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Home > Cats > How to Clean Cat Eye Boogers: Vet Approved Step-By-Step Guide

How to Clean Cat Eye Boogers: Vet Approved Step-By-Step Guide

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We love cats so much, even when we sometimes have to deal with the yuckier aspects, like litter boxes and eye discharge. But these things happen, and it’s always best to clean them up right away. So, what is the best method for cleaning up eye gunk?

Here are tips and a step-by-step guide for tackling this rather unpleasant job. Hopefully, you and your cat will come out the other end unscathed!


What Exactly Causes Eye Boogers?

First, let’s discuss why these gunky things happen. Some people call eye boogers “sleepies,” but the more official term is “rheum.”

Here are common reasons for discharge in your cat’s eyes.

  • Conjunctivitis: Also known as the dreaded pink eye, conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the cat’s lower and upper eyelids. The cat’s eyes will be swollen and red, and they probably squint due to light sensitivity. They will also have a clear or green/yellow mucus discharge from their eyes.
  • Upper Respiratory Infection: This infection can result from two viruses, feline calicivirus or feline herpes virus, as well as mycoplasma, chlamydiosis, and Bordetella. Typical signs include discharge from the nose and eyes, sneezing, and coughing.
  • Epiphora: One of the most common causes of watery eyes tends to be because of the shape of the eyes, which frequently happens in some cat breeds. Brachycephalic breeds (cats with flat faces) are prone to teary eyes. But epiphora can also result from distichiasis (eyelashes turned inward) and entropion (eyelids turned in).
  • Cornea disorders: There are several different problems that can arise with a cat’s cornea, which can cause excess discharge from the eyes. Corneal ulcers and corneal inflammation can cause a cat’s eyes to be irritated, and signs can include inflammation, cloudiness of the eye, excessive blinking, and watery eyes.
  • Dry eye: You would think that if a cat has dry eyes, there wouldn’t be any discharge, but the irritation from having dry eyes is what causes it. Signs can include red eyes, excessive blinking and squinting, and inflammation, and the gunk from the eyes can be yellow, green, or a cloudy white. If the dry eye condition is left untreated, it can lead to blindness.
  • Uveitis: This is the inflammation of the uvea, which is essentially the internal structure of your cat’s eye. This condition can be caused by immune issues, trauma, infections, or cancer and can cause irritation and pain in the eyes, leading to discharge. It should be treated urgently by a veterinarian.
  • Allergies: Some cats have allergies to pollen or other airborne irritants like perfume, dust, mites, etc. Anyone who suffers from environmental allergies knows what it does to the eyes!
  • Other issues: Many other problems can affect a cat’s eyes, which can include issues with their third eyelid and foreign objects that have become lodged inside the eye.

If you suspect that there might be something wrong with your cat’s eyes beyond the occasional tearing up, please see your vet as soon as possible. Some of these conditions are quite serious!

Cleaning Up the Gunk

Before you tackle those eye boogers, you need to be physically and mentally prepared first. You’ll need:

  • Another person to help (optional but might be necessary with some cats)
  • A towel or blanket (big enough to wrap your cat inside)
  • Warm, sterilized water
  • Cotton pads, gauze, or clean washcloth
  • Treats

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grey cat looking at treat
Image By: FotoMirta, Shutterstock
Here are a few other pointers before you get started:
  • Get help: Do try to have someone help you during this process. Trying to hold a struggling cat and gently wipe away discharge from such a sensitive area might be dangerous for both you and your cat. But if your cat is a calm one and you don’t anticipate any problems, doing it by yourself should be fine.
  • Everyone must be in the right mood: If you’re both relaxed and calm, this is the best time to clean your cat’s eyes. Sometimes wearing your cat out through a heavy play session beforehand can be beneficial. You should also be in a patient mindset, or your cat can pick up on your mood.

Now on to the task at hand: cleaning those eye boogers!


How to Clean Cat Eye Boogers (6 Steps)

1. Prepare the Water

It’s usually best to use sterilized water, which you can do yourself by boiling it and letting it cool down to room temperature. Pour the water into a clean bowl, and place it close to where you’ll be working with your cat.

person filling up tub with water
Image By: kryzhov, Shutterstock

2. Get Your Cleaning Materials Ready

You can use gauze, cotton pads, or a clean washcloth. Cotton balls tend to snag and leave bits behind unless you’ve purchased ones that are non-shedding. Ensure that what you use is soft and won’t irritate or scratch your cat’s eyes.

3. Get Your Cat Ready

This part depends on your cat. If your cat is an easygoing and laidback kitty, you can probably do this part by yourself and maybe even without the towel or blanket. In this case, you can place your cat on your lap in whatever way that makes you most comfortable.

If you anticipate that your cat won’t sit still for this procedure or is particularly moody about being handled, this is where the blanket or towel will come in handy, and probably another person. You’ll want to wrap up your cat in the towel, a method commonly known as a kitty burrito.

This can help keep your cat restrained and you safe from their claws. Plus, some cats like being wrapped up, and it makes them feel secure. Just ensure that the towel or blanket is big enough (but not too big) for your cat.

cat in the bathtub
Image By: Irina Borodovskaya, Shutterstock

4. Let the Cleaning Commence

Now that your cat is ready to go, take whatever you’re using to clean your cat’s eyes, dip it in the warm and sterilized water, and squeeze out the excess. Start in the corner of your cat’s eye, and wipe away or outward from the eye. Use a fresh cotton pad or new corner/section of your washcloth, re-wet it in the water, and wipe the other eye.

It’s important that you don’t accidentally get any of the gunk into either of your cat’s eyes, as this can spread any bacteria and cause an infection. Always use a fresh pad or section of the washcloth every time you wipe your cat’s eyes.

If the discharge is particularly stubborn, you might need to press the moistened pad on the spot for a minute or so to help loosen it before you start wiping.

There are also eye wipes that you could purchase and use. Just make sure they are made for an animal’s eyes and don’t contain any harsh ingredients like alcohol. But clean pads or gauze in warm water work just as well.

5. Apply Any Eye Medications

Once the gunk is gone, if you have any eye drops or ointments that your vet prescribed, this is when you’ll want to use them. It’s always best to clean your pet’s eyes before using any medication, so it will work more effectively.

treating cat's pink eye with drops
Image By: Ilike, Shutterstock

6. Give Treats!

You’re done! Now you should give your cat a treat for being so good — or at least for not scratching you to bits. Make it something special and don’t forget to treat yourself!



Most cats have eye boogers sometime during their lives, which is usually normal and nothing to worry about. But when there’s more noticeable discharge than usual combined with other signs, like your cat squinting or frequently pawing at their eyes, you should get them to the vet.

Never use eye drops that are for people or for a previous infection for your cat’s eyes. If there’s even a hint that your cat might have something wrong with their eyes, your first port of call should always be your vet.

Featured Image Credit: enrikap, Pixabay

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