Know when you should be concerned about your cat’s runny eyes

Large and luminous, the eyes are one of the most beautiful and distinctive features of the cat, but the eyes can sometimes be marred by a watery or “goopy” eye discharge, which can become chronic. There are many possible causes for the development of chronic eye discharge in cats. As with any changes in the eyes in our animal companions, any chronic change in appearance should be evaluated by a veterinarian for proper diagnostic assessment and treatment.

An important initial step is to evaluate the color and consistently of the discharge as well as whether there are other changes in the eyes, such as light sensitivity, redness, and swelling, and whether the problem involves one or both eyes. Especially with cats, it is important to evaluate closely whether there are other upper respiratory symptom changes, including sneezing, nasal congestion, discharge as many infectious causes of respiratory diseases in cats will cause potential eye inflammation and discharge as well.

While traumatic injuries to the eye typically cause more acute or short-term sudden inflammation and discharge, many viral infections of cats including feline herpes virus (i.e. rhinotracheitis) and less commonly feline calicivirus are involved with more chronic respiratory and eye diseases in cats. Bacterial infections, including chlamydia, also may be involved in eye disease, which is especially important be aware of, as chlamydia is also a potential contagious disease transmitted to people as well (although the risk is low because the feline version, which is a different strain than that affecting humans, is highly adapted to cats). It is for these reasons that any cat with chronic eye discharges and/or upper respiratory symptoms have a thorough veterinary exam to assess for these underlying potential infectious diseases.

Certainly chronic airborne allergies to inhalant allergens, including molds, grasses, trees, dander and house dust, also may cause chronic eye discharges in some cats. On rare occasion, foreign bodies can lodge in the conjunctival sacs of the eyes, leading also to chronic disease of the eye. Finally, certain breeds, including Persian cats, will have more of a tendency to have chronic eye discharges, because of the anatomic shape of the head in these breeds.  In summary, a veterinary evaluation and full exam is necessary, especially when there is a risk for scratching or ulcers of the cornea with some of these infectious diseases.

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