Watery Eyes in Cats: 6 Common Causes

Sick cat with watery eyes

Eyes are the window to the soul, and in our cats, we often admire their beauty. A little bit of extra tears won’t bother your cat, but what if the eyes are very watery? Does your cat need treatment? Read on to better understand your cat’s watery eyes.

The Basics of Tear Production in Cats

Cats’ eyes water, or produce tears, to protect the cornea, or the front of the eye. The many small glands that produce tears – from the outer part of the eye toward the middle corner closest to the nose – is called the nasolacrimal system. 

Tears drain from upper and lower eyelids into a sac, then into a duct that flows to the bottom of the nasal cavity (the cavity behind the nose).

Production of tears in eyes is a natural function, but if your cat’s eyes appear very watery and extra tears spill out of the eye, there is likely an issue. Whether or not the issue requires medical attention depends on if your cat is uncomfortable.

Cat Eye Watering: What it Looks Like

The discharge that comes out of watery eyes in cats is thin and either clear, slightly white, or tinted brown. It can affect one eye or both. 

Other symptoms are common, and may include:

  • Red eyes
  • Squinting one or both eyes
  • Sneezing and/or congestion
  • Unusual shape of the eyelids or eyelids rolling inward
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Cloudiness of the eyes
  • Fur loss around the eye
  • Irritation and redness just below the inside corner of the eye

Other eye discharges are possible such as bloody or mucoid discharge, which is thicker yellow to green discharge as opposed to watery discharge. The causes of different eye discharges can overlap significantly.

Why Are My Cat’s Eyes Watering? 6 Possible Causes 

Causes of watery eyes in cats include:

Feline herpesvirus-1

The most common cause, feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV), causes inflammation in the eyes as well as in the nose, both of which would result in watery eyes.

Blockage of the Nasolacrimal Duct 

This can occur due to a tumor, infection that causes swelling in the face, or nasal congestion.

Bacterial Infection

Chlamydophilia felis is a bacterium that leads to infections and swelling in the eye, especially in young kittens.

Foreign Body

A particle such as plant material can become lodged into the tissue under the eyelid and cause significant watering and squinting.

Breed Predisposition

Brachycephalic dog breeds – breeds that have a “flat” face – have a duct that travels so sharply upward that it often gets “kinked” in a V-shaped pattern, resulting in watery eyes.

Congenital Issue

Cats can be born with an abnormal nasolacrimal system that prevents tears from draining normally.

Cat Watery Eye Treatment 

Veterinarian examining cat eyes

Not all watery eyes in cats need to be treated. If your cat’s eye is otherwise normal in appearance and your cat is not squinting, just wipe the discharge from near the eye daily with a clean damp cloth. 

Sometimes, chronic watering can lead to irritated skin. Your veterinarian can prescribe topical ointments that are safe to be placed near the eye to treat any irritation.

If your cat’s eyes begin watering suddenly, it is more likely there is inflammation from diseases such as FHV or Chlamydophila. These diseases can benefit from antibiotic eye ointment. This is true even for viral infections (like FHV), since they are often followed by bacterial infections that cause inflammation to worsen. In chronic cases of FHV, oral antiviral medication such as famciclovir can be prescribed. 

Rarely a foreign body is present in one of the eyes, and your veterinarian will need to numb your cat’s eye – and possibly sedate your cat – to look closely for what is causing the irritation.

If the nasolacrimal duct is blocked, your veterinarian may be able to flush the duct to allow it to flow. 

Surgery can be performed for certain conditions, including some congenital conditions like eyelid agenesis. Eyelid agenesis occurs when the eyelids do not fully form in kittens, and fur hangs down from the skin onto the eye creating chronic irritation.

Are There Home Remedies for Watery Eyes in Cats? 

There are no therapies available at home that are safe and effective for watery eyes in cats. Putting lubricating eye drops in the eye is not advised as it will not help most eye conditions.

How to Prevent Watery Eyes in Cats

FHV can be prevented by avoiding stress in your cat as much as possible. If your cat develops symptoms of FHV including nasal congestion or discharge, speak with your veterinarian about treatment early in the disease to prevent chronic inflammation, which could lead to scarring and permanent closure of the nasolacrimal duct.

Vaccinating your cat is very important to decrease the likelihood of serious illness caused by FHV. There is a vaccine for Chlamydophila as well, but that vaccine is not recommended unless a cattery or animal shelter demonstrates that Chlamydophila is producing disease in their facility and managing the spread of disease is difficult.

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