What’s Up With My Cat’s Eye Gunk? How to Clean It Safely

What is cat eye discharge?

Eye discharge in cats refers to any fluid or mucus that drains from a cat’s eyes. It is a symptom rather than a disease itself, and has a variety of potential causes. Normal, healthy cats may have a small amount of clear eye discharge, especially when waking up. This helps clean and lubricate the eyes. Abnormal eye discharge occurs when the quantity or quality of discharge differs from normal Cat Eye Discharge and Eye Problems.

Excessive eye discharge that is yellow, green, brown, or bloody can indicate an underlying problem. Thick mucus secreting from the eyes constantly can also be a sign of illness. Causes range from minor issues like eye irritation to more serious conditions like viral infections or glaucoma. Determining if your cat’s eye discharge is normal or abnormal will help identify if veterinary treatment is needed Understanding Cat Eye Discharge: Causes, Treatment ….

Causes of abnormal eye discharge

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

Infection – Infections are a common cause of abnormal eye discharge. Viruses like feline herpesvirus and bacteria like Chlamydia can infect the eyes and lead to inflammation and discharge (WebMD). Conjunctivitis, an infection of the conjunctiva, is particularly common.

Allergies – Allergies to pollen, dust, food, and other environmental allergens can cause eye irritation and discharge in cats. The discharge may be clear and watery if caused by allergies (Maddie’s Fund).

Foreign bodies – Debris like dust or dirt can get trapped under a cat’s eyelids and cause irritation, redness, and discharge. Cats may have excessive tearing and squinting due to a foreign body in the eye.

Blocked tear ducts – A cat’s tear ducts can sometimes get blocked, preventing tears from draining normally. This causes an overflow of tears and discharge from the eyes.

When to clean eye discharge

It’s not always necessary to clean a cat’s eye discharge. Normal, clear eye discharge helps lubricate and protect the eye. According to WebMD, you should only clean thick, discolored discharge or discharge that seems to irritate the eye and cause blinking or rubbing [1]. Clear, watery discharge is normal and does not require cleaning in most cases.

Discolored discharge, such as yellow or green, could indicate an infection or blocked tear duct and may need veterinary attention. Only clean this type of discharge gently to avoid further irritation. Excessive reddish-brown discharge may signal a corneal ulcer or injury, requiring prompt veterinary care. Avoid cleaning this type of discharge at home.

In summary, only clean thick, discolored discharge or discharge causing noticeable irritation. Otherwise, allow normal clear eye discharge to follow its protective course.

How to clean eye discharge

When cleaning your cat’s eye discharge, use warm water or a saline solution on a cotton ball or soft cloth. Avoid using tap water, which contains microbes and minerals that can further irritate your cat’s eyes.

Gently wipe any discharge, crust, or mucus away from the inner corner of the eye outwards. Take care not to scrub or apply too much pressure, as this can harm the eye. Wipe each eye from the nose outwards to avoid spreading discharge between eyes.

Only clean off visible discharge and avoid inserting the cotton swab inside the eye. Use a fresh cotton ball for each eye to prevent contamination. Be very gentle and stop if your cat seems bothered.

Some veterinarian-recommended saline solutions for cleaning cat eyes include commercial products like Vetericyn Eye Wash and gentle, preservative-free eye rinses. Only use solutions specifically formulated for pets.

When to see a vet

There are a few key signs that indicate your cat’s eye discharge is abnormal and requires veterinary attention:

If the eye discharge is thick, discolored, or bloody, it could signal an infection or injury that needs treatment. Thick green or yellow discharge often indicates bacterial conjunctivitis, which requires prescription antibiotic eye drops or ointment to clear up [1]. Bloody discharge could mean a scratch on the eye, ulcer, or more serious condition.

You should also see the vet if your cat seems to be in pain or discomfort around their eyes, keeps their eyes closed, or has impaired vision. Squinting, pawing at the eyes excessively, or sensitivity to light are signs of irritation or inflammation that need veterinary care. Vision issues like wandering eyes or clumsiness could indicate a problem like glaucoma or detached retina that requires prompt treatment.

In short, any eye discharge that is abnormal in color, consistency or is accompanied by other symptoms warrants having your cat seen by a vet to determine the underlying cause and proper treatment. It’s important not to ignore significant eye discharge, as many eye conditions will worsen without medical care. Your vet can recommend the right medication or surgery to clear up your cat’s eye problem and restore their comfort and vision.

Home care tips

You can provide supportive care at home for mild cases of eye discharge in cats. Here are some tips for keeping your cat comfortable while their eyes heal:

Keep the area around your cat’s eyes clean by gently wiping away any crusted discharge with a soft, warm, damp cloth or cotton pad. Be very gentle, as the eye area is sensitive. According to Vetericyn, you can flush the affected eye with a sterile saline eye wash 3-4 times per day.

Use flea prevention medication as prescribed by your vet, as fleas can cause irritation leading to eye discharge. Limit your cat’s exposure to potential irritants like cigarette smoke, dust, and strong fragrances that could exacerbate eye issues.

Provide a quiet, comfortable area for your cat to recover if their eyes seem painful or overstimulated. Keep their food and water bowls clean and easy to access. Monitor for any worsening of symptoms, and contact your vet if the discharge increases, changes color, or if your cat seems lethargic or loses their appetite.


If your cat’s eye discharge is caused by an eye infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Some common antibiotics prescribed for cat eye infections include:

Different Antibiotics in Cat Eye Infection Treatment

Antibiotic eye medications like terramycin, gentamicin, and erythromycin can treat bacterial and fungal eye infections. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully when administering eye drops or ointment, including proper dosing and sanitizing the eye area.

If your cat has allergic eye discharge, your vet may prescribe antihistamine eye drops containing ketotifen or epinastine. Oral antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) may also help reduce allergic reactions causing excessive eye discharge.

Using the proper medication prescribed by your veterinarian is key to clearing up problematic eye discharge. Make sure to finish the entire course as directed, even if your cat’s eyes look better, to fully eliminate the infection or allergy flare up.


Cats with chronic eye discharge may require surgery to help resolve the underlying issue. Two common surgical procedures for abnormal eye discharge include:

Surgery to flush tear ducts if blocked – The tear ducts can become blocked by debris, infection, inflammation, or scar tissue. A vet may recommend surgery to flush and open up the tear ducts. This involves inserting a small catheter into the duct and flushing with saline. In some cases, a balloon catheter is used to open up a narrowed duct. This surgery often successfully resolves epiphora caused by blocked tear ducts. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/eye-discharge-or-epiphora-in-cats

Removal of foreign body if present – Sometimes a foreign object, such as grass seed or foxtail, gets lodged in the tear ducts or behind the third eyelid. This irritation can cause excessive tearing. Surgery can be performed to find and remove the foreign body. Once removed, the eye discharge usually resolves.

Cats usually recover well from tear duct surgery. Rest and medication is needed during the recovery period to allow proper healing. With successful surgery and aftercare, most cats have greatly reduced or eliminated chronic abnormal eye discharge.


The prognosis for cat eye discharge depends on the underlying cause. However, the outlook is generally good with prompt treatment. Here are some key points on prognosis:

Most causes of abnormal eye discharge in cats can be successfully treated. Bacterial and viral infections, allergies, foreign objects, and other issues often respond well to appropriate medications, eye drops, eye ointments, removal of irritants, or environmental changes recommended by the vet.

Early detection and treatment leads to better outcomes. By having a cat’s eye discharge evaluated promptly, underlying issues can be identified and managed before they worsen. This helps prevent complications like eye ulcers or vision loss.

Cats may require lifelong treatment for chronic conditions causing discharge. In cases like viral infections, immune-mediated eye diseases, or congenital defects, discharge may recur. Working with the vet to find an effective long-term treatment plan is important.

Surgery can correct some causes of discharge. Removal of eye tumors, blocked tear ducts, or extra eyelashes growing abnormally may be curative. Procedures are typically low risk when performed by an experienced veterinary ophthalmologist.

With appropriate care guided by a veterinarian, most cats have an excellent chance of recovering fully from abnormal eye discharge.


There are some steps you can take to help prevent abnormal eye discharge in cats:

Get regular veterinary checkups. Your vet can examine your cat’s eyes closely and detect any underlying issues early on. They can also advise you on preventative care.

Avoid irritants. Keep your home free of cigarette smoke, dust, and certain chemicals that may irritate your cat’s eyes. Don’t use perfumes, carpeting cleaners, or scented litter near your cat.

Keep their face and eyes clean. Gently wipe away any discharge daily with a soft, damp cloth. This prevents buildup that could cause further irritation. Trim fur around the eyes if it starts to mat with discharge.

Address allergies. If your vet determines allergies are the cause, they may recommend changes to your cat’s environment or diet to reduce exposure to allergens.

Treat underlying health issues. Problems like viral infections, dental disease, or autoimmune disorders can contribute to eye discharge. Treating the root cause can prevent recurrences.

With proactive care and attention, you can minimize problematic eye discharge and keep your cat’s eyes comfortable and healthy.

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