My pet’s eyes are watery – how soon should I see a vet?

Eye cases are tough. Sometimes it’s a major emergency. Other times it’s simply something that needs time to resolve. When to get your pet seen by a vet ASAP? Of course, not every pet reads the manual, but some general rules may be helpful.

Here’s a few scenarios I hear a lot:

1 – Your pet wakes up in the morning with clear or brown “eye boogers.” They seem increased from her normal amount. She is not squinting, and is otherwise 100% normal.

2 – Your cat is holding one eye closed more than the other. There seems to be more clear tearing from that eye. He may or may not be sneezing.

3 – Your dog comes inside with one eye that does not want to open, or is holding it half closed.

4 – Your dog or cat has one or both eyes that are very red and inflamed looking. They may or may not be lethargic.

5 – There seems to be increased tearing from one eye, and a lump is appearing underneath, on the “cheek.”

old dog eye

These range in order from relatively innocuous to a big deal. Here’s some generalizations to keep in mind, that correspond to each scenario.

1 – Increased tearing that is CLEAR, with the eye NOT RED, is less to worry about. If the tearing is green, or the eye is red, get it checked out right away. Some animals have allergies like we do, and watery eyes can be helped with something simple like an anti-histamine! (Your vet can steer you toward the right one, and how to dose it.) Some pets have more “eye boogers” one day than the next. If the eye is not red, and your pet is otherwise completely normal, it’s likely nothing to worry about.

2- With cats, a flare-up of a herpes virus they had as a kitten is a very common cause of squinting, eye watering, and sneezing. I have a whole article about herpes here. There isn’t a whole lot we can do for those, unfortunately.

3 – Dogs, however, do not get herpes. If your dog comes in squinting, better get it checked out. They are more likely to get scratches on the cornea (outer layer of the eye) or even get something tiny stuck in there. They need they eye checked for damage, as well as possibly flushed. Sometimes glaucoma can present this way too! The breed of your dog matters a lot as well. Dogs with the smooshy faces and buggy eyes, like shih-tzu, pekingese, etc, are very prone to a tiny thing with the eye turning into a disaster. Breeds prone to dry eye, such as cockers or mini-schnauzers, like to get complications too! If you have such a breed, don’t wait!

4 – Eyes that are very red, painful, and/or have a discharge that is yellow or green, need a vet to see them. There are some systemic diseases that these can indicate, or could just be a disease limited to the eye. Regardless, you’ll likely need medical intervention. See the breeds listed in 3 to know when to really worry.

5 – This was a little tricky. An eye that is watering (even if it’s clear!) and has a lump or swelling underneath it can actually be the sign of a tooth that has abscessed! The roots of the upper teeth are very long, and reach very close to the eye. When infection builds up in these teeth, the discharge follows the path of least resistance, which is out the eye, or underneath, through the skin!

Hope this helps. Of course, any time your pet is painful, or you are just not sure, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and have them checked out. One key detail – if your pet’s pupils are suddenly very small, very large, or different sizes, even if there’s no squinting or watering, that warrants a vet visit soon!

Posted in Eyes, General health.


  1. I appreciate you saying that you need immediate attention if your dog has red eyes or green tearing. My Husky, Seska, has had one red eye for about two days, and it hasn’t cleared. I should probably look for veterinary clinics to take her to before her eye starts tearing green fluid.

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