A cat with teary, watery eyes.
A cat with teary, watery eyes. Photography ©Maria Diana Gonzales | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

What Causes Watery Cat Eyes and Do You Need to Visit a Vet?

Have you noticed your cat’s eyes watering recently? Or do your cat’s eyes seem to be constantly teary? Here's what you need to know about watery cat eyes.
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If you wake up one morning and notice that one of your cat’s eyes looks a little odd, you might wonder if it’s something that requires a veterinary visit. What does it mean if your cat has watery eyes or teary eyes, or if your cat is squinting or pawing at her eye? We’ve got the scoop on how to handle watery cat eyes.

A sad cat crying, tearing up or with watery eyes.
What causes watery cat eyes? Photography ©2002lubava1981 | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

First, what causes watery cat eyes?

“A number of things could be causing your cat to experience excess tearing,” says Ari Zabell, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, director of client advocate support for Banfield Pet Hospital based in Vancouver, Washington. “Generally, it falls into two categories: things that block the normal flow of tears and things that produce excessive tears.”

According to Dr. Zabell, when things are functioning normally, tears from the eyes drain into the nose. “This is why your nose runs when you cry,” he says. “This flow could be blocked by a number of factors, such as inflammation, infection, swelling or simply the shape of your cat’s face. Excessive tears are usually produced by things that cause inflammation, for example, infections (bacterial, viral or fungal), allergies, or even something growing into the eye like a tumor or even just a hair.”

Other causes of watery cat eyes include a scratch or injury to the eye, or a foreign body stuck in the eye like a grass seed or tiny bit of something (just think of how much your own eye waters when you have an eyelash caught in between the eye and the lid).

Brachycephalic cat getting his eyes or tears cleaned.
Brachycephalic cats or flat-faced cats are more likely to have issues with watery eyes. Photography ©Bebenjy | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Are some types of cats and cat breeds predisposed to have watery eyes?

Sometimes, those watery cat eyes can be caused by the shape of the face and eyes. Brachycephalic cats (or flat-faced cats) often experience watery eyes. When a cat has a flat face, a small nose and large, round eyes, the tears tend to spill over the eye rims.

Some cats are also genetically predisposed to producing more tears than other cats. Watery cat eyes and the resulting tear stains (those unsightly brown streaks under the eyes) are common in cat breeds like Exotic Shorthairs, Himalayans and Persians, for instance. In general, this doesn’t harm the cat as long as nothing else is going on with the eye (always check with your vet to be sure), although you should regularly wipe the under-eye area to keep it as clean and dry as possible to prevent skin irritation.

When do watery eyes warrant a visit to the vet?

If your cat doesn’t generally have watery eyes, but you suddenly notice excessive tearing, visit the veterinarian to get to the bottom of things. This is true whether your cat’s eyes have a clear, watery discharge or a thicker, yellow- or green-colored eye discharge. Other symptoms of watery cat eyes that need vet attention include squinting or blinking, pawing or rubbing at the eye, red or inflamed eye tissue, a cloudy-looking eye, or discharge from the nose as well as the eye.

“There are a number of things your veterinarian can do to evaluate your cat’s eyes, including looking for damage to the structures of the eye (both inside and out), measuring the pressures inside the eye, and assessing the production of tears and the normal flow of those tears,” Dr. Zabell explains. “After they have determined what is and isn’t normal, they will be better able to determine what the underlying cause might be and work with you to develop a treatment plan, as necessary and appropriate.”

Treatment

If your cat is diagnosed with a condition that requires medication, your vet might send you home with some eye drops or ointment. Cats are not always the most compliant patients, but your veterinarian or a veterinary technician will show you how to successfully administer the medication before you leave the hospital.

”Some general rules include working in a calm and quiet area where your cat is less likely to be stressed or distracted; administering medication to your pet on a table instead of the floor; and rewarding your cats before, during and after the treatment, so they have positive associations with medication and won’t be quite as likely to hide under your bed before the next treatment,” Dr. Zabell advises.

When using eye drops or ointment, try not to touch the dropper or tip of the tube to the surface of your cat’s eye. Ointment might be easier to administer than drops, so ask your veterinarian about your options before leaving the appointment.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Maria Diana Gonzales | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

This piece was originally published in 2018.

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28 thoughts on “What Causes Watery Cat Eyes and Do You Need to Visit a Vet?”

  1. One morning last year, I went over to my little cat and was taken aback. There was greenish pus running from her eyes. Her nose looked very wet and it was dripping clear fluid.

    I was concerned but thought I’d wait a few hours before calling the vet.

    When I saw her a few hours later, she was perfectly fine. There wasn’t even any coloration from the green goo.

    I was relieved and that’s when I recalled something. She had gone into my bedroom the night before and ran under the bed. There are a number of boxes there making that area a real dust magnet.

    So I’m guessing it was an allergy. And that I need to be more diligent in housecleaning.

    1. Same exact problem 100% under the bed something making my cat have reoccurring redness and watering I will steam clean and spray Lysol while my cat is in another room and hope this helps. Under the bed is the culprit

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  8. What do you suggest if a cat’s been taken to a vet and this has been repeatedly mentioned and they’ve just suggested it’s a viral infection that will go away on its own? Only one of my parents’ two new kittens has weeping eyes. Her brother does lick her face a lot so maybe that’s it (a recurring bacterial infection). Not best pleased that the vets just seem to shrug it off though.

    Is the only option seeking a different opinion from another practice? As I think she’s seen multiple vets at this practice.

    1. Hi there,
      Yes, we suggest seeking another vet’s opinion.
      This article might provide some insight, too:
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/cat-eye-discharge-whats-normal-and-whats-not

  9. Hi !
    My Tabby Cat, Syble, sees something in my apartment…bedroom specifically ….that my husband and I CANNOT SEE!
    She is in full OBSERVATION MODE most of the time. Sometimes she even jumps and rushes after THAT which I cannot see. Her ears at ALERT and her EYES ARE FIXED as she follows this ENITY I CANNOT SEE, from CEILING…around the room… down to the floor! She is on top of me or beside me in bed and stays ON GUARD, most of the time when I am in bed. Sometimes she comes to me urgently Speaking and appearing distressed and reaching up to me!
    THIS IS VERY UNNERVING…has been going on for about two weeks now…WITH NO END IN SIGHT!
    HELP!!!

    1. i have a nebelung cat and shes always chasing down lights on the walls n ceilings from cars driving by. or it could be on a weird note poltergeist?…..someone told me that once

    2. Hi there,
      We suggest asking a vet or behaviorist for their insight. These articles might help as well:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-wont-stop-meowing-reasons-for-cat-meowing
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/cat-meowing-at-night

    3. Your cat is protecting you. Please don’t drug it. You may want to look into clearing your home or contact someone who can/will investigate the presence there.

  10. I have found a kitten and she is very small when I first brought her home she was not eating and her eyes was alright. When she started eating and drinking water her eyes began to water her face is always wet from her eyes. Do I need to take her to the vet? Or is there something I can do at home? We do have another grown cat as well which I don’t want to get sick

    1. Hi. Your situation is identical to mine. Did you ever find out why this happens while eating? I read both of the articles Michaela linked below but didn’t see any mention of tearing while eating.

    2. Take cat to the veterinarian immediately, separatism of your resident cat. If you brought a new cat like that always get vet check first, germs can go rapidly between animals. It might be conjunctivitis immediate attention of vet needed.

    1. Hi there — Please ask your vet about this ASAP. This article might also lend some insight on what could be going on: https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-eye-discharge-whats-normal-and-whats-not

  11. My cats water all the time but doesn’t bother about it is it just him in fight mode or should I be concerned?

    1. Hi there —
      We suggest mentioning this to your vet (maybe take some photos of his watery eyes) just to see if anything is going on. Best of luck!

    1. Hi Jean —

      Here’s some info on feline herpes: https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-health-feline-herpes-tips-diagnosis-treatment-management

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