Treating and Preventing Dog Tear Stains

By: Christina Chan


Some pet owners know the familiar signs all too well—a dark red or brown-colored stain around the inner corner of your dog’s eyes. Though generally not dangerous or painful themselves, tear stains in dogs are unsightly and sometimes signify an underlying medical condition.


Getting to the root of your dog’s tear stains will help you remove them and prevent them from happening in the future.


Dog Tear Stains: Assessing the Issue


If you believe your dog has a tear stain problem, Chicago, Illinois resident and AKC Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein advises against trying to address the problem with over-the-counter remedies. “If you suspect something unusual, you should first get your dog assessed by a vet,” he says.


There are a number of reasons why a dog may develop tear stains, and unless you get to the root cause, Klein believes you may inadvertently end up with an ineffective treatment or be missing a more serious medical condition.


Causes of Tear Stains in Dogs


There are a number of conditions that lead to tear stains in dogs. Here are five common causes:


Porphyrin: Klein explains that a pigment known as porphyrin is excreted in tears, saliva and urine. Some of the iron that is released from the breakdown of red blood cells goes into porphyrin. The porphyrin that is contained in your dog’s tears causes the actual stain.


Genetics: Certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to tear stains, or it can simply be a case of a particular dog being predisposed towards getting tear stains. “There is a genetic basis for dogs that get tear stains and we do see it in certain types of dogs more than others,” says Klein. Also, dogs with light-colored fur will have more obvious tear-staining than will darker dogs.


According to Klein, breeds commonly susceptible to tear stains include the Maltese, Shih Tzu, and Poodle.


Brachycephalic (short nosed) dogs can be prone to tear stains as well. “The shape of the head and the way the eyes fit into the socket will affect whether a dog is prone to tear stains,” according to Klein. “This is because the connection to the muzzle can be configured in such a way that the tears accumulate” instead of flowing through the ducts that normally drain them away from the eye.


Environment: Klein states that factors in a dog’s environment can also cause tear stains. For instance, water that is high in iron may be a culprit. “Consider bottled or distilled water as well-water often has a higher mineral content,” states Klein.


Dogs may also have adverse reactions to plastic food bowls. Klein recommends switching to a stainless steel or ceramic bowl if you suspect your dog may be allergic. “You may see signs of redness and inflammation around your dog’s eyes, ears, nose and lips,” he says. These symptoms can be mistaken for tear stains.


Infection: An infection of the skin around the eyes can cause symptoms that look like tear stains in dogs, says Klein. If the stain is brownish in nature, it’s possible it might be caused by yeast rather than bacteria. A vet should properly diagnose whether your pup has an infection and, if so, what microorganism is to blame.


Infections will sometimes develop as a result of the chronic dampness that can occur with tear staining. Klein adds that infections typically are associated with odors and may cause itchiness and irritation.


Abnormal Lashes and Ducts: At times, a dog may have ingrown or abnormal eyelashes or have a problem with a tear duct. Eyelashes can rub on and irritate the surface of the eye due to entropion, a condition where your dog’s eyelids fold inward. The eye responds by producing more tears than normal. Alternatively, if the tear duct isn’t emptying into the nasal cavity properly, your dog may develop tear stains. “Sometimes, you’ll find certain dogs with clogged tear ducts,” Klein explains.


Preventing and Treating Tear Stains in Dogs


Though it’s not recommended you treat tear stains without the advice of a veterinarian who has examined your dog, there are steps you can take to help prevent the occurrence of tear stains, especially if your canine is prone to them.


Klein suggests taking care with day-to-day hygiene and maintenance. Have your veterinarian or groomer trim the hair close around the eye area to help prevent the accumulation of tears. Then use a wash cloth dampened with warm water or an eye cleaning solution to wipe the area. “It’s important to prevent the build-up of moisture in that area and keep the fur clean and dry,” says Klein.


Other treatment options depend on your veterinarian’s diagnosis. However, Klein says common options include the use of antibiotics for infection, recommendations for dietary changes, and surgery for an eyelash-related issue.