Watery eyes, known by the medical name as epiphora, are described as an abnormal overflow of tears. Veterinarians often see epiphora in brachycephalic breeds such as Himalayans and Persians, whose congenital abnormalities cause excessive exposure of the eyeball to the outside world. Watery eyes are also linked to other congenital abnormalities such as distichiasis and entropium, which are conditions in which the eyelids or eyelashes turn inward, irritating the eyeball.
If your cat has allergies, a foreign object in the eye, or a viral infection similar to a cold, their eyes may become temporarily overwatering. However, if your cat’s eyes have been abnormally watery since birth or for a long time, the problem could be a sign of a genetic and congenital disease.
Watery Eye Symptoms in Cats
Symptoms of watery eyes in cats can be varied. Here are some common symptoms:
- A persistent clear or colored discharge from the eyes: Tear is a natural liquid produced to keep the eyes moist and remove foreign matter. However, if there is excessive or persistent discharge, it may indicate a problem.
- Red or swollen eyes: Red or swollen eyes in cats can be a sign of an infection or inflammation. In this case, it is important to consult your veterinarian.
- Dark spots around the eyes: Also known as tear spots in cats, these spots are colored pigmentations caused by the constant flow of tears from the eyes. While this is sometimes normal, an excessive amount of blotching or an abnormal color of blotches can indicate eye problems.
- Signs of itching or irritation in the eyes: Cats may try to find relief by scratching or rubbing their eyes. Persistent itching of the eyes, signs of irritation or discomfort may be observed.
- Dull or cloudy appearance of the eyes: A dull or cloudy appearance of the eyes in cats may indicate a problem with the surface of the eye. In this case, it is important to be examined by a veterinarian.
These symptoms are common signs of watery eye in cats. If you notice such symptoms in your cat, it is important to consult a veterinarian. The veterinarian will examine the cat to make the correct diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment methods.
Causes of Watery Eyes in Cats
Watery Eyes in Cats can be caused by a number of underlying health complications, but it usually occurs in short-faced cats. Short-faced or brachycephalic cat breeds are genetically predisposed to have short noses and bulging eyes. Bulging eyes are not protected from dirt, pollen, and other elements that can scratch and inflame the eyes, causing them to water. Other causes of watery eyes in cats include:
You may have heard of this eye condition by its general name ‘pink eye’ and it is actually one of the most common eye problems in cats. Inflammation around the eyes can cause one or both eyes to become red, swollen, and sensitive to light. Your cat’s eye watering may appear clean and tear-like, or it may be very thick and mucus-like.
Conjunctivitis in cats can be caused by a variety of issues including infection, allergies, and even dust. The problem can be very contagious. If your cat is showing signs of eye pain (redness, swelling, discharge, watery eyes, etc.), it is best to contact your veterinarian right away, as the eyes can deteriorate very quickly. Conjunctivitis is a symptom of many eye conditions rather than a disease per se, so many of the causes of tearing listed below will also lead to conjunctivitis.
Allergic reactions can also cause watery eyes in cats. They may be sensitive to environmental factors or allergens such as pollen, dust, pet dander, mold or certain foods. In allergic reactions, redness, itching, watering and sometimes swelling of the eyes can be seen. Antihistamines or other medications may be recommended by the veterinarian to relieve allergic symptoms. Interestingly, cats can be allergic to many of the same things as us and this can cause them to have watery eyes. Potential allergens include pollen, mold, mildew, dust, certain medications, perfumes and cleaning products. If you suspect your cat has allergies, you should take her to the vet as they can examine your cat and suggest your next steps.
If your cat’s eyes are watering and squinting, this could be a sign of an eye ulcer causing damage to the surface of the eye. Typically, if your cat is suffering from this, she will likely try to rub her head and the eye will often become red and sore due to conjunctivitis. This eye condition can be caused by a scratched eye, an infection, or exposure to chemicals. If you suspect an eye ulcer, take your cat to the vet right away because if left untreated the ulcer can quickly become very painful and deep enough that the eyeball itself can rupture.
Dry eye is caused by a chronic lack of tear production, which causes irritation and scarring on the surface of the eye, and the eye may appear red and painful. If left untreated, dry eye can cause blindness in cats. With dry eye, the discharge will often be yellow and sticky due to the lack of fluid produced. There are several causes of dry eye in cats, including viral infection, damage to the nervous system, immune-mediated disease, and exposure to certain medications.
Another cause of tears in cats is the problem of tear ducts flowing from the eye to the nose. This is most commonly caused by a blockage of the duct, but can be a result of rhinitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose) or sinusitis (inflammation of the lining of the sinuses) because these conditions cause tissue to swell in these areas.
Flat Nose Breeds (Brachiocephalic)
Brachiocephalic cats with a flat face are much more likely to encounter watery or weeping eyes than other cats. This is because they are brachycephalic, meaning they have a short face, round skull, and protruding eyes, putting them at risk of developing certain eye problems.
Flat-faced cats are very prone to epiphora due to their shortened muzzle, as this prevents tear fluid from flowing normally into their noses and instead flows onto their faces, causing spotting, which can cause spotting. In addition, they often cannot close their eyelids well, as their eyes are protruding; this means more of their cornea is exposed, which can lead to keratitis (corneal inflammation).
Eye strains in cats can occur as a result of blockage or narrowing of the tear ducts. The tear cannot be drained normally and causes excessive watering of the eyes. Eye occlusions are usually congenital or can be a progressive condition. Treatment may require surgical intervention, depending on the cause of the obstruction.
Getting dust, dirt, sand, or any other foreign substance in the cat’s eye can also cause the eyes to water. The cat may try to remove these foreign substances by rubbing or scratching its eye. However, sometimes the foreign substance can settle in the eye and cause irritation. If the foreign matter cannot be discarded, the veterinarian should intervene.
Some cats can be born with congenital eye problems. For example, congenital tear duct obstruction or failure of the eyelids to form properly can lead to watery eyes. Such conditions should be diagnosed by the veterinarian and appropriate treatment methods should be determined.
Diagnosing Watery Eyes in Cats
Any information you can provide to the veterinarian regarding your cat’s medical history and behavior can aid in the diagnosis. To better pinpoint the cause of your cat’s watery eyes, the vet may also:
- physical examination
- An allergy test to rule out allergies as the cause
- A fluorescent staining test to view eye trauma that is not easily seen. This is a non-invasive test that will not cause pain to your cat. The veterinarian simply paints the eyeball and shines a blue light on the eye for imaging purposes.
- The Schirmer tear test is a test that uses small strips to assess the eye’s tear levels.
- A tonometry test to evaluate intraocular pressure or fluid inside the eye. This test is usually done to rule out or diagnose glaucoma.
- Radiographs, MRI or CT to check for internal abnormalities in the skull.
- Laboratory analysis of reviewed cultures.
- cytology of eye cells
The causes of watery eyes in cats can be very different, and the treatment options also vary. When you take your cat to your veterinarian, they will examine your cat and may run some diagnostic tests to help them prescribe the appropriate treatment. Some possible examples of treatments for watery eyes in cats include antibiotic eye drops and ointments for bacterial infections, as well as pain relievers that can also act as anti-inflammatory drugs – these can be oral or come as an eye drop or ointment.
It’s important to understand that there is no cure for certain conditions, such as the problems caused by brachycephaly, but your veterinarian can help you and your cat manage symptoms. When deciding which cat breed is right for you, it’s also important to be aware of the potential problems that can arise in brachycephalic breeds.
Treating watery eyes in your cat will depend on the underlying cause. Treatment for watery eyes in cats may include:
If the tear duct is blocked, a catheter may be inserted into the tear duct to open the duct and allow fluid to pass through. Surgical repair of the eyelid may be required to treat abnormal eyelid formation such as entropion. Distichiasis can be treated by removing hairs using a process called cryosurgery. Eyelid tumors require aggressive treatment and can be surgically removed if caught early.
Eye watering in cats can be caused by many reasons and treatment should be directed towards the cause. If your cat has constantly watering eyes, it is very important to take him to your veterinarian and have him examined.