What does it mean if my cat has a weepy eye?

Updated February 21, 2017

Weepy eyes are a common symptom of feline conjunctivitis, an eye infection that irritates the delicate membranes covering your cat’s eyes. However, because conjunctivitis can have several underlying causes that can lead to more serious medical problems, it’s essential to seek a veterinary diagnosis.

Bacterial infection

Chlamydophila disease, also known as chlamydiosis, is a bacterial infection responsible for around 30 percent of feline conjunctivitis cases. The C felis bacteria that causes infection is spread through direct contact with other cats, which makes it more common in multi-cat households. A watery discharge from one or both eyes is the most common symptom and the associated discomfort may cause your cat to hold his eyelids partially closed. Other less common symptoms include sneezing and nasal discharge and a mild fever leading to listlessness and loss of appetite. If left untreated the discharge can become thick and yellowish in colour.

Viral infections

Conjunctivitis is sometimes caused by one the cat flu viruses (herpesvirus and calcivirus), which infects the upper respiratory system. Eye discharge is accompanied by other symptoms, including sneezing, crusty nose and nasal discharge. Most healthy cats recover from flu within a few weeks, but the herpes virus can remain dormant their system, causing intermittent flare-ups, particularly when your cat is stressed. Symptoms, usually less severe during these flare-ups, may be limited to a runny eye or runny nose. However, it’s important to seek your vet’s advice because recurring outbreaks can lead to more serious secondary infections that cause ulcers and swelling.

Trauma and allergies

Eye injuries sustained during cat fights or other traumas, environmental allergens like dust and pollen, irritation caused by facial hair, foreign materials in the eye and genetic malformation of the tear ducts can also cause eye irritation. Your vet may examine your pet’s eyes using an opthalmoscope or conduct tests to determine the level of tear production.

Treating viral and bacterial conjunctivitis

Your vet can diagnose chlamydophila by taking swabs from your cat’s eyes and sending them to a laboratory for analysis. The condition usually clears up with oral antibiotics along antibiotic eye drops. Because there’s no cure for cat flu, the best way to prevent it is to have your cat vaccinated. In severe flu infections, particularly those affecting vulnerable kittens and elderly cats, fluid therapy may be administered to help felines fight the virus.

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About the Author

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.