treatment Options

Treatment for this condition is usually aimed at removing or reducing blockages in order to relieve pressure on the tear duct, thus allowing it to drain normally again.

Anti-inflammatory medicines or antibiotics are helpful in this regard, shrinking the swollen tissues around the eye and gradually alleviating the problem.

In more serious cases, your vet might use water or saline to flush the blocked duct in order to remove foreign bodies.

Upper Respiratory Infection (Cat Flu)

Eye discharge can result from upper respiratory infections such as influenza whic are caused by either the herpesvirus or calicivirus viruses.

Both are common and lead to sneezing, lethargy, fever and also eye-discharge.


  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from Eyes and Nose
  • Wheezing
  • Lethargy
  • Dribbling
  • Cat Fever

Treatment Options

There’s no treatment of viral upper respiratory infections, although if your cat has a bacterial infection, oral antibiotics will help.

Otherwise, it’s just a question of waiting the illness out, just as you would if you had flu. Recovering often takes from five to ten days.


Allergies resulting from food, parasites or the environment can sometimes cause excessive eye-discharge.

Symptoms can include sneezing, eye irritation and discharge from nose and ears.


  • Sneezing
  • Runny Nose or Eyes
  • Itchy Skin
  • Swollen or Red eyes
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Hives
  • Vomiting/Diarrhoea

Treatment Options

You’ll need to identify the cause of your cat’s allergy so that you can source the most appropriate type of medication.

This can be difficult given how many different cat allergies exist.

So it’s highly advisable to contact your vet so you can get the correct diagnosis.

The most common medications used to treat allergies in cats include cortisone pills, topical medications such as lotions, ear/eye drops, antihistamines and flea prevention products.

When to Consult the Vet

Excessive eye discharge in cats is medically termed as Epiphora. As well as the amount of discharge, warning signs that something may be wrong can be derived from its colour.

Yellow or green discharge of a sticky consistency could be the sign of an infection or underlying issue.

So it’s important to get your cat checked out if you feel that the discharge is excessive and/or discoloured.

Indeed, we must stress that the only way to get the right diagnosis is by consulting a professional vet.

Further Reading

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine – Feline Vision Problems: A Host of Possible Causes
PetsMD – Eye Discharge in Cats

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