Q: My 14-year-old adopted cat has been with us for two years, and she’s been having a recurrent eye problem ever since we got her. We don’t know her history, so we have no idea howlong she’s had the condition. The discharge is usually clear and sometimes slightly brown. We’ve been to many vets and tried different eye drops, but each time it clears up, it comes back in a matter of weeks. What could be wrong and what other treatments can I consider?

A: If the eye discharge is watery, it could be due to the overflow or overproduction of tears, or even a combination of the two conditions. When tears oxidise, they turn brown. The overflow of tears occurs when there are abnormalities in the tear drainage system of the eye, and these abnormalities can be congenital or acquired. Congenital eye conditions include abnormal development of the tear ducts, eye lashes and/or eyelids, and tight eyelid-eyeball conformation. Acquired abnormalities include damage to the tear duct system due to factors such as infection, injury to the eyelid, trauma to the area around the eyes affecting the bones and soft tissues, irritations due to facial hair around the eyes, infections of the conjunctiva, cornea or tissues inside the eye, increased pressure in the eye, as well as tumours in or around the eyes. 

If there is watery eye discharge accompanied by sneezing and coughing, your kitty may be suffering from a respiratory condition. If the watery eye discharge turns sticky and yellow and is combined with redness in the eye, there may be an infection as well. 

As your cat is 14 years old, she may have acquired an age-related eye problem such as eyelid issues, damage to the tear duct system, or glaucoma due to abnormalities associated with the structures inside the eye—these include cataracts, loose lens, inflammation of the soft tissues inside the eye, tumours, or bleeding inside the eye. To make an accurate diagnosis, it’s best to conduct an in-depth eye examination, which may include blood tests, an x-ray, or an ultrasound.   

To maintain your cat’s eye health, it’s advisable to clean her eyes daily—especially if there are recurrent issues. Cotton wool soaked with saline or clean water can be used to wipe the corners of the eyes, upper and lower eyelids, as well as the area around the eyes. Tepid water can be used if the eye discharge is thick, dry and clumpy as the warmth can help to soften the discharge for easier removal. 

Since your feline has recurrent eye problems, it’s advisable to bring her to the vet for regular eye examinations. In addition to a nutritious, well-balanced age-appropriate diet, supplements such as vitamins A, C, D, and E, and herbs like bilberry and wolfberries can be administered to improve and maintain the health and function of the eyes.