Why Are My Cat's Eyes Watering?

Cat Center
cat with dilated, surprised eyes

When you look at your cat, you should normally see two strikingly clear and bright eyes staring back at you. But what if instead you see watery or goopy eyes? Should you be concerned? When can you safely monitor symptoms at home and when should you take your cat to the vet? Underlying causes range from conditions which will resolve on their own to those which need veterinary care to prevent long-term vision damage to the eyes.

What is Considered Normal?

Occasionally, your cat may wake up with a small amount of dried crusts around the eyes, just like people. This is no cause for alarm. Simply wipe away the crusts as needed to keep the eyes free and clear of debris buildup for proper hygiene.

Is My Cat Crying?

Epiphora, or excess tearing, is caused by the abnormal drainage of tears or irritation to the eye. It is very common to see epiphora in flat-faced breeds, or brachycephalics, such as Persians or Himalayans. Due to a shortened muzzle, the tears can no longer properly drain into the nose, which consequently causes the tears to roll down the face. These breeds also tend to have shallow eye sockets, causing the eyes to bulge. This increases exposure of the cornea (the clear, protective outer covering of the eye) causing greater environmental irritation to the eye. In response, the eyes will increase tear production to remove any debris stuck to the cornea surface.

Eyelid conditions, such as entropion and ectropion (rolling inward or outward of the eyelids respectively), can cause the hairs around the eye to rub the cornea when blinking and/or collect debris. Each of these conditions cause further eye irritation and excess tears.

Common allergens can also cause epiphora. Environmental irritants from dust, dirt, household cleaning products, and scented items (candles/essential oils/plug-ins), to seasonal pollens, molds, etc., can cause eye drainage just like in people. If your cat has clear eye drainage, but is eating and drinking well, and still acting playful, you are likely fine to monitor for 48 hours to see if the drainage clears without vet care.

What If I See A Flat or Swollen Area Of Pink Flesh in My Cat’s Eye?

Cats have three eyelids. The third eyelid resides at the innermost corner of the eye and is normally not visible.  Sometimes, it can be seen with infections or certain parasites. Other times, the eyelid may pop out of its normal position and swell due to lack of blood circulation. This is known as a cherry eye. This swelling can alter normal tear drainage, causing tears to run down the face instead. An appointment should be scheduled with your vet for treatments, but these conditions are not emergencies.

My Cat’s Eyes Are Red and Inflamed. What’s Wrong?

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, will cause the eyes to become extremely red and irritated. This is commonly seen in cats. It can be caused by not only viral infections (most commonly feline herpes virus), but also allergies. The eyes may also progress to swelling and light sensitivity. Conjunctivitis tends to occur in times of stress (herpes) or seasonal (allergies). Although easy to treat, if left untreated, serious consequences may occur.

Why Is My Cat Pawing at His Face?

If your cat is pawing at his face or excessively rubbing his face, he may have a foreign body, a corneal ulcer, or a blocked tear duct causing irritation. Watery eyes, squinting, and excessive blinking with or without signs of discomfort, may also be seen. A trip to the vet should be taken immediately for evaluation if these signs are noticed.

What If I See Green, Yellow or Sticky Eye Discharge?

Just like in people, goopy colored discharge is usually a bacterial infection, whereas a clear discharge suggests a viral infection. Oral or topical antibiotics from the vet may be needed to help clear the infection.

My Cat’s Eye Swelled Up Overnight. What Should I Do?

Any obvious signs of pain, swelling around the eye, or a bulging eyeball, warrant an immediate trip to the vet. Glaucoma or an abscess can develop very quickly and vision loss may be permanent with delay. These conditions are very painful and need veterinary care. Cancers may also develop inside an eye or eyelid, or behind the eye. They will typically be slower growing than glaucoma or an abscess, but can be locally aggressive and appear suddenly as well.

Can My Cat Get a Cold?

People frequently wonder if pets can catch colds - well, cats can get upper respiratory infections just like people. Common signs are sneezing and runny eyes and/or nose. If signs are mild and your pet is acting normally, it may clear on its own in about a week. If symptoms do not start improving in a few days, a vet trip is recommended. If symptoms worsen, such as a reduction in eating or drinking, lethargy, weight loss, or fever, veterinary care is warranted.

When Should I Take My Cat to The Vet?

If your cat’s eyes have tearing for more than a few days, or if you notice any signs of discomfort, infection, or swelling, you should go to the vet for an evaluation. A veterinarian will perform a full eye exam and a few tests to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment options.

What Can I Do to Make My Cat More Comfortable?

You can make your cat more comfortable by cleaning any goopy discharge from his eyes as needed. Try to keep the face clean and dry. Don’t forget to clean facial folds if your cat has them. You can pour some saline on a cotton ball to carefully wipe each eye from the inside corner to the outside. Make sure to use a fresh cotton ball to clean each eye. Avoid any over the counter washes or solutions unless your veterinarian has approved them for your pet. If you clean your cat’s eyes before visiting your vet, make sure to take a photo to document the severity of the symptoms.