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Cats’ eyes are incredible. With 200-degree peripheral sight and ultra-sensitive night vision, our kitties experience the world in ways that we cannot. If you notice that your cat’s eyes are unusually teary, irritated, or producing discharge, several issues could be to blame.
Find out more about possible causes of watery eyes and the steps you can take to protect your feline friend’s amazing vision.
Like us, cats produce occasional tears. Though they are not of the emotional variety, tears keep kitties’ eyes moist and flush out dust and debris that may irritate the eyes. Certain breeds of cats, particularly those with flat faces like Persians, can have a slightly higher rate of normal tear production.
When eye-watering is unusually excessive and doesn’t resolve quickly on its own, it’s time to investigate possible causes of your cat’s runny eyes.
Feline conjunctivitis is a general term for inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the thin mucosal membrane that covers the surface of your cat’s eye. While conjunctivitis can be a result of environmental irritants or debris in the eye, it can also be viral.
Feline ocular herpes is a common viral trigger of conjunctivitis. While it cannot be transmitted to humans, feline herpes is typically passed from infected mothers to kittens at birth or from an infected adult cat to others in the same household. Like human herpes simplex viruses, feline herpes is dormant for long periods and flares periodically – often in response to stress.
Feline herpes outbreaks can lead to upper respiratory infections. Look for pink or red eyes accompanied by:
If you suspect viral conjunctivitis, your veterinarian can prescribe antiviral medications and make recommendations about how to support your cat’s immune system and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to other cats in your home.
Thick, mucus-like discharge forming in your cat’s eyes is often a sign of a bacterial infection. Feline chlamydophilosis, an infection caused by a bacterial strain in the chlamydia family, is responsible for up to 30% of chronic conjunctivitis in cats. It is often accompanied by other symptoms like fever, nasal discharge, and sneezing.
The illness is contagious but typically only transmitted through direct contact between cats. Fortunately, feline chlamydophilosis is treatable with antibiotics. Your vet may also recommend that you vaccinate your kitty against chlamydophilosis to stop the infection before it starts.
Irritated, watery eyes can be a response to indoor or outdoor allergies. Like their human counterparts, cats can react to common allergens like:
If you can determine the cause of your cat’s allergies, keeping the offending substance out of your home should give your kitty some relief. However, if symptoms persist, head to your vet’s office to rule out eye damage from debris or foreign objects.
Like us, cats are vulnerable to cataracts. Feline cataracts are more common in senior pets and develop slowly over time. If you notice sudden, unexplained clouding in your kitty’s eyes, a corneal ulcer may be to blame. These ulcers are often caused by trauma, such as a head injury or a fight between cats, and are extremely painful.
Cats with corneal ulcers will often blink excessively, squint, and paw at the affected eye. If you have reason to suspect an eye injury, seek help immediately. Superficial injuries can be treated with eye drops or ointments, but deeper ulcers may require surgery.
Pet parents who notice unusual discharge, irritation, or watering can protect their cat’s eyes by scheduling an exam with their veterinarian. Fortunately, most feline eye conditions have good outcomes with early intervention.