Question: Why does my cat have irritated, weepy eyes?
My cat Bindi’s eyes have been weeping lately. I noticed today that they look more irritated than they have in the past. Another thing I’ve noticed is that they don’t weep when she is inside. Only outside. I’m wondering if I should have a vet take a look at her. You can see her left eye in the attached photo. The lighting outside makes it look more drastic. Thanks in advance for your advice.
Good question–thanks for sending it in! Excessive tearing (vets call it epiphora) is relatively common in pet cats. There are several possible causes of this symptom.
- Feline herpes virus. This is a virus most cats are exposed to early in life. Like the human herpes virus that causes chicken pox, the feline herpes virus can lie dormant in a cat’s system for years. Stress or illness can cause the virus to reactivate. Typical symptoms include runny, red eyes and sneezing. This is probably the most common cause of chronic excessive tearing in cats.
- Chlamydophila felis, mycoplasma, and calicivirus infections. These are all bacterial and viral infections cats get from other cats. They all cause upper respiratory and eye symptoms. Unlike feline herpes virus, this group is unlikely to cause chronic symptoms.
Other Eye Problems
- Plugged tear duct. There are tiny holes at the inside corner of your cat’s upper and lower eyelids called nasolacrimal ducts. Tears flow through these ducts and drain into the nose. When the ducts become blocked by scarring or inflammation, tears can’t drain from the eye properly. Plugged tear ducts are relatively easy to diagnose but not easy to treat. A veterinary ophthalmologist may be able to open the duct with a minor surgery.
- Corneal ulcer. A scratch or abrasion on the cornea (the clear part on the front of the eye) can cause pain and excessive tearing. Feline herpes virus infections can also cause small corneal ulcers. Most cats will also squint when they have a corneal ulcer.
- Uveitis. Inflammation inside the eye can cause pain and tearing. Uveitis can be caused by infectious disease, trauma, and cancer among other things.
Allergic conjunctivitis is uncommon in cats but can happen. A cat with allergies often shows more than one symptom, including itchy skin, hair loss, and sneezing. Allergies tend to flare up seasonally so you might notice symptoms are sporadic.
The best thing you can do to help your cat is to have your veterinarian take a look at her eyes. They will probably run a few tests including staining the eye to look for a corneal ulcer.
The good news is that most of the cats I’ve treated with weepy eyes don’t suffer any major consequences from it. Even in cats with chronic epiphora, the main thing to watch out for is dermatitis of the skin around the eye from being constantly moist. You can help Bindi avoid dermatitis by cleaning the skin around the eyes with plain water on a soft cloth once or twice a day.
TB Thompson DVM