Cats are certainly interesting to own. Especially when they express some odd behaviors that we can’t quite seem to work out. One particular behavior you may have noticed is the watery eyes that seem to follow every time they eat. Naturally it’s a little worrying. Is this normal, or is it a sign of a problem? Do you need to do anything about it, and if so, what exactly? Well, that’s exactly what we are going to be covering here today.
So, why does my cat tear up when he eats? A cat may tear up when he eats as a natural response to their whiskers touching the bowl or general excitement. A small amount of tearing is fairly normal (particularly in young kittens). More serious tearing up, however, up can be the result of food allergies, dental problems, respiratory issues, or eye problems (blocked tear ducts, debris in the eye, conjunctivitis, or eye ulcers).
Ultimately it depends on how much your cat is tearing up, when, how often, and whether or not this is a new thing.
If in any doubt, you should always speak with your vet for advice.
That being said, let’s continue to explore the potential causes cited above in further detail.
Then we will turn to how you should appropriately respond.
Why Does My Cat Cry Tears When He Is Eating?
There are a few reasons why your cat may tear up when eating. For example, young kittens may shed tears simply because they are excited!
This is because a kitten’s tear ducts respond to the presence of food in the same way as the salivary glands do.
Kittens also get crusty eyes very easily which is a process designed to flush insects and their eggs out of the eye.
However, in older cats, watery eyes while eating could be a sign of a problem.
Some of the more common causes are:
Cats can suffer from allergies just like humans. A food allergy is characterized by an adverse reaction by the immune system to certain proteins found in their food.
The cause is not well known, but the most common foods to trigger an allergy in cats include beef, chicken, dairy (most adult cats are naturally allergic to lactose), and fish.
Other common causes of allergies in cats include dust, pollen, and mold.
Alongside watery eyes, which might also be itchy, your cat may repeatedly sneeze or develop skin issues.
Their Whiskers Are Touching The Bowl
Your cat’s whiskers are incredibly sensitive because the follicles are packed with nerves and blood vessels.
Furthermore, the tip of each whisker has a sensory organ known as a proprioceptor, which makes them very sensitive to vibrations in the environment.
If your cat’s whiskers are continuously touching the sides of a high food bowl, they can experience sensory overload.
This can lead to fatigue and watery eyes.
A cat’s eyes will often tear up if they are in pain.
If your cat has an abscess or gum disease, eating hard food could be difficult for them, leading to pain and discomfort.
Blocked Tear Ducts
The lacrimal duct contains tubes that allow tears to drain from the eye.
When this becomes blocked, your cats’ eyes can water excessively, often with a reddish-brown stain present.
The condition can be hereditary, especially in brachycephalic (short-nosed) cat breeds such as Persian and Burmese cats.
However, it can also be caused by a fight wound or allergies.
Debris In The Eye
Sometimes, tearing up during eating can simply be caused by debris or dirt getting into the eye.
If tearing occurs occasionally, you may want to check their eyes in case a bit of food or dust has gotten into the eye.
This may also cause squinting.
This is the most common eye infection found in cats (also known as pink eye). It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva that coats the outside of the eye.
Symptoms to look out for include excessive tearing from one or both eyes, a cloudy, yellow, or green discharge, inflammation around the eye, and squinting.
An abnormal inward rolling of the upper or lower eyelid causes painful rubbing on the eye.
Symptoms include red eyes, irritation, eyelid spasms, squinting, and eye discharge.
Respiratory Infection Or a Cold
We have all developed a cold at some point in our lives.
This is very similar in cats.
Symptoms include watery eyes, sneezing, and nasal discharge, which can be worsened when leaning forward over a food bowl.
These can cause excessive tear production and discharge.
Other symptoms you might see include squinting, a cloudy eye lens, and a visible third eyelid.
It’s important to remember that although cats do express emotions, they do not cry as humans do.
So, if your cat’s eyes are watering when they are eating or at any other time, they are likely to be suffering from a health condition.
If you are in any doubt, it’s always best to speak to your vet for advice.
Is It Normal For Cats To Tear Up While Eating?
A little bit of tearing up while eating is not a major cause for concern. In fact, it’s fairly normal in kittens. Some breeds are also predisposed to excessive tearing because of their unusual skull shapes, such as Persians, Himalayans, and Burmese cats. However, as a general rule, a cat’s eyes should be clear and free of any discharge, so watery eyes could be a sign that something is up.
Especially if it is seen alongside other symptoms such as frequent blinking, lethargy, or your cat is continuously pawing at their eyes.
Most eye infections are easy to clear up with the right medication.
However, you must book a vet visit because eye infections can significantly worsen if not treated.
Can You Stop A Cat From Tearing Up When They Eat?
You might be able to stop a cat from tearing up when they eat, depending on the cause. Though any tearing up resulting from a medical issue will need treatment.
Ultimately, you should be able to stop a cat from tearing up while eating if there is something that is in their environment that is causing it, and that you can quickly rectify and address.
Otherwise, as is in the case for medical issues, it may take some time to investigate the issue and time for treatment to take affect.
How Can I Prevent My Cat From Tearing Up While Eating?
There are several things you can try to prevent your cat from tearing up when they eat.
However, these will have varying success rates depending on the cause of your cats’ watery eyes.
If tearing up is a re-occurring problem, then it’s best to book a check-up with your vet.
They will be able to determine the cause and advise you on potential treatments or preventative measures.
That said, here are a few ways you can try to prevent your cat from tearing up while eating:
Raising Their Food Bowl
A more comfortable eating position that prevents your cat from having to lean forward or lie down to eat can have a multitude of benefits.
Food bowls raised by three inches can alleviate the pain caused by musculoskeletal issues such as arthritis, as well as respiratory problems that can cause watery eyes.
Experiment With Food Bowl Sizes Of Different Widths & Depths
Cats prefer wide, shallow bowls because deep bowls can cause whisker fatigue.
This can lead to watery eyes and sensory overload.
Cats will feel much happier eating when their whiskers are above the rim of the bowl.
Investigate Potential Allergens
This may involve switching to a different type of food, removing any flowers from the home, and keeping the food area free from dust.
When You Will Want To Consult A Vet
Here are a few warning signs to look out for:
Your Cat Is Blinking Excessively
This can be a sign of pain, which can be caused by debris in the eye or a number of health conditions.
The Third Eyelid Is Visible
The third eyelid protects the cornea from damage.
Usually, it isn’t visible. However, an infection or injury can cause the third eyelid to protrude or prolapse.
If this occurs, you need to speak to your vet immediately because the issue is likely to cause pain and discomfort for your feline companion.
You Have Noticed Changes In Your Cat’s Behavior
Has your cat suddenly become lethargic or more withdrawn?
Are they vocalizing more often?
These are often good indicators that something is wrong.
Your Cat Has Nasal Discharge And Sneezing
Upper respiratory infections are a common ailment in cats, especially brachycephalic breeds.
Other signs to look out for include labored breathing and lethargy. Allergies may also cause similar issues.
There Is Swelling or Redness
Redness around the cornea or a swollen eye can indicate an infection
There Is Unusual Discharge
Green, yellow, or thick discharge are most commonly seen with eye infections such as conjunctivitis as well as respiratory infections.
A reddish-brown staining under the eyes may suggest a blocked tear duct.
Your Cats’ Eyes Have Been Watering For Longer Than 24 Hours
Short periods of watery eyes are often not a cause for concern.
However, if symptoms worsen or they have been watering for over 24 hours, then it’s time to see a vet.
Watery eyes can be managed with a combination of medication, ointments, and routine care.
If you own a brachycephalic breed, it’s a good idea to wipe their eyes regularly with a soft cloth or cotton wool ball to keep the watering under control.
Too much tear staining on the skin can lead to sore areas and potential infection.
If you suspect your cat has an allergy, then it’s important to get them diagnosed and to take steps to reduce allergy triggers in your home.
This should reduce the likelihood of your cats’ eyes watering when they eat.
Other Things To Know About Cats Tearing Up
Watery eyes, also known as epiphora, are defined by an abnormal flow of tears. Small amounts of tearing can often clear up on their own.
But long-term tearing up is more than likely going to be caused by an infection or other health issue.
Cats will vocalize or change their body language when upset, but they won’t cry tears as humans do.
As cat owners, it can be easy to transfer our emotions to our felines.
So, if your cat’s eyes are watering when they eat, you may be thinking things like; maybe I have upset him, maybe he doesn’t like this type of food, maybe he is bored with his life.
But it’s important to remember that cats communicate in a very different way from us.
Therefore, watery eyes are more likely a sign of discomfort rather than upset.
Cats do express emotions and will tell you how they feel with subtle body language cues. It’s a good idea to learn the meaning of these signs to increase the bond with your cat.
This will also help you to figure out when something is wrong.
Here are some of the more common ways that cats communicate:
It may be surprising to hear that cats generally don’t meow at each other.
This is a form of communication they have learned in order to communicate with humans.
Depending on the breed, cats have a wide variety of vocalizations that are thought to have different meanings.
So, pay close attention to your kitty during different activities to work out what they are trying to tell you.
Look At Tail Position
When it comes to cats, the tail is one of the most expressive body parts.
In general terms, a cat is happy and content when its tail is raised. If the tail is held low or tucked under the body, they may be fearful, distressed, or in pain.
Saying that a fluffed-up tail is a warning no matter what the position.
This is a cat’s way of making itself look bigger when they feel threatened.
Look At Ear Position
Generally speaking, forward-facing ears indicate a relaxed, content cat.
The further back the ears turn, the more distressed your cat is.
Look At Their Eyes
When your cat is in pain or fearful, their pupils will dilate (get bigger).
This is to allow more light to enter the eyes so they can see any ‘perceived dangers’ more clearly.
A cat that constantly hides or holds their body low to the ground is either upset, scared, or in pain.
A distressed cat may even resort to aggression if they feel there is no other alternative.
If you’ve noticed that your cat tears up while eating, you’ve done the right thing by running this search and investigating what could be going on.
That’s the first step.
From there, you may or may not need to consult a vet or make some changes.
Ultimately it comes down to context, how much tearing you are seeing in your cat, their other accompanying behaviors and demeanor, and how often this is happening.
If in doubt, do contact a vet. It could be a sign that something is, in fact, going on.
Related guides you may want to read:
- Cats Eyes Always Dilated [Should You Be Worried?]
- Do Cats Sleep With Their Eyes Open? [What Owners Should Know]
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.