Both dry eyes and wet eyes are symptoms of blocked tear ducts. Blocked tear ducts aren't a serious health risk for your cat, but they can be aggravating to the pet and may raise cosmetic issues. Problems with tear flow and drainage are pretty common in cats.
So how does a blockage form in the first place? Since tear ducts constantly drain away the lubricating fluid around your cat's eyes, any solid particles trapped there may pass through the tiny tubes. If enough of these particles, like dust or pollen, build up in the tubes, they can crystallize into a solid obstruction. Diseases are also common factors in tear duct blockage. Chronic eye infections and complications from feline herpesvirus are responsible for most tear duct blockages in cats, according to the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital.
Some unlucky cats are born with narrow or unopened tear ducts, and some may not have them at all. Such genetic factors can be difficult to remedy. A cat without tear ducts may have to learn to live with wet eyes. Flat-faced breeds are prone to developing duct blockages. Cats with histories of suffering from feline influenza are also at greater risk, as the disease can cause scar tissue to form inside the ducts, according to Animal Eye Care.
Blocked ducts can make your cat's eyes too dry or too wet, depending on which set of tubes is obstructed. The lacrimal ducts guide the tears into your cat's eyes, while nasal ducts drain them through the nose. If your cat has chronic wet patches beneath his eyes, his nasal ducts may be obstructed or damaged. The moisture buildup occurs when the tears can't travel through the drainage tubes, forcing the tears to drip down your cat's face instead of into his nasal cavity. If the lacrimal ducts are blocked, your cat's eyes will have insufficient lubrication. This makes his eyes look red and inflamed. He may also squint or keep his eyes shut most of the time. Both problems can be painful and irritating for your kitty, although neither is life-threatening.
The treatment for duct blockages depends on the severity and nature of the condition. Don't attempt to treat your cat yourself; let a vet examine, diagnose and treat your pet's condition. If the blockage is the result of particle buildup, a simple flushing operation may be enough to clean out the obstruction. Surgery may be required to fix genetic defects or completely obstructed ducts.
Treating infections promptly prevents them from getting out of hand, which reduces the chances of obstructions in the future. Feline herpesvirus can cause irreparable scarring in the lacrimal ducts, while conjunctivitis and other eye infections can inflame and clog the drainage ducts with an overproduction of mucus. Take your pet to the vet if there are any signs of opaque discharge from his eyes or nose, especially if it smells bad or if he has trouble opening his eyes all the way.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.