Do Cats Produce Real Tears? The Surprising Truth About Feline Tear Ducts

Do cats produce real tears?

Cats are beloved pets renowned for their independent and mysterious nature. One intriguing feline behavior is tearing up, which prompts the question – do cats cry real tears? This article delves into the science behind feline tearing. We’ll explore why cats tear up, how their tears differ from human tears, if they experience emotional crying, and how to care for a tearing cat.

What are tears and their purpose?

Tears are a clear, salty liquid produced by the lacrimal glands in the eyes that help lubricate, protect, and nourish the surface of the eye. Tears are composed primarily of water, but also contain a variety of substances including oils, proteins, antibodies, and enzymes, that all serve important functions.

The composition of tears varies based on the type of tear being produced. According to Wikipedia, basal tears are produced continuously to keep the eye lubricated and flushed of debris. They contain water, proteins, lipids, electrolytes, and other substances. Reflex tears are produced in response to irritants like smoke or onions. They contain more water and antibacterial components compared to basal tears. Emotional tears triggered by sadness, joy, etc. contain more protein-based hormones like prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leukotriene.[1]

The main functions of tears in humans include:
– Lubricating the eye

– Providing nutrients and oxygen to the cornea
– Flushing out irritants and debris

– Protecting the eye from infection with antibacterial components
– Allowing clear vision by ensuring a smooth refractive surface

Do cats produce tears?

Yes, cats do produce tears. Cats have tear ducts and glands that secrete tears to lubricate and protect their eyes, similar to humans (source). However, the tears cats produce are different from the emotional tears that humans cry.

Cats produce two main types of tears – basal and reflex tears. Basal tears are released constantly to keep the eyes lubricated. Reflex tears are produced in response to irritation or injury to wash away foreign particles or debris (source). Unlike humans, cats do not produce emotional tears in response to feelings or pain. Their tear ducts function mechanically to protect the eyes, not to express emotions.

What causes cats to tear up?

There are a few main reasons cats may tear up or produce excess tears:

Irritants like dust, smoke, or pollen can cause basal tearing as a reaction. Cats’ eyes will water to flush out the irritant. This is not emotionally-driven tearing but rather an involuntary reflex to irritation [1].

Stress, illness, injury or other medical conditions can also cause reflex tearing in cats. For example, conditions like conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, blocked tear ducts, or eye infections can all lead to excess tearing [2]. The tearing helps lubricate and flush the eyes when they are irritated or inflamed from medical issues.

In general, any eye discomfort, pain or illness can stimulate reflex tears in cats as a protective mechanism. So increased tearing may be a sign of an underlying medical problem that requires veterinary attention.

Can cats cry emotional tears?

There is some debate over whether cats can produce emotional tears in response to feelings like sadness, grief, joy or affection. Cats do have emotions, but their tear ducts and tear composition are physiologically different from humans.

Some cat owners report witnessing their cats tear up during emotional situations, like when being separated from a beloved owner or when grieving the loss of another pet. There are anecdotal stories of cats crying while being petted, purring or experiencing positive interactions.

However, veterinarians caution that interpreting cats’ tearing up as emotional crying may be anthropomorphizing normal feline behavior. Cats’ eyes often water in response to eye irritants, stress, facial nerve reactions or for other physiological reasons not connected to complex emotions.[1][2]

While cats may experience emotions similarly to humans in some ways, the composition of their tears makes crying from sadness, grief or joy unlikely. More research is still needed to fully understand the emotional lives of cats.

Differences between human and feline tears

Human tears and feline tears have some key differences in their chemical composition and amount produced:

Chemical composition:

  • Human tears contain more water and salts than cat tears.
  • Cat tears contain more protein due to a higher concentration of the enzyme lysozyme, which has antibacterial properties [1].
  • Human tears contain the stress hormone cortisol, while cat tears do not [2].
  • Cat tears may contain pheromones that communicate emotional signals to other cats [1].

Amount of tears:

  • Humans produce tears constantly to keep the eyes lubricated, while cats only produce tears in response to irritation or illness.
  • When humans cry emotionally, they can produce 5-10 times more tears than their basal rate. Cats do not cry more tears when distressed.
  • Kittens produce tears more readily than adult cats.

In summary, human tears serve more of an emotional purpose, while cat tears are more functional for eye protection and communication via pheromones.


Do cat tears contain pheromones?

There has been speculation that cat tears may contain pheromones. Pheromones are chemical substances released by animals that can trigger social responses in members of the same species. It has been hypothesized that when cats tear up or cry, their tears may transmit pheromones that communicate emotional states to other cats.

However, there is currently no scientific evidence to confirm that cat tears actually contain pheromones. While pheromones play an important role in cat communication and social behavior, research has not yet identified pheromones in feline tears or shown that cat crying transmits pheromones to other cats. Pheromones have been identified in other feline secretions like urine, but more research is needed specifically on tears.

While an intriguing idea, the claim that cat tears contain communicative pheromones remains speculative. There is not yet solid proof that feline tears perform this function. More controlled scientific study is needed to determine if cats produce emotional pheromones through crying.

Care for a tearing cat

If your cat has excessive tearing or discharge from their eyes, there are some steps you can take at home to help care for them and alleviate any discomfort:

First, look for and treat any possible irritants. Make sure there are no foreign objects, dirt, or dust in the eye causing irritation. Gently flush the eye with a saline solution if needed to remove any debris (source).

Next, address any underlying illness or stress. Tearing can be caused by conjunctivitis, allergies, blocked tear ducts, respiratory infections, and other conditions. Reducing stress through environmental changes, pheromones, etc. may also help (source). Bring your cat to the vet if the tearing persists to identify and treat any medical causes.

Use a gentle, pet-safe tear stain remover to keep the fur around the eyes clean and prevent buildup. Wipe residue away regularly with a soft cloth dampened with the remover. This can help prevent worsening of staining while addressing the root cause.

Make sure your cat’s face and eyes stay dry. Gently wipe excess moisture with a soft tissue frequently throughout the day. Keeping the area dry can help reduce irritation.

In severe cases, surgery may be required to open a blocked tear duct to allow drainage. But in most cases, identifying and addressing irritants and illness while keeping the area clean and dry can help resolve excessive cat tearing.

When to see the vet

Persistent tearing could signal underlying health issues that require veterinary attention. Watery eyes that don’t resolve within a few days can indicate conditions like:

– Conjunctivitis or inflammation of the eye membrane (source)

– Blocked tear ducts or eye injuries (source)

– Eye ulcers or corneal abrasions

– Allergies or irritation from foreign objects

– Viral infections like feline herpesvirus

– Eye tumors or glaucoma

Veterinarians can prescribe medicated eye drops, ointments, or pills to treat infections, allergies, and other medical causes of excessive tearing. They may flush the tear ducts to remove blockages. Surgery is sometimes needed for duct obstructions, eyelid problems, or eye damage. Prompt veterinary care helps relieve discomfort and prevent vision loss in tearful cats.


In summary, cats do produce tears but not for emotional reasons like humans. Cats’ eyes water for medical reasons like eye infections, irritation, or injury. Cats also produce tears to keep their eyes lubricated and help spread facial pheromones. While it may look like a cat is crying from sadness, loneliness, or pain, feline tears are physically based and involuntary. Cats do not have the same tear ducts as humans that enable emotional crying. If your cat has excessive tearing, it’s best to get them checked by a vet to rule out an underlying medical cause. While you can’t comfort a sad cat with tears in their eyes, you can still provide affection and care when they are distressed.

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