Sad eyes? How to remove tear stains from your pet’s eyes

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: July 31, 2009
Sad eyes? How to remove tear stains from your pet’s eyes

Got a white or light-colored pet? Then you might have run across the issue of tear-stained eyes.

“Raccoon eyes,” as I call them, are the marks under the eyes and in the linear groove that runs down the bridge of the nose of both dogs and cats. If you’ve seen them on your pets, more than likely you wished them gone.

They make your pet look old ... or sick ... or just plain “not-so-pretty.” They’re unsightly by comparison with the pristine hair that surrounds the stain, that’s for sure. And maybe it means your pet really is sick.

So what’s a concerned pet owner to do?

First things first: See your veterinarian. The most common reason for tear staining is excess tear production or tears that aren’t being properly drained by the tear ducts. Blocked tear ducts, abnormally shaped eyes where the lids turn in or out (called entropion and ectropion, respectively), and many other diseases of the eye can do this. Food allergies can also do it. 

Many pets are genetically predisposed to the problem by virtue of how their eyes are made and there’s little to be done about it. Sometimes surgical correction is in order (sort of like plastic surgery to make the eyelids fit better), or the unblocking of obstructed tear ducts. Sometimes medications or food trials can alleviate the problem. 

But in most cases these problems are not fully correctable. Tear staining is likely to chronically recur to some degree. 

Again, so what’s a pet owner to do?

The most well-known product for eliminating these tear stains is called Angel Eyes. It works to eliminate the yeast that causes the pigments that lead to the staining. It works GREAT. Too bad its active ingredient is an antibiotic. And because it’s a powder that needs to be added to the food almost every day for a lifetime, that’s clearly NOT a good thing. I don’t recommend it. 

Why court bacterial resistance and add to the problem of superbugs? If that doesn’t sway you, answer me this one: Why subject your pet to a non-FDA approved product that contains a drug? ‘Nuff said.

But you don’t have to use Angel Eyes to get back your pretty white periocular fur. Not if you’re diligent. Here’s my six-step approach:

1. Clean twice a day with cotton balls soaked in warm water (use one per eye). This can keep the tears from causing the stain to begin with. 

2. Keep the fur just below the eye clipped short. Train your dog to accept your use of a clipper designed for this purpose or enlist the help of your veterinarian––better yet, get thee to a professional groomer.  

3. Use a dab of vaseline in the area that accumulates the most tears. This may keep it from staining the hair. 

4. Try a completely different diet. Follow my steps to a successful food trial here 

5. Consider the use of one or more different commercial wipes designed to keep the area clean and stain-free (though I confess I’m not well-versed in these, so ask your groomer for help). 

6. Probiotics can help. Did you know that some of the supplements intended for intestinal health can actually reduce or eliminate tear staining? The harmless, all-natural bacterial additive manufactured by Iams (Prostora MAX) has been found to work pretty darn well (though it's yet to be approved for efficacy against tear staining). Ask your veterinarian to order it for you. 

If all else fails, enlist your groomer for assistance. But beware any product that has the possibility of entering your pet’s eyes. Keep it safe when it comes to these stains because remember, cosmetics are not what pet love is all about anyway, right? 

Dr. Patty Khuly

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