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Cat Eye Discharge: A Comprehensive Guide

As a doting cat owner, you've likely cleaned out some "gunk" from your beloved feline's eyes at one point or another. Like people, cats can experience eye discharge that affects them in varying ways.

Typically, a small amount of eye discharge from time to time isn't something to be terribly concerned about. However, if the discharge is long lasting or chronic it can be a symptom of disease or infection that you'll need to address in a timely manner.

In this article, we'll cover the reasons for your cat's eye discharge, what it could potentially mean, and what to do next. Let's begin!

cat eye discharge

What is Cat Eye Discharge

Generally, eye discharge is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. Many diseases that have eye discharge as a symptom can progress to cause blindness and or systemic infection.

Therefore, if the discharge is chronic, experts recommend that a veterinarian takes a more thorough look into exactly what is causing the excess moisture.

Simply speaking, cat eye discharge originates from the tears that the body constantly produces throughout the day.

Usually, the tears drain at the corner of the eye without spilling over. However, when something irritates the eyes, the body produces more tears. This results in eye discharge that is much more pronounced than usual.

Furthermore, while eye discharge may not have a highly negative effect on many people, it can cause your cat a great deal of discomfort.

From scratching to itchy sensations to overall eye pain, if your cat is experiencing chronic eye discharge you'll want to get to the bottom of it.

Symptoms of Eye Discharge in Cats

The physical symptoms of eye discharge in cats are comparable to the symptoms that you may experience yourself.

Cat eye discharge can vary in how often it occurs, its consistency, and how badly it irritates your four-legged friend.

Watery Discharge

First, you'll likely find a watery discharge surrounding your cat's eyes. If you feel around the fur surrounding their eyes, you'll be able to feel the wetness.

The moisture can range from being thin to thick in consistency.

Eye Boogers | Eye Mucus

Also, you may find sticky clumps surrounding your cat's eyes. Many pet owners refer to these as eye boogers.

The substance typically has a thick mucus-like consistency but the amount of discharge will often vary based on the severity of the infection or illness that your cat has.

Crusty Eyes

You'll also commonly find crust formations surrounding your cat's eyes. This indicates dried eye discharge. A small amount of crust from time to time is usually normal.

However, if you find large amounts then you can assume there was a large amount of discharge which typically indicates there are eye problems present.

Red, Swollen, Squinty Eyes

Watery eyes are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as redness and being swollen in appearance. This is a clear indicator of some form of infection or ailment and is definitely not normal.

You'll also find cats with red, swollen eyes constantly rubbing their faces on anything from the couch to your pants all in an attempt to relieve the itch and irritation.

Causes of Cat Eye Discharge

While occasional eye discharge is usually not something to worry about, chronic discharge is. Again, cat eye discharge in itself is not a disease but rather a symptom of a condition that may need professional treatment.

Several of the ailments that we are about to discuss can result in blindness. Furthermore, it is entirely possible for an infection of the eye to spread and affect other parts of the body.

It is imperative that cat owners stay aware of the amount of eye discharge they are finding and act accordingly when necessary.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

One potential cause of excessive eye discharge is an upper respiratory infection. This includes viruses such as:

  • Feline calicivirus
  • Contagious respiratory disease
  • Pneumonitis
  • Rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus)
  • Bacteria
  • Protozoa

You may not think that your cat has an upper respiratory infection because symptoms can start off very mild and exist that way for an extended period of time before they quickly worsen and become quite severe.

Eye discharge associated with an upper respiratory infection is often sticky and resemble pus. Upper respiratory infections will also have symptoms such as nasal discharge and sneezing.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

When you trace the vast majority of ailments back to their root you'll find that they often have one major thing in common: inflammation. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a result of inflammation of the light pink lining around the eye.

Conjunctivitis will cause your cat's eye (or eyes) to appear swollen and red. The cat will commonly be sensitive to light and have clear, teary or thick mucus eye discharge surrounding the affected eye or eyes.

Most cases of conjunctivitis can be resolved in a timely manner without permanent damage to the eyes. However, in some cases where conjunctivitis is accompanied by diarrhea, fever, and trouble breathing can result in feline infectious peritonitis which can be fatal. 

Corneal Disorders

Another reason for cat eye discharge is due to a corneal disorder. The cornea is the rounded surface that covers and helps to protect the front of the eye.

Unfortunately, the cornea can become injured, inflamed, or ulcerated more easily than you may think.

As a result, the body automatically produces more tears which can cause excessive blinking, cloudiness, inflammation and irritation, and eye discharge.  

Cat Eye Infection

Eye problems that are linked to an infectious agent such as bacteria or a virus are fairly common in cats.

Eye infections can also be extremely contagious and pass from cat to cat quickly. Therefore, if you believe your cat has an eye infection, proper treatment in a timely manner is imperative.

In younger cats and kittens, Chlamydia and Mycoplasma are the two bacteria that are most often responsible for eye infections. The viral culprit is typically feline herpesvirus type 1.

Young cats typically have weaker immune systems and their bodies are not yet equipped to fight off the bacteria or virus, thus resulting in an infection.

Furthermore, young cats who are exposed to environments with high populations of other cats such as shelters are also at a much higher risk of contracting an eye infection.

In older cats living in controlled environments (i.e. not strays or older cats in shelters), eye infection may be considered a secondary ailment to an already existing condition.  

Autoimmune disease, eye trauma, cancer, and systemic viral infections like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV) may exist and result in the development of an eye infection.

Regardless of age, all cats suffering from a bacterial infection or viral infection of the eye must be treated appropriately. These infections are highly transmittable and can be difficult to control in crowded environments.

Bacterial infections will often need antibiotics. Therefore, the sooner you are able to receive a proper diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment and prevent spreading to any other pets.

cat eye discharge can be caused by bacterial infectiond

Epiphora (Watery, Tearing Eyes) 

The term epiphora is defined as excessive watering of the eye. You may hear your vet refer to your cat's eye discharge as such, however, it is important to know what exactly is causing the excessive moisture.

Tearing, watery eyes can also be a result of conditions like:

Blocked Tear Ducts 

Often due to an upper respiratory infection, blocked tear ducts can often produce is an excess amount of discharge as the body naturally attempts to clear the blockage.

An Overproduction of Tears

Often resulting from injury or infection. Again, the body is naturally trying to rid the eye of any foreign object or infectious agent.

Cat Allergies

Like people, cats can also suffer from allergies which often result in symptoms like tearing eyes, a runny nose, and irritation of the respiratory system.

Allergic reactions can occur from a multitude of sources including pet food, medications, environmental allergens, household plants, and chemicals like herbicides and pesticides.

If your cat is having an allergic reaction they may also exhibit symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

Each of these epiphora conditions will necessitate different specific treatment, all which we will discuss momentarily.

watery cat eye discharge

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye) 

While epiphora is the overproduction of tears, keratoconjunctivitis sicca is the underproduction of tears.

If the eye or eyes experience chronic, long-lasting dryness the result is almost always inflammation of the cornea, redness, and substantial irritation and pain.

If left untreated, keratoconjunctivitis sicca can result in blindness. Cats experiencing chronic dry eyes will often have yellow, sticky eye discharge.

Eye drops, other medications, and sometimes surgery are necessary to help stimulate tear production and to repair tear film.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is an eye condition that should not be ignored as it can have horrific, irreversible side effects.


Uveitis is the inflammation of the uvea, or internal structures of the eye. A number of conditions can result in the inflammation including physical trauma, different eye cancers, problems with the immune system, and varying infections.

Feline uveitis is a common and painful ocular disease that will require appropriate veterinary treatment. If left untreated, this eye disease can result in blindness.

Foreign Object in Eye

Another reason for cat eye discharge is that there is a foreign object in the eye. This will often result in the body naturally producing an excess of tears in an attempt to get rid of whatever is causing the irritation.

In many cases, the excess production of tearing will be successful in getting rid of the foreign body. However, in some cases where the object is lodged in the eye, a veterinarian will have to step in.

If your cat enjoys playing outdoors or is particularly curious and is suddenly having eye problems, you may want to consider the possibility that there is a foreign object trapped in the eye.

Eye Injury

Additionally, outdoor cats and cats that have a love for exploring are at a higher risk of injuring their eyes. The eye can be very fragile and not equipped to handle harmful branches or the claws of another animal.

If you have an outdoor cat it is important to take note of their eye health. Certain eye injuries can worsen and lead to infection if left untreated or if the injury is severe.

Breed Predisposition

Finally, certain breeds are at a higher risk of developing eye problems and therefore eye discharge due to the shape of their face.

Breeds such as Persians, Himalayans and other brachycephalic cat breeds (cats with large, round eyes and short noses) are more prone to eye leakage.

When it comes to these breeds it is important to know your cat's "normal." This will ensure that you are able to recognize when something isn't normal and act accordingly.

When to Go to the Vet

We want to reiterate that while some cat eye discharge will happen from time to time, no amount of excessive discharge should be considered normal, no matter what color or consistency. However, there are certain cases where a trip to the vet is imperative.

If you find yellow or green discharge, make an appointment straight away as it is a telling symptom of infection. Additionally, if there is enough discharge to wipe away one or two times daily, we highly recommend that you see your vet.

Finally, if the eyes are red and swollen or if your cat is excessively rubbing their eyes, make an appointment. The treatment may be as simple as administering a few eye drops.

However, in other cases, eye discharge may lead your vet to find that there is another underlying condition that needs to be addressed.

Your cat's eyes are incredibly fragile and important. Trust your gut. If you think there may be something wrong, we highly recommend seeking a professional, medical opinion on the matter.  

when to take your cat to the vet for cat eye discharge

Diagnosing Discharge in Cat Eyes

At the vet, you should expect a series of tests. In the initial exam, it is important to give your vet as much information as possible in order for them to make an accurate diagnosis.

Your vet will likely perform a complete physical exam, check your cat's temperature, and may request a blood test to rule out certain diseases.

These tests will also help determine if your cat is suffering from seasonal allergies or if there is potentially an infection elsewhere in the body.

Additionally, your veterinarian will use a tool called an ophthalmoscope. If you've had an eye exam you'll recognize the tool as it is the same one they use for humans.

The ophthalmoscope allows the vet to see a magnified image of the eye. If a diagnosis is still unclear, the vet will likely administer specific eye drops and perform a test called the fluorescein eye stain test.

The vet will once again exam the eye with an ophthalmoscope and check for injury and ulcers.

Treating Cat Eye Discharge

The appropriate treatment of cat eye discharge will vary based on what exactly is causing the symptom.

Before we get into specifics we want to remind our readers to never reuse eye medication from a previous ailment, even if you believe your cat is having a repeat issue.

You can inadvertently cause a substantial amount of damage by using the wrong eye medication for your cat's current eye problem.

Treatment for Conjunctivitis in Cats 

Treating conjunctivitis in cats will vary based on what caused it to develop. Conjunctivitis caused by pollen, weeds, dust, and other environmental irritants is typically treated with a steroid ointment.

In terms of feline conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotic ointments are generally prescribed.

Treating Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

Treatment for an upper respiratory infection will vary based on the severity of the infection, which caused it to develop, and what symptoms are present.

Vet commonly prescribe specific eye medications, antibiotics, fluids, and decongestants in order to relieve the symptoms and cure the infection.

Treating Corneal Disorders

The treatment for a corneal disorder will often depend on the severity of the condition. Treatment also varies based on the specific element that is causing the inflammation.

One of the most important ways to care for a corneal disorder is ensuring that the eye is kept clean. Additional treatment options often include antibiotic eye ointment or antibiotic eye drops, as well as eye drops that promote healing.

In some cases, removing loose corneal tissue, cauterization, or surgery is necessary in order to relieve the inflammation and prevent further damage.

Watery, Tearing Eyes Treatment

If your cat has blocked tear ducts, a procedure performed under general anesthesia may be necessary.

The procedure will allow your vet to flush out the blockage. If an infection is present, the vet will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops.

Treating Uveitis

An appropriate treatment plan for uveitis can be difficult as it should be based on what is causing the inflammation.

However, the culprit can be difficult and at times impossible to pinpoint. In order to relieve pain and irritation, vets often recommend eye ointment or drops.

Treating Cat Eye Infections

Bacteria infections and viral infections have the potential to cause a lot more damage, not limited to the eye.

For instance, secondary bacterial infections can lead to pneumonia and other severe ailments. It is imperative that any cat with an eye infection is examined, properly diagnosed, and treated by a veterinary professional.

Treatment often includes antibiotics, medications for symptom control, and supportive care.

Dry Eye Treatment

While this article's focus is primarily on the overproduction of tears, conditions that cause dry eye can be equally severe and are important to be aware of.

Treating chronic dry eye often involves eye drops or ointments, antibiotics, artificial tears, or immune-suppressing drugs.

Again, a chronic lack of tear production can lead to blindness and should be taken very seriously.

Preventing Cat Eye Discharge

Thankfully, there are a few ways that pet parent can prevent the development of eye disorders and therefore prevent eye discharge. Again, the discharge is merely a symptom, you'll want to focus on preventing the disease that causes it.

First, do your best to avoid environments that are overcrowded with cats. Eye infections are transmitted extremely easily. The more cats around, the higher the risk.

Next, it is important to keep the area surrounding the eyes clean. Don't let discharge buildup. Cat owners can use a wet cotton ball to gently wipe away the excess fluid and keep their feline's eyes bright and clear.

Be sure to use a different, clean cotton swab for each eye, particularly if for any reason you feel that there is an infection.

Additionally, be sure to stay away from any over the counter washes or drops unless your vet as specifically prescribed them.

Remember, never reuse drops or medications from a previous ailment. Administering the wrong medication to your cat's fragile eyes can have irreversible consequences.

Finally, stay alert. As we previously mentioned, it is so important to know your cat's "normal" behavior and physical state. Only then will you be able to pick up on when something is "off" early on.

When it comes to the eyes, the sooner you can figure out what's wrong, the better the chances that your cat will recover without any permanent damage.

happy healthy cat recovered from cat eye discharge

Cat Eye Discharge: The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your beloved feline friend. Cat eye discharge can be easy to brush off as being no big deal.

However, we hope this article proves that excessive discharge can be a telltale sign that something may be very, very wrong.

Again, trust your instincts. If something seems wrong with your fur baby, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your cat's eyes are an extremely important part of their life and something no pet parent should overlook.


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