What are Watery Eyes?
Watery eyes, known as epiphora in the veterinary world, is defined as an abnormal overflow of tears. Veterinarians commonly see epiphora in brachycephalic breeds, such as Himalayans and Persians, whose congenital abnormalities cause an over exposure of the eyeball to the outside world. Watery eyes is also connected to two other congenital abnormalities including distichiasis and entropion, conditions in which the eyelids or eyelashes turn inward causing irritation to the eyeball.
If your cat has allergies, a foreign object trapped in the eye, or a viral infection similar to the common cold, her eyes could become excessively watery for a temporary period of time. However, if your cat’s eyes have been abnormally watery since birth or for an extended period of time, the problem could be the symptom of a condition that requires veterinary attention.
Symptoms of Watery Eyes in Cats
Watery eyes in cats is fairly easy to recognize, especially in white-haired felines as the overproduction of tears causes a brown/reddish staining on the face, just below the eyes. Other symptoms of watery eyes in cats include:
- Red eyes
- Scratching of the eyes
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Eye discharge
- Droopy skin around the eyes orbit
- Ulceration of the cornea
Causes of Watery Eyes in Cats
Watery Eyes in cats can be caused by a number of underlying health complications, but it is commonly seen in short faced cats. Short faced, or brachycephalic cat breeds, are genetically predisposed to have short noses and bulging eyes. The outset eyes are not protected from dirt, pollen and other elements that can scratch and inflame the eye, causing the eyes to water. The condition in which portions of the eye become scratched, referring to the conjunctiva of the eye, is known as conjunctivitis. Other causes of watery eyes in cats include the following:
- Eyelid Tumors
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): extremely rare, but the most commonly seen eye-associated tumor in cats. White cats are the most commonly affected group.
- Glaucoma: eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve commonly seen in older felines.
- Scratches (elements or other animals)
- Facial bone fractures (hit-by-car accidents)
- Trapped foreign elements in the eye
- FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)
- FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis)
- FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)
- Tear duct blockage due to a structural deformity of the tear duct or inflammation caused by a secondary condition.
- Distichiasis: irregular growth of eyelashes
- Entropion: turning inward of the eyelashes
Diagnosis of Watery Eyes in Cats
Any information regarding your cat’s medical history and behavior that you can provide the veterinarian can aid him or her in the diagnosis. To better pinpoint the cause of your cat’s watery eyes, the veterinarian may also perform:
- A physical examination
- An allergy test to rule out allergies as the cause
- A fluorescein stain test to view trauma the eye that are not easily seen. This is a non-invasive test that will not cause pain to your cat. The veterinarian simply stains the eyeball and shines a blue light into the eye for viewing purposes.
- The Schirmer tear test, a test using small strips to evaluate tear levels of the eye.
- A tonometry test, performed to evaluate the intraocular pressure or fluid within the eye. This test is commonly performed to rule out or diagnose glaucoma.
- Radiographs, an MRI, or a CT to check for internal abnormalities within the skull.
- Laboratory analysis of cultured discharged from the eye.
Treatment of Watery Eyes in Cats
Treating watery eyes in your cat will depend on the underlying cause. Treatment of watery eyes in cats may be include of the following:
- Removal of the foreign body lodged in the eye
- Antihistamine treatment to manage allergies
- Topical antibiotics for treatment of infection
- Pain alleviating ointments to aid the healing of trauma, conjunctivitis, and congenital abnormalities
In the case of tear duct blockage, a catheter may be placed within the tear duct to open the duct and allow fluid to pass. Surgical repair of the eyelid may be necessary to treat abnormal eyelid formation such as an Entropion.
Distichiasis can be treated by removing the hairs using a process called cryosurgery.
Eyelid tumors will require aggressive treatment and if caught early, can be surgically removed.
Recovery of Watery Eyes in Cats
Recovery and management of watery eyes in your cat is dependent of the severity of the condition. If your cat has been prescribed medication to alleviate pain due to a foreign object obstruction or antihistamines to relieve allergy symptoms, recovery should begin within a few days. Management will mainly take place at home with occasional trips to the veterinarian. However, if you cat has undergone a surgical procedure, recovery and management will take longer, requiring more veterinarian attention. Your veterinarian will want to reevaluate your cat and check on the progress of the treatment.
Watery Eyes Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat is one. His eyes are watering. He often squints and closes an eye. He has squinted and closed one eye since he was a kitten. There is no redness. No thick discharge. Just light watery substance.
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