Tear Stains in Cats

Cats with flat faces like Persians and Himalayans are more prone to develop tear stains.
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Runny, watery eyes can be a common source of frustration for pet parents who want their furry family members to look and feel their best. Not only are they ugly to look at, tear stains in cats are sometimes smelly and could lead to health problems if left untreated.

Common Causes

The most likely suspect responsible for tear stains in cats is a defect in the tear drainage system that causes an overflow of tears onto the fur. The technical term for excessive tearing is called epiphora. While some cats are born with a deficient drainage system, many cats acquire this defect as a souvenir from one cat fight too many that resulted in injury and scarring on the eyelid. Allergies or chronic infection of the duct system can also lead to epiphora and tear stains in cats. Even facial structure can contribute to a cat’s propensity for tear stains. Persians, Himalayans, and other breeds with flat faces are more prone to tear stain issues than cats with more elongated facial structures.


Diagnosing epiphora that leads to tear stains in cats is a relatively simple process. A veterinarian will likely perform either a tear duct exam or what is known as the Schirmer tear test. During a tear duct exam, the vet will inspect and flush the tear ducts to determine if the drainage system is working properly. In a Schirmer tear test, a strip of absorbent paper placed on the inside of the lower eyelid uses color changes to measure the amount of tear production.


Treatment for tear stains in cats depends on the cause and severity of the problem. In certain cases, surgery might help to correct drainage problems with the tear ducts and reduce the production of excess tears that lead to staining. If infection is determined to be the culprit, a vet may prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. In cases where surgery and antibiotics are of little use, keeping kitty’s facial hair trimmed and clean is the best way of handling tear stains. Daily monitoring of the affected area and frequent washing with a soft, warm cloth can help reduce staining and irritation.

Stain Removal

Commercial stain removers can help to eliminate tear stains in cats but many of them are made up of harsh chemicals that can pose a health hazard to cats. Since there are many commercial products available on the market today, seeking veterinary advice before choosing a tear stain removal product is highly recommended. It is also a good idea to avoid letting any product get into or too close to a cat’s eyes.

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