cat health

Eye Discharge in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Anything from a simple cold to a serious illness could be causing your cat’s eye discharge. Learn a few of the more common causes of eye discharge, when to see a vet, and what you can do at home to help your feline friend.

Eye Discharge Causes

A healthy cat’s eyes should be bright and clear.

Eye problems can bring out another cat entirely, one who paws at his eyes, squints, or blinks excessively. Because eye problems can lead to devastating consequences -- including surgery or blindness -- always talk to your vet when you notice your cat has irritated eyes. A few common reasons for cat eye discharge include:

  • Feline upper respiratory infections. A frequent cause of eye discharge in cats, these can include viruses such as feline calicivirus, a contagious respiratory disease, pneumonitis or rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus), bacteria, and protozoa. Symptoms can be mild or progress to something very serious and may include a sticky, pus-like eye discharge.

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye). An inflammation of the light pink lining around your cat’s eye, conjunctivitis can cause one or both of your cat’s eyes to look red and swollen, be light-sensitive, and have clear, teary or thick mucus eye discharge. Conjunctivitis with fever, diarrhea, and trouble breathing can point to potentially fatal feline infectious peritonitis, though this isn’t very common.

  • Corneal disorders. A cat’s cornea, the dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye, can become inflamed, injured, or ulcerated. The result may be cloudiness, excessive blinking, inflammation, and increased tear production.

  • Watery, tearing eyes (epiphora). Blocked tear ducts, an overproduction of tears, allergies, viral conjunctivitis, and more can be behind your cat’s abnormal tearing.

  • Uveitis. An inflammation of the internal structures of the eye, trauma, cancer, immune problems or infections can cause the serious, often painful inflammation of uveitis.

  • Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca). A chronic lack of tear production, dry eye can lead to an inflamed cornea, red eyes, and if left untreated, blindness. Because the watery portion of tears is missing, a yellow, gooey eye discharge can result.

  • Other eye discharge causes include feline infectious peritonitis, allergies, something lodged in the eye, or third eyelid problems.

Eye Discharge Treatments

Because so many conditions can lead to eye discharge in cats, you really need to talk to your veterinarian before trying any eye discharge treatments on your cat.

Depending on what your veterinarian finds, treatment for cat eye discharge might include:

  • Feline upper respiratory infection. Specific treatments depend on the cause of the infection as well as how serious it is and may include eye medications, antibiotics, decongestants, and fluids.

  • Conjunctivitis. Pollen, dust, weeds, or other irritants can cause conjunctivitis, which may be treated with a steroid ointment. if it's caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotic ointments may be used.

  • Corneal disorders. Treatment depends on what’s troubling your cat’s cornea, but may include keeping kitty’s eyes clean, antibiotic eye ointment or drops, drops that promote healing, removing loose corneal tissue, cauterization, or surgery.

  • Watery, tearing eyes. Under general anesthesia, your vet may use plain water or saline to flush your cat’s blocked tear duct. If there's an infection, antibiotic eye ointment or drops may be needed.

  • Uveitis. The right treatment depends on what’s causing your cat’s uveitis, though that’s often hard to diagnose. Care may include eye ointment or drops to control inflammation and pain.

  • Feline calicivirus. Secondary bacterial infections, which can cause pneumonia and other serious issues, are common with calicivirus, so always call your vet if you suspect your cat has this disease. Treatment may include symptom control, antibiotics for secondary infections, and supportive care.

  • Dry eye. Many things can cause dry eye, from immune-mediated disease to distemper. Treatment can include eye drops or ointments, immune-suppressing drugs, antibiotics, or artificial tears.

When to See a Vet

Your cat’s eyes are as delicate as they are beautiful. Small problems can quickly turn into serious conditions. If your cat’s eye discharge symptoms don’t clear up within 24 hours or if your cat is squinting, talk to your veterinarian right away.

If you have medications left over from a previous eye problem, don’t use them on your cat’s eyes. Different eye issues call for different medications, and you can end up causing serious injury by using the wrong one.

Preventive Home Care for Healthy Eyes

You can help avoid eye problems in your cat by keeping up with yearly vaccinations, avoiding kitty overcrowding, and checking your cat’s eyes frequently for redness, cloudiness, a change in color or shape, discharge, or sensitivity to light.

To safely remove your cat’s eye discharge and make them more comfortable while waiting for their vet appointment, arm yourself with a bag of cotton balls and these simple tips from the ASPCA:

  • Dip a cotton ball in water. Wipe away the eye discharge, always from the corner of the eye outward. Use a fresh cotton ball for each eye.

  • Steer clear of any over-the-counter drops or washes unless your vet has prescribed them.

Because correct treatment can be so critical to the health and well-being of your cat, always talk to a veterinarian to be sure kitty is getting just the right care needed.

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Related: We have more information under our cat health tags.

Why "Dry Pilling" Is Dangerous for Cats

If your cat coughs or vomits after taking a pill, there's probably a good reason. Coughing or vomiting after having swallowed pills dry could very well be a result of dry pilling (giving your cat a pill without any liquid). If you have ever tried to dry-swallow an aspirin, you'll recognize how uncomfortable the experience can be. Swallowing half a pill can even be worse, because of the sharp corners.

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Why "Dry Pilling" Is Dangerous for Cats

Dry pilling can lead to pills getting stuck in your cat's esophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach). While dry pills are likely to get stuck, capsules are even more dangerous for cats. The smooth, gelatinous surface tends to cause capsules to lodge in the esophagus.

A 2001 study presented in a veterinary journal stated that "After 5 minutes, 84% of capsules and 64% of tablets are still sitting in the esophagus." The study also brought out the dangerous occurrences of esophagitis, which can be caused by the irritation of pills and capsules remaining in the esophagus for long periods of time. This can often lead to blockage, entirely.

How to Give Your Cat Liquid to Avoid Dangerous Dry Pilling

It may seem impossible to force a cat to drink. Fortunately, though, there are a number of tricks you can use to prevent problems when administering oral medications to cats:

  • Follow Pilling with Liquid
    Use a small 1cc syringe filled with either plain water or low-salt broth. Approach the cat from the back or side, rather than front-on. Keep the cat's head level rather than tipped back, to facilitate swallowing.

  • Conceal the Pill in a Pill Pocket
    Pill Pockets are cone-shaped, soft treats with a hole down the center. Just pop the pill inside and pinch the top closed, and offer it to your cat as a treat.

  • Treat After Pilling
    Offering a favorite treat will not only encourage future pilling cooperation but will help get the pill into the stomach quickly so it can go to work.

  • Canned Food After Pilling
    Try giving only a small portion of a regular meal of canned food before the pilling, and withhold the remaining portion for afterward.

  • Compounded Flavored Meds
    Some pharmacies will compound medications into flavored liquid doses, which are both easier to swallow, and a lot tastier than pills. Your veterinarian may work with a compounding pharmacy, a "regular" pharmacy may have flavors for pets (we strongly advise against shopping online for your pets meds).

  • Transdermal Meds
    Some medications can be formulated into a gel or ointment that can be rubbed into your cat's inner ear. These can also be compounded by pharmacies.

At least one of these solutions should relieve both you and your cat of the anxiety and discomfort found in dry pilling. Speak with your veterinarian specifically about the best approach for your feline friend.

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White Cats and Deafness


Hereditary deafness is a major concern found in white cats, and especially so if one or both eyes are blue.

Research has found that only 17-22% of white cats with non-blue eyes are born deaf. The percentages rise to nearly half (40%) if the cat has one blue eye. An upwards of 65-85% of all white cats with two blue eyes are deaf. Some of these cats are deaf in a just one ear. Interestingly enough, if a white cat has one blue eye, the ear that is deaf tends to fall on the same side as the blue eye.

Cats with only one deaf ear out of the two tend to appear normal and their issue may never be known to their humans. Even if born completely deaf, cats can live perfectly fine lives as long as you take heed to not put them in situations where they must rely on audible cues (i.e. the outdoors). There is no treatment for hereditary deafness.

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Genetic Disorders in Cats


Genetic disorders are health conditions that are hereditary. Genes that carry particular health concerns often skip several generations of felines and develop in future pets belonging to the cat’s family. The types of conditions that develop are often breed-specific. Just as the breed of cat determines if the cat is long haired or short haired, so are certain genetic disorders predisposed to pets. Research suggests that purebreds are also more likely to inherit genetic disorders than non-purebred pets.


Breeds that are genetically predisposed to disorders:

  • Burmese

  • Persian

  • Siamese

  • Himalayan

  • Bengal


Genome Mapping

Genetic testing helps to determine healthy pets safe for breeding purposes. Research into newer techniques is trying to detect the presence of abnormal genes in cats used for breeding and in newborn kittens. Since several pets are carriers of the defective gene, even though they don’t exhibit clinical symptoms of a genetic disorder, genetic testing helps to determine pets safe for breeding. In recent times, science has developed a new methodology for modifying abnormal genes with gene therapy—however, clinical trials are still underway.


Genetic Disorders in Burmese Cats

Burmese cats inherit several gene disorders such as: keratoconjunctivitis sicca, ocular dermoids, hypokalemic myopathy, and encephalomeningocele. Burmese cats are also prone to developing certain eye and facial malformations.


Genetic Disorders in Persian Cats

Persian cats inherit many more genetic disorders for their breed, ranging from: seborrhea, glaucoma, kidney disorders, hip dysplasia, epiphora and even Chediak-Higashi syndrome.


Genetic Disorders in Siamese Cats

Siamese cats inherit several genetic illnesses such as asthma, glaucoma, malignant tumors of the mammary glands, mast cell tumors, and hydrocephalus. Siamese cats are also prone to developing hip dysplasia, strabismus, mucopolysaccharidoses, and heart disease.


Genetic Disorders in Himalayan Cats

Himalayan cats inherit polycystic kidney disease, eye disorders such as cataract, alopecia, and cutaneous asthenia.


Genetic Disorders in Bengal Cats

Like Himalayan cats, Bengal cats are less prone to inheriting as many genetic disorders, such as retinal atrophy.


Other breeds prone to genetic disorders

Although the types of disorders inherited are fewer, breeds such as Maine coon, Devon rex, and Abyssinians develop ophthalmic and bone disorders, among other conditions. It is pertinent to the various genetic disorders pets may suffer from in the future in order to monitor any symptoms of disease and to take preventive measures to slow the onset of health concerns.


Tips for Pet Owners

Although gene modification is trying to eliminate genetic disorders, the process is expensive and requires elaborate testing. Pet owners should talk with their vet about preventive techniques or the use of supplements to safeguard felines from known genetic illnesses. Cats suffering from diabetes or urinary tract disorders due to genetic predisposisions require lifelong diets and home care.

It is important to have your vet check on your cat before selecting them for breeding, as the healthiest of cats are more likely to deliver a healthy litter.

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New Year's Eve Survival Guide for Pets & Pet Owners


Up-to-date ID

Parties mean doors getting opened a lot. Even if you have thoughtfully hung a sign on your bedroom door saying ‘Do Not Open’, or if you have your pets safely contained in a crate inside the bedroom, accidents happen. Make sure your pet ID tags and microchip information has your current address and phone numbers.


Confining your pet

Many pets have a favorite hiding place they go to when frightened. For some pets, a crate can lend a feeling of safety, security, and act as a sort of sanctuary. However, for some pets that did not grow up using a crate, it may only cause more stress and lead to injuries of their nails or teeth trying to get out. If crating is not an option, place your pet in a room they cannot hurt themselves or damage any belongings.



For dogs and even cats, giving them plenty of exercise on New Years Eve day will help them achieve a more restful sleep that night. A good long walk or hike with your pup will help burn off any day-of anxiety for both you and your dog.


No human food

Make sure everyone is on the same page that the dog is not allowed table scraps. The #1 reason pet owners end up at the emergency vet on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day is due to a sick pet from too much people food, good or bad. Even supposed ‘safe’ foods you think of can lead to pancreatitis, which can be fatal.


White noise

Fireworks and loud music can disturb and upset even the calmest of pets. Put on white noise or classical music at a volume that will cover up outside noise. For sound-sensitive animals, many pets find relief in using a Thundershirt pet wrap (available at most pet stores).


Distract with toys or games

Food puzzles and new toys to play with during the time there will be a lot of noise or festivities will keep an active and distracted mind. For cat owners, try spritzing catnip spray on the new toy. For dog owners, stuff a puzzle toy with peanut butter to keep their attention focus (we highly suggest peanut butter filled Kongs).


Don’t reward anxious behavior

It is ok to hug them, but do not reward any anxious behavior by fussing over them. Staying happy and in control lets them know everything is ok.


Talk to your veterinarian

If your doctor is already familiar with your pet’s issue, speak with your vet to consider anti-anxiety medication for your pet. Other options are diffusers (Adaptil for dogs, Feliway for cats) which release natural pheromones that help keep pets calm during times of stress.

Hear From Us Again

Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).