The Crying Kitty. Why Does My Cat Shed Tears While Eating?

Why Do Some Cats Cry While Eating?

It can be alarming for cat owners to see tears streaming down their feline friend’s face as they eat. While this phenomenon may appear concerning at first, there are several possible explanations behind cats crying while eating that do not necessarily indicate a serious medical issue.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the more common reasons why cats may cry tears during mealtimes. Our aim is to provide cat owners with a helpful guide to understanding this behavior, from harmless causes like food texture to more problematic ones like underlying health conditions. By better understanding what’s behind your cat’s tearful eating, you’ll be equipped to determine if and when a veterinary visit may be warranted.

Anatomical Reasons

Cats have a lacrimal gland located above each eye that produces tears. Tears drain from each eye through small openings called puncta into the lacrimal canaliculi, then flow into the lacrimal sac, and finally drain into the nose through the nasolacrimal duct (Source). Sometimes this drainage system can become blocked or obstructed, causing excess tears to overflow from the eyes.

When cats eat, the muscles around their eyes move which can squeeze the lacrimal gland and force tears out through the puncta. If there is any obstruction or blockage in the nasolacrimal drainage system, these eating-induced tears cannot properly drain through the ducts. The excess tears will then spill out of the eyes, making it appear as if the cat is crying while eating (Source). This is usually not due to any emotional response, but simply the result of anatomical structures and muscle movements around the eyes during eating.

Blocked Tear Ducts

One possible cause of a cat crying tears while eating is a blocked tear duct. The tear ducts drain tears from the eyes into the nasal cavity. If the duct gets blocked, tears can overflow onto the face instead of draining properly. Blocked tear ducts, also known as epiphora or lacrimal duct obstruction, is relatively common in cats.

Symptoms of a blocked tear duct include excessive tear production and overflow, wetness or staining around the eyes and on the face, and sometimes a foul smelling discharge. The overflowing tears while eating are due to an increase in tear production during meals.

Treatments for blocked tear ducts include flushing the ducts to remove obstructions, antibiotics for any infection, anti-inflammatory medication, surgical opening of the ducts, or placement of a stent. Prompt veterinary care is recommended to prevent complications like skin infections around the eyes. With appropriate treatment, most cats recover well from blocked tear ducts.

To help prevent blocking, keep the eyes clean by gently wiping away any discharge daily. Limit any irritants around the eyes. And monitor for any changes to get prompt veterinary advice.

Eye Injuries or Ulcers

One common cause of excess tearing in cats is eye injuries or ulcers, especially in outdoor cats. Ulcers can form on the cornea of the eye from scratches due to plants, exposure to chemicals, or bites/scratches in fights with other animals. Another common eye issue in cats is feline herpesvirus, which leads to corneal ulcerations and inflammation of the conjunctiva (source). These injuries and infections cause irritation and pain, triggering the cat’s tear ducts to produce more tears to flush out the eye. If your cat has other symptoms like swelling, redness, a cloudy cornea, or signs of discomfort when opening the eyes, an eye injury or ulcer may be the cause of the excess tearing.

Getting prompt veterinary attention is important for diagnosing and treating eye injuries or infections before they can cause lasting damage. The vet will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments along with medications to encourage healing of any ulcers present on the eye’s surface. Preventing eye injuries by keeping cats away from hazards is ideal, but watch for any eye swelling or discharge so these issues can be addressed quickly.

Food Texture

One potential reason for tearing while eating is the texture of the food. Dry, crunchy kibble can stimulate tears as cats chew due to the hardness and sharp edges of the food. The crunching action can cause irritation to the eyes and tear ducts, leading to excess tearing.

This is because cats have to exert more force to break down dry food in their mouth, which can place pressure on the eyes and stimulate reflexive tearing (source: Softer wet foods or adding water to kibble can help, as they don’t require as much chewing force.

Compared to dry food, wet food has more moisture and is easier to break down for cats. The softer texture is gentler on a cat’s mouth and does not tend to cause excess tearing like crunchy kibble can (source: Therefore, switching to or mixing in wet food may help reduce tears while eating.


Stress, fear or anxiety can be potent triggers for tear production in cats. When a cat feels threatened or is in an agitated emotional state, the nerves connecting to the tear glands can cause excess tears to form as part of the “fight or flight” response.

Common stressors that may cause a cat to cry tears include:

  • Loud noises like fireworks or thunder
  • Conflict with other household pets
  • A visit to the veterinarian
  • Changes in environment or routine
  • Travel in a car or carrier

The nervous stimulation caused by these stressful events can override the normal tear production system and cause watery eyes. Tears may be most apparent when the cat is actively frightened or upset. Reducing stressors in the home environment is important to limit excessive tear production.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions in cats can lead to excessive tear production and crying while eating. Some common medical culprits include:

  • Dental disease – Infection and inflammation in a cat’s mouth from conditions like gingivitis, tooth resorption, or oral tumors can cause pain while eating. The pain triggers tear production.
  • Conjunctivitis – Inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the eye) often leads to irritated, watery eyes.
  • Blocked tear ducts – Blockages prevent tears from draining normally, causing overflow.
  • Corneal ulcers – Ulcers on the surface of the eye cause significant pain and irritation, stimulating tear production.
  • Feline herpesvirus – Upper respiratory infections from herpesvirus can spread to the eyes, causing watery discharge.
  • Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) – While counterintuitive, dry eye can also cause reflex tearing as the eyes try to compensate for inadequate tear production. [1]

If an underlying medical issue is suspected, a veterinary exam is recommended to diagnose and treat the condition. Treating the root cause will alleviate excessive tearing.

When to See the Vet

If your cat is frequently tearing with eye discharge you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Excessive eye discharge is often a sign of injury or illness that requires medical attention. Some signs that warrant a vet visit include:

Frequent tearing or wetness around the eyes1

Yellow, green, or brown discharge from one or both eyes2

Red, pink, or irritated eyes3

Squinting or keeping the eyes closed1

Pawing at the eyes2

Swelling around the eyes

Crusty or sticky discharge

Changes in the appearance of the eye

Your vet can examine your cat’s eyes, determine the cause of tearing, and prescribe medication if needed. Leaving excessive tearing untreated could lead to infections, eye damage, or vision impairment.

Preventing Tears

There are some steps cat owners can take to help prevent excessive tear production in their cats:

  • Feed a high-quality diet – Cats with food allergies or sensitivities may produce more tears while eating. Switching to a limited ingredient or hypoallergenic diet recommended by your vet can help.
  • Reduce stress – Stress can stimulate tear production in cats. Try to minimize stressful situations by keeping your cat’s routine consistent, avoiding loud noises, and using calming aids like Feliway.
  • Keep the face clean – Gently wipe away any discharge daily with a warm, wet cloth to prevent irritation and infection.
  • Trim eye hair – Long hairs around the eyes can wick tears onto the face. Ask your groomer or vet to trim them.
  • Treat medical conditions – Identifying and managing underlying illnesses like herpesvirus, conjunctivitis, or dental disease can reduce excessive tearing.

Making diet and lifestyle adjustments tailored to your cat’s needs may help lower tear production and keep their eyes comfortable.


To recap, we looked at seven potential reasons why a cat might cry tears while eating: blocked tear ducts, eye injuries or ulcers, food texture, stress, dental disease, corneal ulcers, and feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Blocked tear ducts and eye injuries are common anatomical causes that can lead to excess tearing. Cats may also tear up from hard or dry food textures irritating their eyes. Stress, dental disease, and medical conditions like corneal ulcers and FHS can also trigger tearing while eating in some cases.

If your cat is crying tears frequently or excessively while eating, have your veterinarian examine them to pinpoint the underlying cause. Pay attention to any other symptoms like eye redness, squinting, or behavioral changes, which can provide clues. Make sure to monitor your cat’s tearing each time they eat. If the tearing persists or worsens, take your cat to the vet for an evaluation. Catching and addressing the issue early is important for your cat’s health and comfort. With proper treatment guided by your vet, your cat’s excessive tearing while eating can likely be resolved.

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