- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
When your dog’s otherwise sweet expression is marred by dark, rust-colored tears running down their face, it’s hard to notice anything else. Tear stains can be unsightly and distracting, even mildly repulsive to those who don’t know your dog, and they can be hard to get under control. But there are ways to treat and even eliminate tear stains with a little time and attention.
What Causes Tears Stains in Dogs?
It all stems from your dog’s tearing, a natural process to keep the delicate eye and its membranes lubricated.
Both normal and excessive tearing can cause tear stains, but if you feel like you’re constantly wiping gunk or goobers out of your dog’s eyes, and particularly if it’s thick and has a yellow or green tint, you should take him to the vet. Eye infections, glaucoma, eyelash issues or entropion (where the eyelid is inverted), foreign objects in the eye, and even an ear infection can cause tearing with thicker discharge. These issues require a veterinarian’s help to diagnose and treat.
If the discharge is clear and/or watery but excessive, it could be a blocked tear duct, allergies, or simply due to your dog’s physiology—larger eyes in small breeds or skin folds around the eyes. Some breeds are prone to the issue and require regular attention to keep the area below the eye clean and dry and free of discharge.
Why are tear stains red?
While tear staining is generally considered a problem in dogs with white or light colored fur because it’s more noticeable, the discharge and staining can happen with any dog.
Tear staining is typically the result of porphyrins, naturally occurring waste products that contain iron from the normal breakdown of red blood cells. These are removed primarily via the normal waste streams (feces and urine), but can also be excreted through tears and saliva. This is why you’ll often also see staining around the lips and skin folds, or on the feet, if your dog licks his feet a lot. It’s exposure to light and air that causes the rust colored stains we typically associate to with tear staining.
Some dogs produce more porphyrin than others, and it is believed both genetics and diet can play a role. If the stains on your dog’s fur are more brown than red, it’s possible the staining is due to a yeast infection from the constantly moist skin, and you’ll need to talk to your vet about treatment.
How to Remove Tear Stains
After you have discussed the issue with your vet and ruled out more serious concerns, you can work on the issue methodically.
First, try to keep the area dry and clean. This may require trimming excess hair away from the eyes in breeds with longer or non-shedding hair, like Maltese, bichon, and poodles. Ask your groomer to pay special attention around the eyes and not leave any long hair that can become a sponge for holding eye discharge and tearing.
Eye wipes are a good idea for dogs with wet or naturally teary eyes. Wiping the excess tears from the fur beneath the eye with a treated pad can help to prevent staining as well as treat any existing stains.
Some have found that using distilled or purified water in your dog’s water bowl can help. The recommendation is anecdotal, it’s worth a try, especially if your drinking water is known to have a high mineral content. Diet could also be a factor, and feeding your dog a high-quality diet, free of dyes or other impurities, is always a good idea. Glass or stainless steel food and water bowls, cleaned daily, can help as well; plastic bowls, even after cleaning, can harbor bacteria that can contribute to skin irritations and secondary staining issues
Additives to the diet, such as apple cider vinegar, probiotics, or herbal remedies can also help. A holistic veterinarian is a good source for information on these complementary therapies.
If one treatment doesn’t work, look into another. Sometimes it takes a combination of two—a diet supplement and external wipe, for instance—before you find what works for your dog. Talk to your groomer, or other pet parents with breeds similar to yours, to see what they are doing and finding effective. Treating tear stains is often an ongoing, lifelong maintenance issue, but success can be had, and keeping tear staining under control can help prevent more serious skin issues in the future.
Featured image: Tania Sona Smith/Flickr