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Eye Discharge in Cats: When Should You Worry?

Is your cat’s eye discharge normal or something to worry about? There are a variety of reasons for your feline’s watery or crusty eyes; some of them are normal and harmless, and others may indicate an infection or disease that require immediate veterinary attention. 

The discharge typically collects in the eyes’ inner corners; it may be clear and watery or thick and greenish or yellowish in color. A cat’s regular grooming habits ensure that her eyes are always kept clean, but you may also have to help kitty wipe off her eye gunk if the discharge occurs frequently. When should you take her to a vet for proper treatment? Rean on to learn more. 

Eye Discharge in Cats: When Should You Worry?

What causes normal eye discharge in cats?

Much like the eye crust humans sometimes have when they wake up in the morning, normal eye discharge in cats is also caused by a mix of tears, oils, and exfoliated skin cells that collect in the inner corners of the eyes during sleep. The discharge may be dry and flaky or sticky and viscous, like booger; or it can be slightly watery. Sleep crust in cats is also a part of normal eye function. 

Cats also produce tears as a way to wash away dust, dirt, or other foreign objects, or in reaction to an allergen. The tears help keep your cat’s eyes clean, although they do not spill over, but collect in the inner corners - also causing a discharge. 

As long as there are no other signs of eye irritation, kitty does not show signs of discomfort or pain, and the discharge appears infrequently and does not come back after being wiped off, then there’s no cause for worry. 

Types of eye discharge

  • Watery discharge. The consistency may be thin or thick, and usually causes some wetness in the area surrounding the eyes. 
  • Eye mucus. The discharge is thick and sticky, with a yellow, green, or brown color, and appears in clumps that are similar to the eye boogers humans also get. 
  • Crusty discharge. This is dry and flaky, and is usually caused by eye mucus drying out. 

Some cat breeds are more prone to eye discharge than others, specifically the brachycephalic breeds or those that have short noses and big and round eyes, such as Himalayans and Persians. Excessive eye discharge, especially if it is accompanied by redness, swelling, and squinting, warrants a trip to the vet. 

Eye Discharge in Cats: When Should You Worry?

Eye problems you should watch out for

If your cat has chronic eye discharge, make an appointment with your vet as it can be a symptom of a more serious condition and so that your cat can receive the right course of treatment.


This is the medical term for the excessive production of tears which may be caused by any of the following:

  • Allergies caused by the environment, household plants, pet food, medications, and chemicals from herbicides and pesticides. Teary eyes are also accompanied by the usual runny nose and sneezing. Vomiting and diarrhea may also occur, depending on the cause of the allergy. 
  • Eye injury or infection can lead to overproduction of tears in order to get rid of the foreign or infectious agent. 
  • Blocked tear ducts result in excessive tear production as a way for the body to clear the blockage. 

The course of treatment will depend on the cause of your cat’s epiphora, so have your feline checked by a vet to get the correct diagnosis. 

Eye Discharge in Cats: When Should You Worry?

Dry Eye

Also known as keratoconjunctivitis, dry eye is the opposite of epiphora and is characterized by the underproduction of tears. Chronic or prolonged dryness of the eye produces a yellow and sticky discharge, and can lead to inflammation of the cornea, eye irritation, and pain. Dry eye can cause irreversible damage, even blindness, if it is not treated properly. 

Pink Eye

Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye is caused by the inflammation of the pink lining beneath the eyelids. Pink eye can affect one or both eyes, causing swelling, redness, and light-sensitivity and with a discharge that may be clear and watery or thick like mucus. Mild conjunctivitis is usually treated with eye drops and does not cause permanent damage. If the condition is also accompanied by difficulty breathing, fever, and diarrhea, your feline may have a more serious infection and you should take her to the vet immediately. 

Corneal Problems

The cornea is the film that protects the outer surface of the eye. If the cornea becomes inflamed, scratched, or ulcerated, there will be excessive production of tears, excessive blinking, irritation, cloudiness, and eye discharge. Any type of corneal injury should be treated with the guidance of a vet in order to avoid permanent damage to the eyes. 

Eye Infections

Eye infections caused by either a bacterium or virus are common in cats and often highly contagious. Immediate and proper treatment is important, especially if you have more than one cat or kitty is a member of the local cat clique. 

Kittens often get infected by chlamydia and mycoplasma bacteria, and feline calicivirus and herpes virus type 1. Older cats that have been well-cared for since birth may develop an eye infection as a secondary ailment caused by eye trauma, an autoimmune disease, cancer, or a systemic viral infection. 

Upper Respiratory Infection

The infection can be caused by feline calicivirus or herpes virus. Other respiratory conditions that can cause eye irritation include bacterial infection, protozoa, and pneumonitis. The eye discharge has a pus-like consistency and appearance and is accompanied by nasal discharge and sneezing. 

Eye Discharge in Cats: Final Thoughts

Eye Discharge in Cats: When Should You Worry?

You should definitely take your cat to the vet if the eye discharge is excessive, chronic, prolonged, or is yellow or green in color. If you need to wipe away the discharge at least twice a day, kitty needs to be checked by her vet. If there is excessive rubbing of her eyes and other signs of eye irritation, discomfort, or pain, make an appointment or an emergency trip to a vet clinic. 

It is imperative that your vet gives a proper diagnosis so the appropriate treatment can be administered. Giving kitty the wrong kind of treatment may make her condition worse, lead to long-term damage, or leave a more serious underlying condition undiagnosed and untreated.

If kitty experiences a recurrence of an ailment, do not give her any of her leftover eye medication. Again, consult your vet before starting a course of treatment for your cat. 

Eye discharge in cats normally occurs from time. If your cat needs help keeping her eye area clear of any discharge, use a clean and wet cotton ball to gently wipe away the discharge; use a different cotton ball if you need to clean the other eye, as well. Anything that is out of the ordinary, however, may point to a more serious problem. So always keep an eye out for any potential eye problems your feline may have.