Tear staining in dogs: A cosmetic nuisance or sign of a bigger health issue?

Posted by Dr Dog. August 21st 2015.

There are many reasons why tear staining in dogs can occur, but rather than just being an unsightly problem it can be due to an underlying cause.

If your dog is suffering from irritation to their eye, tears are the natural response to try to flush the problem away.

It is believed that excessive tear production can be caused by poor diet, disease, stress, an allergy, genetic disorder, insufficient tear drainage or a combination of these.

Known to vets as epiphora, it is a problem for dogs because the moisture around the eye is a perfect place for bacteria to breed and yeast to form.


A puppy with tear stains on its eyes

Why does it happen?

Just like in humans, a dog’s tears exit the eye through small holes which empty out into the nose. Sometimes this duct gets blocked and the soft tissue around it swells up.

Certain breeds like bichons, Maltese, boxers and bulldogs have been bred in such a way that their tear ducts have narrowed and the problem is genetic.

For breeds like shih-tzus and poodles, it is not uncommon for an eyelash to grow abnormally and face the cornea instead of the other way.

Young puppies produce more tears when they are teething, so you would expect this to reduce as the dog matures.

What can you do?

It may seem obvious, but examining the problematic eye to ensure there is nothing in it is the first thing to do.

If you can’t see anything present, it may be a good idea to consult your vet as they will be able to diagnose whether it is a problem like conjunctivitis, uveitis and glaucoma.

In some cases, red or black staining happens around a dog’s eyes because of the pigment called porphyrin which is found in tears.

Keeping the face clear of this pigment is vital if you want to reduce the appearance of staining. To do this, keep the fur around your dog’s eyes trimmed and clean the corners of their eyes once or twice a day with a moist paper towel.


A pair of Shih Tzus, a breed which can suffer from dog tear stains

Plastic food bowls are known to be a breeding ground for bacteria and switching to stainless steel of glass can reduce the cause of facial irritation.

If you give your dog tap water, it could be high in iron or mineral content, so consider using bottled or filter water instead.

Whilst there are a lot of tear staining products on the market, these should only be used on the advice of your vet as it could hide an underlying issue which needs to be investigated.

Your vet will also be able to advise about antibiotics which are available to treat the condition, but all other avenues should be exhausted before going down this route.

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