7 causes of cat tear stains

There are 7 specific causes of cat tear stains and one underlying reason. Here they are. The list might not be complete. To be clear, tear staining refers to tears running down the face at the corner of the eye causing the fur to stain. It is very obvious and it is abnormal. Because we see it so much on the internet you might be forgiven for believing that it is normal.

Tear duct overflow due to a deformed drainage system in a flat-faced Persian who also seems to be suffering from a deformed mouth due to the same reason: extreme breeding
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Tear duct overflow due to a deformed drainage system in a flat-faced Persian who also seems to be suffering from a deformed mouth due to the same reason: extreme breeding. Photo in public domain.

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The underlying reason is the same in each case: the tear drainage system is blocked. There are 7 reasons for the blockage. You have to eliminate from the evaluation a possible viral respiratory infection. If the eye is red (‘pink eye‘ – inflamed) and there is excessive tearing or a pus-like discharge from the eyes or nose, this is a viral and/or secondary bacterial infection. That is a different topic.

Here are the causes of the blockage, called nasolacrimal occlusion in medical language.

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  1. Born with an inadequate tear drainage system;
  2. Scarring from eyelid injuries from fights;
  3. Infection of the duct system;
  4. Plugging of the duct system by thick secretions;
  5. Plugging by dirt;
  6. Plugging by grass seeds;
  7. Deformed drainage system due to extreme breeding seen in flat-faced Persians, Himalayans (pointed Persians) and Exotic Shorthaired cats. These cats have shortened muzzles, tiny button noses and large, prominent eyes. You will see disastrous breeding in some cats resulting an an unattractive appearance. The tears pool out at the top of the drainage duct at the corner of the eye and run down the eye at the side of the nose.
Picture of an ugly cat

This is a picture of an ugly cat. The breed is the Exotic Shorthair. The breeding has gone wrong quite dramatically as the upper and lower jaws are misaligned badly. You can see tear duct overflow down the sides of the nose because the tear ducts are blocked once again due to the breeding. The picture is in the public domain.

Assessment

In cats other than those breeds referred to above, vets use a dye to assess the blockage. They stain the pool of tears near the inner corner of the eye with fluorescein dye. The dye should appear at the nostril if there is drainage. If not there is a blockage.

The fix

You can’t fix the distorted drainage system inherent in flat-faced purebred cats. Sometimes a broad-spectrum antibiotic might help if there is a bacteria infection as a result of the poor drainage. There may be a chronic infection. The antibiotics will fix this. Tetracycline is the drug. You can buy a product online to wipe the tear stains to improve appearance (Eye Envy® or Angels’ Eyes, for example). You can also clip the hair close to the face.

For a blocked but functional ducting system a veterinarian will see if it is blocked as described and if blocked remove the blockage by flushing the system. Sometimes probes are inserted into the duct opening.

Breeding

There has been a strong argument for decades that the cat associations should change the breed standards for the flat-faced breeds. To deliberately breed cats which can never be in full health is immoral.

Jacqueline Fernandez with her white flat-faced Persian with tear duct overflow causing staining

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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