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What is Epiphora?

Epiphora in cats is a condition in which an excess of tears overflow from your cat’s eyes. This overflow does not cause discomfort to your cat, but will often produce discoloration around the eyes where the excess tears seep out. Epiphora is a symptom, rather than a disease, and is often a sign of an underlying condition. While most causes of epiphora are not life threatening, veterinary advice should be sought to confirm that your cat is not suffering from a more serious condition.

Symptoms of Epiphora in Cats

Symptoms of epiphora will vary in severity at times and may be difficult to catch until the condition is severe enough for continuous excess tears. Signs to watch for may include:

  • Excess tears in eyes
  • Dampness underneath or in corners of eyes
  • Excess reddish-brown discoloration of fur in inner corners of eyes
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Skin irritation or infection

Causes of Epiphora in Cats

Epiphora occurs when excess tears are present in your cat’s eyes. In a normal, healthy eye, there is a continuous production of tears that form a thin film over the eye, lubricating and protecting the eye from irritation. Normally these tears will pool into the inner lower corner of the eye and drain through the tear ducts into the back of your cat’s throat. If your cat is suffering from epiphora, the most common cause is lack of proper draining. In some cases, however, certain conditions may cause excess production of tears. Common causes of epiphora may include:

  • Blockage of tear ducts
  • Tumors or abscesses in the nasal cavity or face
  • Predisposition in certain cat breeds due to face shape which inhibits proper drainage

Epiphora resulting from increased tear production may be due to:

  • Allergies
  • Entropion or ectropion (abnormal eyelids)
  • Eye infections
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Conjunctivitis

Diagnosis of Epiphora in Cats

Diagnosis of epiphora in your cat will begin with a thorough physical exam by your regular veterinarian. During the exam, you should provide your vet with a thorough medical history of your cat. It will also be important to alert your vet to any allergies or underlying medical conditions your cat may have. Your veterinarian will be attempting to diagnose the cause of the epiphora, and any clues you may be able to provide from your cat’s medical history or home life will be helpful. Your vet will carefully examine your cat’s face to look for any swelling or irregularity that may indicate abscess, tumor or infection. 

After confirming your cat is in overall good health, your vet will then perform a detailed examination of your cat’s eyes and sight. Your vet may let your cat roam around the exam room to observe how they react visually to unfamiliar surroundings. This confirms whether there is any visual damage. An examination of the eye will be needed with the use of specialized handheld ophthalmoscope, similar to the one used by medical doctors. This will allow your vet an up-close look at the eye and surrounding tissues of your cat, which will assist in diagnosing any underlying condition. 

If during the exam your veterinarian notices inflammation or irritation of the eye they may also use a fluorescein stain on your cat’s eyes. This harmless dye is applied via drops in a non-invasive and quick procedure. The stain will allow your vet to shine bright light into your cat’s eye to examine the area for any minute scratches, foreign objects or other cause for irritation.

Treatment of Epiphora in Cats

Treatment of epiphora in your cat will depend on the underlying cause of the symptoms. In the case of debris or minor injury, your veterinarian may prescribe a saline flush to be performed at the vet’s office to help eliminate any foreign materials. This will be followed up with instructions for home care including rest and potentially antibiotic drops or gel to be applied directly to your cat’s eye. This will also be the treatment if your cat is suffering from conjunctivitis or other infection of the eye.

For cases of entropion or ectropion, your veterinarian may discuss whether your cat is a good candidate for a minor surgical procedure to correct the eyelid abnormalities. This will typically only be an option with fully grown adult cats since growth patterns and changes in size and face structure as a kitten grows may allow the condition to correct itself on its own. While the procedure to surgically correct eyelid abnormalities in minor, it will still require anesthesia and a day-long hospital stay. There are also surgical options for correcting blocked tear ducts.

In many cases, if the epiphora is due to an unknown cause or is not causing the cat any undue discomfort, your veterinarian may recommend conservative treatment or no medical intervention at all. If there are cosmetic concerns regarding staining, your vet may recommend commercially available solutions that can be used to clean the face and eye areas regularly to eliminate this problem.

Recovery of Epiphora in Cats

Overall, the prognosis for a full and healthy life for your cat suffering from epiphora is excellent. Most cases of epiphora are not life-threatening and provide only minor discomfort to your pet. Epiphora from breed pre-disposition may lessen over time, but will not impact your cat or limit their ability to see. Proper hygiene of the face should always be maintained for cats with epiphora to prevent skin infections or irritation caused by the excess moisture.

Epiphora Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Domestic long hair
14 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Epiphora causing skin irritation

My 14year old cat has always suffered epiphora. Vet has assessed as underachieving tear duct and she has had drops once which really did nothing. Always cleaning eye but last two weeks skin above eye and on side very irritated. Not sure whether to keep cleaning or take to vet. Has happened before and cleared up but this time it's taking its time.

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Domestic shorthair
10 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Occasional sticky discharge
Eye watering heavily

Medication Used

Ilium Opticin

My cat has his left eye watering heavily since 2 days ago after I accidentally touched his eye when he struggled while I'm medicating him 4 days prior. I already brought him to vet and the vet prescribed Ilium Opticin (Chloramphenicol 10 mg/g, Polymyxin B sulfate 5000 microgram/g), twice a day for him. Despite the occasional discharge and heavy tearing, the vet told me that he doesn't have the pink eye which indicates an infection, he seems not to be bothered by light and still open his eye as wide as his normal one. After I gave him the topical antibiotic ointment, I noticed that his eye tearing got even worse and he started to squint his medicated eye. Is it a normal reaction after the antibiotic? The vet told me that a little more tears are normal for a while but it's been hours since his tearing got worse. How long do I have to wait and see if the antibiotic is working? The vet told me to flush his eye with human eye wash solution which had 13% Witch Hazel & purified water. I wonder if it's okay to use it on a cat as from what I read Witch Hazel is toxic for cats. For now I only clean his outside part of the problem eye with warm-clean saline solution and gauze. Some people recommended black/green tea as a good eye cleaning solution/compress which tempted me to try it on him. I wonder if that's true? As it's not sterile, will it be dangerous if some gets inside his eye? For now he's eating and drinking normally and still taking Denamarin as his liver supplement. He ripped his hind leg claw 2 weeks ago and I still clean his wound with diluted chlorhexidine and cream from the vet.

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5 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Black gunk under eyes
Smelly runny poo

Do you think i should take my cat to a vet. I got him from a shelter 2 days ago he has settled in ine but his poo is really runny and smells bad. He also sneezes quite alot and has black gunk under his eyes ive tried wiping it away but the next morning its back. Also he keeps slightly closing his left eye but will keep his right one open.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
The diarrhoea may be due to stress from a new environment, infection or parasites; the eye ‘gunk’ may be due to a few different causes including allergies, irritants (smoking, cleaning products etc…), infections among other causes. You should have Sunny checked over by your Veterinarian to be on the safe side and you should also ensure that you worm him as well. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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