Black eye gunk  

Pam Hoover
Originally Answered: Black eye gunk

Hi there I have a 11 month old male cat I got when he was 10 weeks old. He came to me with an eye infection. I took him to the vet and they told me he had a respiratory issue which was causing the gunk in his eyes and the sneezing. They told me he will have this for life. Is there anything I can give him or do besides getting meds for him from our vet to help? I clean his eyes every morning and every night with the kitty eye wipes but it comes back within a few hours after cleaning. He doesn’t sneeze anymore just the red eyes with the black gunk. I will send a pic of him so you can see his eyes and what they do.

Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH
Originally Answered: Black eye gunk

Hi Pam, that's a very cute picture of your kitty, and I am sorry to hear about the chronic respiratory issues and that dark discharge from the eyes. The respiratory issue your veterinarian is referring to is likely chronic herpes viral infection, which is very common in cats. They get infected at a very early age and can have recurrent sneezing and upper respiratory issues. While the condition cannot be cured, supplementation with the amino acid L-lysine has shown some promise when used longterm to reduce severity of some of the symptoms. Your vet may have mentioned some of this already, but the lysine is certainly worth asking more about. 

The discharge from the eyes follows something similar that happened to two of my own three cats after they had pretty bad upper respiratory infections as kittens that required a long course of treatment to clear up. Their tear ducts (nasolacrimal ducts) that drain tears from the eyes down into the nasal passages were no longer clear, "clogged" if you will. Likely from scar tissue from the infection. This led to tears spilling out over the face. The two that had this issue have continued to have tear spillage down their faces long-term, though it improved a little and became more clear and watery over time.

Your vet may have already checked into this, but the patency of the ducts can be tested. We can put a drop of a safe and harmless green dye into the eyes called fluorescein. In a cat with normal tear duct flow, we should see this dye empty into the nose where it can be seen several minutes later. When a kitty has blocked tear ducts though, the dye will just spill out down the face and we won't see any make it down to the nasal passages. 

If tear ducts are blocked, you could talk to your vet about the benefits and detractors of trying to flush the tear ducts. This can consist of feeding a small canulla into the tear ducts and flushing some saline through to see if they can be cleared out. It's a brief procedure, but typically does have to be performed under anesthesia, so it's something you'd have to chat thoroughly with your vet about.

Alternatively, sometimes a veterinary ophthalmologist can be helpful in these cases to determine if there are any other underlying abnormalities that could be contributing to poor tear flow and the eye discharge you're seeing. Some animals can be born with tear ducts that don't empty properly or there can be other variations in the structure of the eyelids that can lead to excessive tear spillage. Your vet should be able to let you know if there's a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist in your region.

You did not mention specifically any problems your vet is treating the eyes themselves for, but herpes virus can also cause some potentially chronic eye issues in cats that can cause discharge. This may not be the case for your kitty, but I mention it because a veterinary ophthalmologist can often be helpful with these situations as well.

The best you can do at home otherwise is to follow your vet's instructions because they know your kitty best and have had the best look at what's going on. Sometimes, a warm compress in the form of a warm damp washcloth over the inner part of the eyelid area where you see all of that gunk coming from can be helpful too, if your kitty will tolerate it.

Hopefully, that info is of some help for you.


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