Being an animal lover often means learning a lifetime’s worth of otherwise useless facts about the health and behavior of our beloved pets. For prolific pet owners like myself, it can almost seem like we’ve become amateur vets ourselves. Almost. But even after all these years, I’m no medical expert, so when should we seek help? Take a common cat health issue like ‘watery cat eyes’, or as a professional would call it ‘Epiphora’. What can we owners do to understand the problem, and when does it become a serious vet-worthy problem?
Symptoms of Epiphora
The first thing we can do is understand the signs. If we know what the symptoms are, we will notice them and potentially get help much sooner. A quicker diagnosis can mean a quicker treatment, which can improve your cat’s chances if it turns out to be one of the more serious causes of Epiphora. With this in mind, watch out for:
- Overflowing tears
- Eye discharge
- Staining on the face
- Loose or sagging skin
So if you have seen your cat squinting one eye or think there is puffiness, try monitoring their eyes for a day. Even if it is just a small increase in tear production, take extra special care to look at their eyes every few hours to see if there are any other symptoms or if it was just a one off.
Related Post: How to Clean Your Cat’s Eyes
Know Your Breeds
Another topic that cat owners should read up on is the biological differences between breeds. This can affect a wide range of health issues as some breeds are prone to certain health problems. In terms of watery eyes, sometimes it is simply caused by the shape of their face.
Flat-faced breeds, or to give them their proper name Brachycephalic breeds, can suffer from teary eyes and tear stained faces because the natural water in their eyes, the tear film which protects the eye, has nowhere to go but down. Rather than having the natural contours and eye rims which come with having a protruding jaw and nose, their large eyes produce a lot of tears which then easily spill over. Examples of Brachycephalic breeds include:
The good news is that this does not usually constitute a serious health problem for your cat. As tears can cause irritation and staining, it is advisable that you regularly gently wipe under and around their eyes. You may want to consult a vet about how best to do this.
The most well-known cause of eye irritation, watering, redness and itching is conjunctivitis, known to many as pinkeye. Specifically, conjunctivitis occurs when a part of the eye called the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. Cat conjunctivitis is no different. The biggest issue with conjunctivitis is that it is highly contagious. If you have other animals, you will want to isolate your cat as early as possible to prevent it spreading further.
It is important to note, however, that pinkeye can be caused by a variety of problems from an irritant landing in your cat’s eye, to a bacterial infection. The symptoms are the same, however, and treatment from a vet can help with both. Therefore, as conjunctivitis could almost be viewed as a symptom in itself, it is important to consider the other causes of cat eye watering and squinting.
A similar condition can arise in the uvea, the area of the eye made of dark tissue and blood vessels. The iris is most often affected when the uvea becomes inflammed, and this means that your cat could be facing blindness. While often due to viral or bacterial infection, uveitis can also be a symptom of worse diseases, such as cancers or autoimmune disease. Specific concerns to watch out for with uveitis includes:
- Changes in pupil shape or size
- Swelling of the eyeball
- Cloudy eyes
- Changes in iris color
It can hardly be surprising that an infection may be the underlying cause of your cat’s watery eyes, squinting or even conjunctivitis. What might be surprising is that this infection does not have to be in your cat’s eyes. Your cat might be suffering from an upper respiratory infection, which in itself may be caused by a virus such as the feline calicivirus or pneumonia.
This means it is worthwhile to keep an eye out for additional symptoms if you are concerned about your cat’s watery eyes. You should be aware of the following symptoms as a virus or disease is one of the more serious issues related to watery eyes, making it a relatively urgent problem:
- Nasal discharge
- Painful walking
- Loss of Appetite
- Difficulty Breathing
The good news, however, is that infections, no matter what their cause, tend to go hand-in-hand with discharge from the eye, so if your cat has only got watery eyes, you are less likely to have something to worry about. Generally, if your cat has a clear mucus they may be suffering from a virus, and if they have a greenish, yellowish discharge it means a bacterial infection.
This, unfortunately, is another serious problem that your cat could face. This requires immediate treatment from a vet as there is a serious risk to your cat’s sight if left untreated. Eye ulcers can occur as a result of infection, but can also be formed due to an accident, such as a bump to the head or a scratch on or near the eye.
There are two key additional symptoms to watch out for when dealing with eye ulcers. If you see these symptoms, contact a vet.
- Cloudy Eyes
- Rubbing of the head and squinting
There are various eye abnormalities that could be causing your cat’s eye problems. Distichiasis, for example, is a condition in which the eye lashes grow inwards, scratching your cat’s corneas, and entropion is a condition in which your cat’s eyelids are turning inwards. As you can imagine, these little physical defects can cause great discomfort to your cat.
While these physical problems can cause infection when they create a wound, it is possible to catch these disorders and treat them before they can cause problems like conjunctivitis. This requires you to notice excessive cat eye watering and squinting at its earliest stages, before infection can take hold, and take your cat to the vet. If the cause of this watering is indeed a consequence of your cat’s physiology, they can use laser hair removal or surgery to resolve the problem permanently.
Blocked Tear Ducts
A similar physical problem with a relatively easy solution are blocked tear ducts. Your cat’s body may simply be reacting to a piece of dirt preventing the natural drainage of their tears. Like physical abnormalities, if caught early and before infection can take hold, a quick visit to the vet to clean the duct under anesthesia is all that is needed.
As watery eyes can be difficult to notice, however, many owners only notice blocked tear ducts when they cause secondary infection. This too can be treated by a vet, but prevention is the best medicine so it is worthwhile keeping an eye on your pets’ eyes.
Like humans, tearing could be sign of an allergy. If your cat has a known allergy consider whether they have come into contact with that allergen that day; and if they don’t, you may need to visit your vet to determine if this is the symptom of a new allergy. Note down what you and your cat have done that day as it will help your vet narrow down what it could be. Could pollen have drifted indoors from an open window, or maybe you tried a new detergent or perfume?
The good news is that if your cat does not have a further reaction to the allergen, such as trouble breathing, their life probably isn’t in danger. But you need to learn what they are allergic to in order to avoid discomfort and prevent a worse reaction next time.
Contacting Your Vet
The eyes are the windows to the soul, and one of the most important parts of your cat’s body. A blind cat won’t be safe outside, are in more danger when they climb, and have a severely lowered quality of life. Put simply, your cat’s eyes must be protected or their freedom and safety are at risk. However, this doesn’t mean you have to rush to the vet every time you think your cat’s eyes are a bit more watery than usual.
If you have a brachycephalic breed and its watery eyes are nothing new, you can be fairly certain that it is a normal product of their physiology. In this case, you only need to visit the vet if you want to discuss the best ways to wipe their eyes and treatments for fur staining. However, if you have additional concerns, or if you want to be absolutely sure, always go to a vet!
Like being a parent, it is totally normal to be overly cautious when you first get a new kitty. It is better safe than sorry, and you can never go wrong visiting a vet. However, if there are no additional symptoms, just focus on casually monitoring the situation for now. You might find that their water eyes was a temporary consequence of one piece of dust that their body naturally dealt with. If the watery eyes persist for 24 hours with no explanation, or if additional symptoms appear, it is a good idea to visit the vet.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.