Why Are My Cat’s Eyes Watering?

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/20/20242-4 minutes
owner petting a gray cat

Tears are produced constantly by cats to offer essential protection to their eyes. The fluid is responsible for removing debris, keeping eyeballs moist and providing essential nutrients. As tears are in permanent production, some crusting around the eyes is normal, but if your cat’s eyes are watering excessively or the discharge seems to be very thick and mucous-y, it can be a sign of something wrong

Why Are My Cat’s Eyes Watering?

If your cat’s eyes are weeping all the time, it can feel really alarming. We’ve looked at some of the most common causes behind the issue and the symptoms that go along with them.


You may have also heard of this eye condition by its common name, ‘pink eye’ and it’s actually one of the most common eye problems in cats. Consisting of inflammation around the eye, it can cause either one or both of their eyes to turn red, swell and become light sensitive. Your cat’s eye watering can appear clean and teary or be very thick and mucus like.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by a variety of issues including an infection, allergy, or even dust. The issue is very contagious but tends to clear up without treatment from your vet. If your cat is showing signs of eye pain (redness, swelling, discharge, watery eyes etc.) it’s best to get in contact with your vet right away, as infected eyes can deteriorate very quickly.

Conjunctivitis is a symptom of many eye conditions rather than a disease in itself, so many of the causes of weepy eyes listed below will also lead to conjunctivitis.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

One cause of weepy eyes in cats is feline upper respiratory infections. These can be caused by a range of different agents including feline calicivirus, herpesvirus, bacteria or protozoa.

Symptoms can vary greatly, and lab tests may be required to help your vet figure out the root cause of the problem. As well as making the eyes water, upper respiratory infections can cause signs of conjunctivitis.


Interestingly, cats can be allergic to a lot of the same things as us and this can cause them to have watery eyes. Potential allergens include pollen, mildew, mold, dust, certain medicines, perfumes and cleaning products. If you suspect your cat has an allergy, you should take them to the vet as they’ll be able to examine your cat and suggest your next steps.

Eye Ulcers

If your cat’s eyes are watering and they’re squinting, it may be a sign of an eye ulcer, which is damage to the surface of the eye. Typically, if your cat is suffering with this, they’ll likely try to rub their head, and the eye often becomes red and sore with 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 immediately as, if left untreated, the ulcer can quickly become very painful and can also become so deep that the eyeball itself can rupture.

Dry Eye

Dry eye is caused by a chronic lack of tear production, resulting in irritation and scarring to the eye surface, and the eye may appear red and painful. If left untreated, dry eye can even cause blindness in cats. With dry eye, the discharge will usually be yellow and gooey due to the lack of fluid produced. There are several causes of dry eye in cats which include viral infection, damage to the nervous system, immune-mediated disease and exposure to some medications.


Another cause of eye watering in cats is an issue with the drainage of the tear ducts from the eye to the nose. This is most commonly caused by a blockage of the duct, but it can be a result of rhinitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose) or sinusitis (inflammation of the lining of the sinuses) as these conditions cause the tissue to swell in these areas. Excessive tearing can also occur due to abnormal small hairs growing underneath the eyelid – a genetic condition known as distichiasis.

Eye Watering in Flat-Faced Breeds

If you have a flat-faced cat breed such as a Persian, they’re much more likely to experience watery or weepy eyes than other cats. This is because they’re brachycephalic, meaning they have a short face, rounded skull and protruding eyes, making them much more at risk of developing certain eye problems.

Flat-faced cats are very prone to epiphora because of their shortened muzzles, as this prevents tear fluid from draining normally into their nose and instead, it flows onto their faces, causing staining which can also lead to skin irritation and inflammation. Additionally, as their eyes protrude, they often can’t close their eyelids very well; this means their cornea is more exposed, which can lead to keratitis (inflammation of the cornea).

When to See a Vet About Your Cat’s Eyes Watering

If you ever spot signs of eye pain in your cat, including any discharge coming from the eye, it’s always best to get in contact with your vet straight away as eye problems can get worse very quickly. Speedy diagnosis and treatment are the keys to helping your cat make a quick recovery, so they can go back to being their happy and healthy selves. Although some brachycephalic cat breeds are more prone to eye problems, it’s best to always get a new pet checked over and also continue to monitor the discharge. Contact your vet if you have any concerns.

Treatment For Watery Eyes in Cats

As the causes of watery eyes in cats can vary so greatly, so can the treatment options. When you take your cat to the vet, they’ll examine your cat, and may carry out some diagnostic tests which will help them to prescribe the appropriate treatment. Examples of some possible treatments for watery eyes in cats include antibiotic eyedrops and ointments for bacterial infections, and pain relief which may also act as anti-inflammatory medications – these may be oral or can come as an eyedrop or ointment.

It’s important to understand that certain conditions, such as issues caused by brachycephaly, have no cure, but your vet will be able to help you and your feline manage the symptoms. It’s also important to be aware of the potential problems that can arise with brachycephalic breeds when you are deciding which type of cat is right for you. Responsible breeders will avoid breeding from cats that have health problems due to their inherited brachycephalic conformation, as their offspring will also be likely to suffer from the same problems.

Now you know the most common causes behind watering eyes in cats! For more tips from Purina experts on cat health, explore our other cat symptoms articles.

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