Pet owner cuddling with cat

Key takeaway

Watering cat eyes often go away on their own but could indicate more serious problems like infection or conjunctivitis when accompanied by other symptoms. Continue to monitor your cat’s symptoms, and if they persist or worsen, talk to your vet.

Why Are My Cat’s Eyes Watering?

The outer surface of cats’ eyes includes a layer of moisture, and just like human eyes, produce tears. Like us, cats use the moisture in their eyes to clean away dirt and debris, flush away bacteria, and keep the eye moisturized and healthy. 

A little bit of moisture in your cats’ eyes is normal, and even runny eyes can be a normal reaction to an environmental irritant like dust or pollen. However, excess liquid, discolored liquid, redness, puffiness, and irritation can be a sign of a more serious condition. 

In this post, we’ll cover some of the most common reasons why cats’ eyes water. If you notice your cat’s eyes are watering excessively, or your cat seems to be in pain, it is important to contact a veterinary professional quickly. 

Use the links below to find out more about possible answers to the question, “why are my cat’s eyes watering?”:

Cat Eyes Watering: Possible Causes 

Like runny noses in humans, watery eyes are a common symptom of many different conditions that a cat may be suffering from. And when our furry friends are experiencing discomfort and difficult symptoms, it’s easy to get worried and feel overwhelmed. To get a better gauge of what your pet might be experiencing, read through the list of possible causes below.

Normal film and discharge

A natural lubricating, debris-blocking, nutrient-supplying, and bacteria-fighting layer coats cats’ eyes. If you see a bit of wetness under your cat’s eyes, it’s often nothing to worry about—just your cat’s body doing its thing to keep them safe.

Excessive discharge might signal a more serious problem, or it could just go away on its own. If your cat starts having frequent fluid discharge from its eyes, your first step should simply be to keep an eye on them until it either clears up or develops into more clear signs that something is wrong. 

Allergies

Allergies are fairly common and are characterized by irritated, watery, glassy eyes. You might notice that your cat’s eyes are watering for several days in a row, or that they are sneezing. Cats are susceptible to environmental allergies, just like humans. They might include dust, mites, mold, mildew, cleaning agents, pollen, fleas, or other products that you keep around the house. 

If your cat’s eyes are watering and they are developing other signs of itching or skin issues, it may be time to think about a remote vet visit. Our network of professional veterinarians is happy to consult with you on allergy solutions for your pet. Start by taking photos of your cat’s watery eyes, as well as any other symptoms that you may have noticed. Then, upload them to our site, and a licensed veterinarian will review them to assess and diagnose your furry friend.  

List of potential causes of cat eyes watering

Foreign object in eye or a scratch on the cornea 

If your cat appears to be blinking, has an eye shut, is squinting, or is repeatedly pawing and scratching at their eye, there may be a scratch on the cornea (the clear part of the eye) or a foreign object that is irritating their eye. If there is a scratch on the cornea or something stuck in there, it is important to get them to a vet as soon as you can. Depending on what your cat has stuck in their eye, it may cause more serious damage, especially if the cat hurts its eyes trying to scratch the foreign object out. 

In these cases, an in-person vet is necessary, as a telemedicine visit will be unable to properly assess your cat’s eye and tear duct—and an in-person vet is definitely necessary to remove any foreign obstruction if there is one. 

Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Take a look at your cat’s eyes. If they appear red and inflamed, accompanied by watering and squinting, your cat may be suffering from conjunctivitis, or pink eye. There are many different causes, but there are several common infections that often cause the eye to become red and inflamed. The most common causes of conjunctivitis in cats is feline herpes virus and Chlamydia felis. Fortunately, neither feline herpes nor Chlamydia felis are transmissible to people! Conjunctivitis can be easy to diagnose and treat. However, without treatment, it could lead to other, more serious complications, just like pink eye in humans. 

If you think your cat may be suffering from pink eye, it’s a good idea to get them to a vet. A veterinarian will be able to accurately diagnose them, and get them the treatment they need to recover quickly and safely. 

Infection

Bacterial eye infections in cats can be serious, so it’s important to identify them quickly. An infected eye will produce sticky yellow or green discharge and may be accompanied by behavioral symptoms in your cat like lethargy or loss of appetite. 

In the case of an eye infection, your vet will likely stain the eye to ensure there is not a scratch on the cornea then prescribe you ophthalmic antibiotic drops to help clear it up. In some cases, a vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics. Ultimately, the most important thing is to take your cat’s eye infection seriously—in some cases, an untreated infection could lead to permanent vision loss. It’s a good idea to make an appointment at your local vet as soon as you can. 

Glaucoma

Feline glaucoma can result in serious pain and swelling of the eyeball. Your cat’s eye may bulge out or appear visibly swollen and irritated, and your cat may show other behavioral signs of pain and discomfort. 

Glaucoma symptoms in cats signal that immediate veterinarian attention is necessary. This painful disease can come seemingly out of nowhere and progress quickly. In many cases, by the time symptoms appear, the cat's eyesight has been irreversibly damaged. 

If you think your cat may be suffering from feline glaucoma, it’s important to get them to a vet as quickly as you can to avoid symptoms worsening or the damage becoming permanent. 

Cold or upper respiratory infection

If your cat is showing the familiar signs of a cold or upper respiratory infection (like what you would expect from a human cold), such as watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose, they are most likely suffering from a cat cold or feline upper respiratory infection.

Many cat colds heal up without the need for veterinary care within a week or so. However, if your cat's symptoms worsen or do not improve within a few days, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. 

Note that, in some cases, a cold may be difficult to distinguish from allergies. A virtual visit can help determine the cause of the issue and if it is something that needs more immediate attention. 

Treatment: What Do You Do When Your Cat’s Eye Is Watering?

The right course of action to take if you discover that your cat’s eye is watering depends on what other symptoms they may have. For example, if you just notice a bit of wateriness for a couple of days, which eventually clears up on its own, you probably don’t need to do anything. 

However, if you notice other symptoms, such as irritation, redness, squinting, or swelling around the eye, this could be a sign of something more serious, such as pink eye, allergies, an eye infection, or even glaucoma. Noticing other symptoms, sustained watery eye symptoms, or visible pain or discomfort in your cat is a sign that it’s time to make a visit to the vet. 

List of treatment methods for watering cat eyes

If your cat does have an infection or other serious cause of irritation in their eye, your vet will likely prescribe one of the following:

  • Eye drops
  • Ointment
  • Eye rinse
  • Antibiotics
  • Eliminating allergens from environment
  • A cone to keep your cat from scratching or rubbing at its eyes
  • Diet or behavioral changes

If your cat is suffering from itchiness, watery eyes, and irritation due to allergens, Dutch can help. Dutch’s network of veterinarians is happy to connect you and your little friend to a pharmacy that can provide safe and effective allergy medication. 

Keeping Your Cat’s Eyes Healthy With Preventative Care

One of the best ways to keep your cat’s eyes healthy is by protecting them so they don’t become sick or irritated in the first place. Regular vet visits, current vaccines, keeping an eye out for symptoms, regularly examining their eyes, and avoiding allergens are all methods to keep your cat's eyes healthy.

List of preventative care tips

Cat Eyes Watering: Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when your cat's eye is watering?

Cats’ eyes can water for a few different reasons. It might just mean that they encountered some dust, and their eyes are naturally clearing away the particles. It could also be a cold or allergies. Or, if accompanied by other symptoms, it might be a sign of a more serious illness, such as pink eye or glaucoma. 

How do you treat watery eyes in cats?

The way that watery eyes are treated in cats depends on what is causing the symptoms. In many cases, there might not be any need for treatment; your vet may just suggest that you wait to see if the watery eyes clear up on their own. In other cases, such as those when watery eyes are accompanied by other symptoms, your vet may prescribe medication, like ophthalmic eye drops. 

Should I take my cat to the vet for a watery eye?

If you’ve just noticed that your cat’s eye is watery, you can start by keeping an eye on it. If it looks like it’s clearing up after a couple of days, there’s likely no reason to worry. If you notice that watery eyes persist for many days, or that they are accompanied by other symptoms, it may be time to schedule a vet visit. 

Cat playing, looking at camera

Final Notes

Dutch.com is a fast and effective solution for many pet owners whose cat’s eyes are watering. For cats with allergies, scheduling a fast and friendly telemedicine visit is a great way to start their road to recovery. Our affiliated vets can connect you with the affordable prescription subscription your pet needs to get back to their best lives.

Dr. Evans is the Clinical Director of Dutch and the owner of Coastal Animal Hospital.