Is Your Cat’s Eye Gunk Normal or a Cause for Concern?

What is Cat Eye Discharge?

Eye discharge refers to any fluid or mucus that comes out of a cat’s eyes. It can be a normal way for a cat’s eyes to clean themselves. However, excessive or abnormal discharge can also indicate eye problems or infections.

Normal eye discharge is typically clear and watery. It may turn crusty or yellowish when it dries at the corners of the eyes or eyelids. This is the eye’s way of flushing away dust, debris, or irritants. As long as it’s not excessive, this is usually nothing to worry about.

Abnormal eye discharge is usually a sign of an eye issue. It may be yellow, green, brown, or contain blood or pus. The discharge may be watery or thick and mucus-like. Abnormal discharge is often accompanied by redness, swelling, or other irritation in the eye. Some causes of abnormal eye discharge include conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, blocked tear ducts, and eye injuries or foreign objects stuck in the eye.

It’s important to monitor the type, color, and amount of any eye discharge in cats. While mild clear discharge is normal, any major changes could indicate a problem needing veterinary attention. Prompt treatment can help clear up eye infections and prevent complications.

Causes of Normal Eye Discharge

Normal eye discharge in cats is typically clear and watery. It may occur for several harmless reasons, including:

Dust, dander, pollen or foreign material – Cats can experience eye discharge from irritation by environmental allergens or foreign objects like dust or pet dander. This causes reflexive tearing as the eye tries to flush out the irritant. The discharge is usually clear and watery (cite: https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/eye-discharge-in-cats).

cat with watery eye discharge

Tear production – Tears help lubricate and protect the eye. Normal tear production can lead to some clear eye discharge, especially at the corners of the eyes. Excess tear production, called epiphora, can cause runny discharge (cite: https://www.maddiesfund.org/kb-eye-discharge-in-cats.htm).

Sleep residue – A small amount of dried discharge may appear in the corners of the eyes after sleeping. This is normal as tear production continues during sleep (cite: https://berthoudanimalhospital.com/cat-eye-discharge/).

Allergies – Allergic reactions to food, plants, or other environmental allergens can stimulate tear production, leading to runny eye discharge. Discharge caused by allergies is usually clear and watery (cite: https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/eye-discharge-in-cats).

Causes of Abnormal Eye Discharge

There are several potential causes of abnormal eye discharge in cats:

Bacterial, viral or fungal infections – Infections from bacteria like chlamydia, viruses like feline herpesvirus, or fungi can cause inflammation and abnormal discharge. Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection in cats that leads to discharge. According to WebMD, viral infections like feline calicivirus are frequent causes of eye discharge in cats.

Blocked tear ducts – Tear ducts can become blocked by debris, infection, or scar tissue, preventing tears from draining normally and leading to overflow discharge from the eyes. Tear duct issues often cause thick, mucus-like discharge.

Injury or trauma – Cuts, scratches or blunt injuries to the eye or surrounding tissues can result in bleeding, inflammation, and abnormal eye discharge as the eye tries to clean itself.

Tumors – Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors affecting the eye or tear glands may cause excess fluid production and discharge.

Iris atrophy – The iris is the colored part of the eye. Atrophy or thinning of the iris from age or disease allows fluid to leak through, resulting in runny eye discharge.

According to the Maddie’s Fund website, abnormal eye discharge in cats is often caused by inflammation of the conjunctiva from allergies, irritants or infections [1].

When to See the Vet

Though some eye discharge is normal in cats, seeing your veterinarian is recommended if the eye discharge becomes excessive, takes on an abnormal color or consistency, or is accompanied by other symptoms. In particular, you should make an appointment if you notice any of the following:

  • The eye discharge is thick, excessive, or pus-like rather than watery [1].
  • The discharge is accompanied by squinting, reddened eyes, or noticeable swelling around the eyes [2].
  • The eye discharge persists for longer than 1-2 days without improvement [1].

These signs may indicate a more serious eye infection or condition that requires veterinary attention and treatment. It’s important not to wait too long before having your cat seen, as prompt treatment can help prevent vision damage or loss.

Diagnosing the Cause

When determining the cause of cat eye discharge, the vet will first take a thorough medical history and perform a complete eye exam. They will evaluate any changes in the eye and look for signs of injury, irritation, or infection.

vet examining cat's eyes

Often, a fluorescein stain test will be done to check for corneal ulcers or other damage. This involves putting a special orange dye in the eye that glows under a blue light. Any areas of damage or irritation will stain green.

The vet may take a sample of the eye discharge to have a microbial culture done to identify any bacterial or fungal infections. This helps guide treatment with appropriate antibiotics or antifungal medications.

In some cases, a biopsy may be taken to examine the tissue and determine the underlying cause. This provides important information for diagnosis and targeted treatment.

Treatment Options

The common treatments for cat eye discharge and infections include:

Antibiotics: If the eye discharge is caused by a bacterial infection, the vet may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment such as Terramycin or Vetropolycin to treat it (Source). Antibiotics help clear up infection and prevent further damage to the eye.

Anti-inflammatories: Medications like corticosteroid eye drops or ointments may be used to reduce inflammation associated with conditions like conjunctivitis (Source). These can help relieve irritation and redness.

Surgery: If a blocked tear duct is causing excessive eye discharge, the vet may flush the duct or insert stents to open it up and allow drainage. This is done under anesthesia (Source).

Medicated eye drops/ointments: In addition to antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, other medicated eye treatments may be prescribed depending on the cause of discharge to relieve symptoms.

At-Home Care

If your cat has a mild case of eye discharge, there are some at-home care methods you can try while monitoring their condition:

Gently clean around the eyes using a soft, warm, damp cloth or cotton pad to wipe away any discharge or crustiness. Avoid rubbing the eye directly. You can use a gentle saline eye wash or plain warm water for cleaning. After cleaning, pat the area dry with a soft towel (1).

gently cleaning cat's eyes

Avoid self-medicating with any eye ointments or drops without guidance from your veterinarian, as these can sometimes do more harm than good. Do not attempt to flush the eye at home.

Try to identify and eliminate possible irritants in your home environment that could be causing eye irritation, such as dust, cigarette smoke, or air fresheners. Keeping your home clean can help reduce allergens (2).

Monitor your cat’s litter box habits, as inappropriate urination can lead to ammonia burns on the eyes. Make sure the litter box is kept clean. Seek veterinary advice if litter box issues arise.

While home care can provide some relief, it’s important to seek veterinary attention if symptoms persist or worsen. An examination and proper diagnosis are needed to determine the right treatment. With prompt care, most cat eye infections can be managed successfully.

Prevention

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent eye infections and discharge:

Keep vaccinations up to date. Vaccines like feline herpesvirus and calicivirus can help prevent some common eye infections in cats. Follow your vet’s recommendations for vaccination schedules.

Feed a high-quality diet. A nutritious diet supports your cat’s immune system health and can help prevent infections. Look for cat foods that meet AAFCO standards.

Avoid exposure to irritants. Things like dust, pollen, and cigarette smoke can irritate your cat’s eyes. Keep the home clean and avoid exposing your cat to known irritants.

Regular vet checkups. As part of a routine wellness exam, your vet will examine your cat’s eyes for any signs of infection or discharge. Annual exams can catch problems early before they become more serious.

With proactive preventative care, cat owners can help reduce the risks of problematic eye infections in their feline companions.

Prognosis

The prognosis for most causes of cat eye discharge is good if treated early and appropriately.1 With prompt veterinary attention and following treatment recommendations, many types of eye discharge can be resolved. However, some chronic conditions like feline herpesvirus may continue to recur periodically throughout a cat’s life.

In cases of injury, inflammation, or infection, addressing the underlying cause and following the vet’s prescribed treatment plan is key. This may include medications like antibiotic or anti-inflammatory eye drops/ointments to treat infection or irritation. Maintaining eye health with gentle cleaning can support healing.

cat eye health exam

For cats with chronic viral conditions like feline herpesvirus, flare-ups can be managed but not fully cured. There are medications that can help reduce symptoms during an outbreak. Keeping the eyes clean and avoiding stressors may help reduce recurrence. Cats can live comfortably with lifelong manageable eye conditions.

Overall, the prognosis is good in most cases when cat eye discharge is addressed quickly before complications develop. While chronic eye issues may persist, there are ways to manage them. With veterinary oversight and proper at-home care, most cats have an excellent prognosis.

When to Seek Emergency Care

There are certain signs related to cat eye discharge that warrant an emergency vet visit. According to Preventive Vet, you should seek immediate veterinary attention if you notice the following:

  • Eye injury – Any trauma to the eye, even a small scratch, requires quick evaluation to check for damage and get appropriate treatment.
  • Sudden onset of eye swelling/inflammation – Rapid swelling or redness, especially if accompanied by eye discharge and squinting, could indicate a serious issue like glaucoma, infection, or other emergency.
  • Discharge accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, etc. – If your cat has eye discharge along with other concerning symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, or breathing issues, they need to be seen right away as it may point to a systemic illness.

According to River Landings Animal Clinic, some specific types of eye discharge that qualify as emergencies include: bloody discharge, yellow/green discharge, and copious amounts of pus-like discharge. Do not wait to see if these resolve on their own, as they indicate infection, ulcer, or other issues requiring veterinary assessment and treatment.

If your cat is squinting, pawing at their eye, or rubbing their face excessively, it is extremely uncomfortable. Cats are stoic by nature, so these visible signs of pain mean they need relief right away. Seek emergency veterinary care anytime your cat’s eyes appear painful or vision seems impaired.

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