Is There Anything I Can Do About My Dog’s Tear Stains?


If you have a white or light-colored dog, you may have noticed red or brown stains leading away from your dog’s eyes. What are tear stains, anyway? What causes them? Is there anything you can do to get rid of them? How effective are the various products marketed for clearing up tear stains?

According to the AKC:

“The cause [of tear stains] can be related to health issues, shape of the eye, blocked tear ducts, puppy teething, ear infectionallergies (either food or environmental), and so on. Therefore if your normally white-faced puffball develops aggressive staining seemingly out of the blue, first consult your veterinarian, and possibly a veterinary ophthalmologist, to rule out any underlying health concern.”

WebMD Pets adds:

“In a normal dog eye, there are small holes that drain tears away from the eye and down the throat. A variety of dog eye problems can affect this drainage, causing excessively watery eyes. These conditions include:

-Shallow eye sockets. If the eye sockets aren’t big or deep enough, tears can spill out onto the fur around the eyes.
-Eyelids that are turned inward. If the eyelids roll in toward the eyeball, the drainage holes for tears (called puncta) may become blocked.
-Hair growth around the eye. If hair grows too close to the eye, it can wick tears away from the eye and onto the face.
-Blocked tear drainage holes (puncta). Previous dog eye infections or eye damage can cause scar tissue to form that blocks some of the drainage passages for tears.”

Reddish tear stains are the result of porphyrins – iron-containing molecules which are actually waste products from breaking down red blood cells. Most animals remove porphyrins with the rest of their waste, but dogs also release them in their tears, saliva, and urine. When tears laden with porphyrins sit on your dog’s fur for an extended amount of time, it will cause staining. Sunlight can darken these stains.

Brown tear stains are the result of a yeast infection caused by the perpetual dampness on your dog’s face. Yeast infections typically smell, whereas red tear stains typically don’t have an odor.

What Types Of Dogs Are More Prone To Tear Stains?

According to WebMD Pets:

“Regardless of breed, white dogs are more likely to have visible tear staining on their faces, because the pigments in their tears can easily dye light-colored fur. Also, dogs with long hair on their faces may be more prone to excessive tearing. Short-nosed dog breeds, such as Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Maltese, and Pug, are prone to excessive tearing because they often have shallow eye sockets or hair growth in skin folds around the eyes that cause problems. Also, Cocker Spaniels and Poodles are more likely than other breeds to have blocked tear ducts.”

So, what can be done about those pesky tear stains?

How To Eliminate Existing Tear Stains

#1 – Antibiotics

There are products that proclaim that they can eliminate your dog’s tear stains by adding a scoop of their product to your dog’s food. (Angels’ Eyes is perhaps the most well-known of these.) These products almost always include low doses of antibiotics. You should be cautious about adding unnecessary antibiotics to your dog’s diet, though. According to WebMD Pets:

“Antibiotics such as tetracycline are sometimes used to address tear staining, as they reduce or eliminate the likelihood that tear stains will form. There are concerns about the use of antibiotics for this purpose on an ongoing basis, however, because it could lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, which would be far more dangerous to your pup than a few unsightly stains.”

#2 – Whitening products

There are also topical products that claim to be able to whiten your dog’s tear stains. These are mostly ineffective and some may be dangerous. Leo’s Pet Care recommends this home treatment:

“Consider a mild boric acid-containing solution as found in some contact lens cleaners, or use liquid vitamin C, on a cotton ball, to wipe the dog’s face and lighten the tear stains that have already formed. Acids like boric and citric (Vit C) presumably oxidize the porphyrin iron compounds and lighten them, whereas sunlight makes the stains darker.”

#3 – Wash your dog’s face frequently

Washing your dog’s face once or twice a day with a very mild shampoo may help eliminate tear stains over time.

#4 – Have a groomer carefully shave them out

Dogs with hair that constantly grows need regular grooming anyway. Having the groomer trim a little more than usual to start with a blank slate while moving on to preventing tear stains from forming again may be the safest bet to get rid of those unsightly stains in a hurry. Please note that serious tear stains may affect the dog’s skin and won’t be able to be shaved off with other hair around your dog’s eyes.

#5 – What NOT to do

Leo’s Pet Care “[DOES] NOT RECOMMEND you use OTC Tylosin, Terramycin (oft misspelled Teramyacin), makeup remover, milk of magnesia, yogurt, hydrogen peroxide, gold bond, corn syrup, or any other voodoo concoction to remove tear stains, as obviously putting ANY of these things INSIDE the eye is likely to make your dog really unhappy.”

So if there isn’t one sure-fire way of getting rid of tear stains, can you at least prevent them from coming back? Luckily, there are a lot more ways to prevent tear stains than there are to try to get rid of them.

How To Prevent Tear Stains

#1 – Upgrade your dog’s food

Dogster recommends:

“Lots of cheap carbohydrate fillers, chemical flavor additives, artificial colors, and meat by-products lead to systemic overload that can worsen tear stains. So first and foremost, switch your pup to a premium, balanced whole-food diet that’s rich in real meat protein.”

The higher-quality food you can provide for your pup, the better off he’ll be all around.

#2 – Change their water source

Healthy Pets recommends “Provid[ing] your pet with fresh, filtered drinking water instead of tap water, which is often high in mineral content or iron and other impurities, including chlorine and fluoride, which are toxic to pets.” As a matter of fact, nearly every source used in this article recommends giving your dog distilled or filtered drinking water as a solution for preventing tear stains.

#3 – Eliminate eye irritants

According to WebMD Pets, “If your dog’s tear stains are developing because his eyes are always irritated, eliminating the source of irritation will help. This might include keeping hair near the eyes trimmed very short and treating infection or glaucoma, if present.”

#4 – Daily “face grooming”

The AKC suggests:

“Flush eyes with an appropriate canine eye-wash, such as saline eye-wash solutions or Terra Septic eye drops. Moisten a cotton ball with the same eye wash or a contact lens solution, and rub underneath and around the eye area. Opti-Clear and Bio True are two pre-made options; a do-it-yourself option is to mix one tablespoon boric acid powder boiled in one cup distilled water. (Be sure to keep refrigerated, and remake a fresh batch weekly.)”

At the very least, wiping your dog’s face twice a day with a wet washcloth should help prevent tear stains from building up over time.

#5 – Keep the area dry

A very thin layer of corn starch dabbed below your dog’s eyes (be careful not to get any in the eyes) can help prevent moisture from lingering on your dog’s face.

#6 – Change to glass or steel food and water dishes

According to Leo’s Pet Care:

“Throw away your plastic food bowls. Use stainless steel, porcelain, or glass. Plastic food bowls often develop tiny cracks that harbor bacteria and cause facial irritation.”

Hopefully some of these tips will help you find solutions to start mitigating your dog’s tear stains. Do you have any tried and true tips not mentioned here? Be sure to leave them in the comments section for our other readers!

(H/T: AKC, WebMD Pets, Leo’s Pet Care, Dogster, Healthy Pets)

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