Tear stains in dogs are a common problem, visible as reddish-brown marks around the dog’s eyes, most easily seen on dogs with white or light-coloured hair. They are usually the result of the dog producing too many tears or having an inability for the tears to drain away as normal.
Some dogs produce too much of a pigment containing molecule that can be found in dog tears and cause the staining. When the dog’s body breaks down red blood cells, a naturally occurring molecule remains as a waste product. These molecules, known as porphyrins, contain iron, which is responsible for the red colouration, which gets darker when exposed to sunlight. Porphyrins are usually excreted via the digestive system but in dogs, they are also removed from the body in urine, saliva and tears. Darker coated dogs can also suffer from tear stains, but the marks are harder to see on the dark hair. It is a good idea to check your dog’s eyes regularly for any problems.
There are a number of potential reasons for dogs’ eyes to water excessively, some of which are serious medical conditions. For this reason, it is important to go to your vet so they can perform a check-up when the signs of dog tear stains are first noticed.
Signs and symptoms of tear stains in dogs
The most obvious sign of tear stains in light coloured dogs are the red marks in the hair below each eye. These are much harder to see in darker coated dogs, and it may be that the damp hair from excessive tear production or the tears being drawn away from the eye into the fur are the easiest symptoms to see. There may be a discharge from the eye, depending on the cause of the tears, but this does not happen in every case. If your dog has stains that are brown rather than red, particularly if there is a noticeable odour, then they may have a yeast infection that can be caused by the skin being constantly damp under the fur.
What causes tear stains in dogs?
The answer to what causes tear stains in dogs is usually an excessive amount of tears on the face, either from too many tears being produced or the tears not draining away properly. This could be the symptom of a serious medical condition or indicate an infection, so it is important to see your vet if you notice signs of tear stains for the first time.
Possible medical causes:
- Glaucoma – a serious condition that causes a build-up of pressure in the eye and can damage the optic nerve.
- Eye infection – infections by bacteria, viruses or parasites can cause a discharge from the eye.
- Conjunctivitis – inflammation in the eye’s lining can cause mucus, pus or discharge.
- Ear infection – may cause the eye on the same side of the head to tear more than is usual.
- Ingrown eyelashes – these can rub against the surface of the eye, causing irritation and damage.
- Entropion – a condition where the eyelid rolls in, causing the eyelashes to rub against the eye and causing irritation.
Mechanical causes, due to the dog’s body construction:
- Large tear glands – larger glands produce larger volumes of tears.
- Small tear duct openings – each eye has a tube running from the eye into the nasal cavity to drain the excess tears via the nose. Small openings to these ducts reduce their effectiveness and the excess spills over into the hair.
- Blocked tear ducts – as for small duct openings, blocked ducts cannot remove the excess liquid from the eye. Some breeds of dog such as Poodles and Cocker Spaniels have a tendency for the drainage holes not to develop properly.
- Scarring – if there has been a previous infection or eye damage, tear drainage may reduce.
- Hair around the eyes – if hair keeps getting into the eyes, it can wick the tears away, drawing the moisture from the eye and down to the skin.
- Shallow eye sockets – particularly in brachycephalic dogs (breeds with short muzzles such as Pugs, French Bulldogs or Pekingese), eyes can bulge and protrude, sometimes so much that the eyelids never close completely, even when sleeping.
Other possible causes:
- Irritant exposure – irritants like dust or smoke can cause the eye to water attempting to remove the irritating substance.
- Allergies – allergic reactions can cause the eye to water excessively. These allergies can be seasonal, something in the environment or a reaction to the dog’s food.
- Poor diet and stress – Anxiety and stress can cause a number of issues. A poor quality diet filled with unsuitable or indigestible ingredients places stress on the dog’s body. Cheap, low-quality foods can often be a problem.
- Teething – when puppies are teething, they produce more tears and tear stains may become apparent. It is a good idea to have your vet check that there are no other issues causing the tears but, once they have finished teething, the problem often goes away.
Tear stains in dogs treatment
If the cause of dog tear stains is a medical one such as infection, your vet will prescribe medication as required to treat the condition. For cases such as entropion, the treatment may involve surgery to stop the eyelids rolling in.
In the case of allergies and irritants, once the allergen or irritant has been identified and removed then the excess tears should be reduced. Anti-histamines may be needed if it is not possible to remove an allergen completely. If the allergic reaction is due to something in the dog’s food, a switch to a good quality, balanced and species-appropriate grain free food that is suitable for dogs with allergies or sensitivities will be easier on their system. Particularly suitable for sensitive dogs in the Pure range is Chicken Dinner and Turkey Terrific although all Pure recipes are grain free.
Some of the mechanical causes are permanent and so need management. Preventing tear stains in dogs with these kinds of problems involves keeping the face scrupulously clean. Wiping the face with a warm damp cloth, at least twice a day removes tears and reduces staining. Keeping the area around the eyes trimmed will stop hair going into the eye to irritate it. This also stops tears keeping the skin damp, preventing secondary yeast infections. If not comfortable trimming your dog’s hair yourself, regular trips to the groomers may be required. You can use organic unrefined coconut oil for dog tear stains under the eyes, as it provides a gentle water repellent coating, stopping stains and protecting the skin. Use porcelain, glass or stainless steel food and water bowls, as plastic bowls can become damaged and harbour bacteria which may cause irritation.
Common advice on how to clean dog tear stains recommends warm water and cotton pads to clean the area, and this is the safest tip for how to remove dog tear stains naturally. If the stains are stubborn, a dilute boric acid solution like contact lens cleaning solution may help. There are many other tips given in various places on how to get rid of dog tear stains, but often include substances that may cause more harm than good.
Other dog's stories
To read about members of the Pure Pet Food family and their progress with tear stains since switching have a look at our Success Stories page.