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Ocular (Eye) Discharge in Cats

By: Dr. Noelle McNabb

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Ocular discharge is a common sign of eye disease. Abnormal discharge may develop suddenly or gradually. The discharge may be watery, mucoid (gray, ropy), mucopurulent (yellow-green, thick) or bloody. In general, the more discharge present, the more serious the disease.


  • Obstruction of tear drainage due to abnormal tear ducts or tear duct openings

  • Excessive production of tears by the tear glands from irritation or inflammation of the surface structures of the eye, or from pain in or around the eye. Examples include:

  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Blepharitis (inflammation of eyelids)
  • Defects or abnormalities in the eyelids
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Glaucoma
  • Lens luxation (displacement)
  • Uveitis (inflammation of the iris and blood vessel layers within the eye)
  • Trauma
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or dry eye syndrome

  • Infection on the surface of the eye, or in association with generalized infections or illness


    Certain diagnostic tests are essential to determine the precise cause for the ocular discharge, including:

  • Complete ophthalmic examination of the eyelids, cornea, conjunctiva and the front and back chambers of the eye

  • Schirmer tear test

  • Fluorescein and possible rose bengal staining of the cornea

  • Tonometry to measure the pressure within the eye

    Additional diagnostic tests are required to diagnose some causes of ocular discharge. These may include:

  • Complete physical examination

  • Cytology or complete cell analysis of samples collected from the eyelid margins, cornea and conjunctiva

  • Flushing of the openings where the tears drain away from the eye to ensure they are patent (open)

  • Culture of discharge from the eye to determine the presence of bacterial infections

  • Complete blood count (CBC) and serum tests to identify the presence of any related problems

  • Possibly skull X-rays to determine the presence of a problem in the space behind the eye or in the sinuses

  • Possibly specialized imaging tests such as dacryocystorhinography (an X-ray study of the tear drainage system), computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


    Successful therapy relies on obtaining an accurate diagnosis. Do NOT use human over-the-counter eye drops.

    Home Care

    Gently clean away any eye discharge with a warm moist cloth as needed until the cause of the problem is identified. Do not allow your pet to rub or self-traumatize the eyes.

    Do not delay in bringing your pet to the hospital for examination as some causes of excessive ocular discharge are potentially vision threatening and require immediate medical attention. Do not administer human prescription eye medicine or even over-the-counter medicines such as Visine® or other topical solutions intended to reduce eye redness to your pet. The underlying cause for the problem must be properly addressed.

    As a temporary measure, the eyes may be flushed or the eyelids cleansed with sterile saline contact lens solution.

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