The Hervey Foundation for Cats
What’s the Deal with Cat Tear Stains – AKA Epiphora?

What’s the Deal with Cat Tear Stains – AKA Epiphora?

Cat tear stains are seemingly strange things. We know cats to be extraordinarily clean animals, but sometimes we see them with dark, hard goop under their eyes. Don’t they notice? Do they not feel it? Why does it accrue and just sit there? Let’s take a look at this concept, professionally known as Epiphora. 

What’s Epiphora?

This is the name used to describe excess tear discharge, often the result of an inability to properly drain eye moisture or excessive tear production. While not every case of Epiphora is considered dangerous, it can also be a symptom of something more serious. As a result, if your cat has excess tear production, or they seem to accrue a lot of the hard, dark discharge below the eye, you should definitely make an appointment with your veterinarian. 

What Causes Cat Tear Stains?

The most common reason cats experience excessive tear production is a blocked nasolacrimal duct or poor eyelid function. Some other causes can include:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Ingrown Eyelash
  • Allergy
  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Corneal Ulcer
  • Glaucoma
  • Environment (smoking, other airborne)

When a cat suffers from one or more of these issues and their tears are not draining properly, the tears will often run onto their face and dry out. The leftover film from the tear then hardens in place, and as more tears do the same, the tear stain grows. This creates that dark, hard spot under the eyes that we mentioned at the beginning.

Tear stains, in themselves, are not something to be afraid of unless they have a reddish-brown tint. In this case, your cat may also be suffering from a yeast infection or another serious illness and will require medical attention immediately.

Tear stains, however, are an indication that something is likely not working right, and a trip to the vet should be made anyway.

Some cat breeds simply cannot avoid tear stains. Some long-haired cats with squished-up faces have deformities that do not allow their tears to drain properly at any point, and thus human intervention is required to keep the areas clean. 

Treating Epiphora

Once your veterinarian has had a chance to look over your cat, if they determine the issue is not serious, there are a number of ways they might proceed. If the nasolacrimal duct is blocked, they might put your cat under anesthesia so they can flush it out. In some cases, they might send you home with eye drops.

Important Detail

There are a handful of products available over the counter at your local pet store to help clean away tear stains, but these should only be used after your vet has looked at your cat’s eye. Whatever you do, DO NOT USE HUMAN PRODUCTS to clear away tear stains on your cat. 


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