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Your dog is stinkin’ cute. You know it. I know it. The case is closed on that one. But there is maybe one way they could get just a little bit cuter—addressing those tear stains under their eyes.
Dog tear stains are a common problem for many dog breeds, and it’s not usually a major cause for alarm. However, they can appear unsightly, and there are a few underlying health issues you’ll want to investigate to resolve the problem.
Keep reading to learn what tear stains are, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
In this guide:
- What are dog tear stains?
- What causes tear stains?
- How to remove dog eye stains
- How to prevent tear stains in dogs
What are dog tear stains?
Dog tear stains, also called “tear marks” or “eye stains,” refer to the discoloration and residue left behind by your pup’s naturally occurring eye discharge. These stains are more pronounced on dogs with white or lighter fur (e.g. Bichon Frise, Maltese) as well as breeds prone to epiphora,1 or “weepy eyes” (e.g. Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers).
Tear stains usually appear as a brown or rusty-red stain on the insides of your dog’s eyes as well as around the mouth and private areas. The reddish color comes from porphyrins, a naturally occurring chemical your dog excretes through their saliva, tears, urine, and waste.
Red stains typically indicate a standard tear mark, whereas a dark brown stain may indicate a yeast infection has formed due to prolonged moisture and bacteria.
The best way to remove tear stains is regular grooming, but you’ll need to determine the underlying cause to prevent them from forming in the first place.
What causes tear stains in dogs?
So why do dogs get tear stains? Specifically, tear marks are caused by an overabundance of tears draining down the exterior of your dog’s face rather than following the tear duct’s natural channels. But a variety of factors can lead to an excess of misplaced dog tears.
You may need to consult a vet and/or test different solutions to identify the source of the problem. These are some common causes:
- Long hair or a lack of grooming: Long hair that curls into your dog’s eyes can wick tears away from the eyes and down your dog’s face. It can also block your dog’s tear ducts altogether, preventing tears from following their natural channels down your dog’s throat. At the same time, even short-haired dogs will develop some staining. This means regular cleaning is necessary to prevent stains from setting in.
- Allergies or other irritants: Pollen, dust, smoke, sawdust, cleaning products, and other seasonal or environmental irritants may be causing a reaction in your dog. Even if allergies aren’t involved, your dog’s eyes may just be trying to clean themselves, leading to epiphora.
- Poor diet: Cheap dog food contains fillers and preservatives that some dogs react poorly to. Even water that contains contaminants or high amounts of iron and other minerals can lead to increased staining.
- Ear or eye infections: Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), are an obvious cause of excessive watering. But even a bacterial ear infection can lead to epiphora in the nearest eye.
- Shallow eye sockets: Brachycephalic dog breeds (Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Boxers, etc.) have broad, short skulls, which leave the dog with shallow eye sockets. Shallow sockets mean the eyes have a hard time draining tears appropriately, especially when they’re irritated, and blocked ducts are another common problem.
- Inverted eyelids: Also known as entropion, inverted eyelids occur when the end of your dog’s eyelid folds inward against the eye. The eyelashes can irritate and even scratch the cornea, and it can also lead to a blocked tear duct. Dogs with shallow eye sockets are more likely to experience inverted eyelids.
- Ingrown eyelashes: You may not have realized, but your dog has eyelashes just like you. An ingrown eyelash could lead to a blocked tear duct or just cause general irritation that leads to excessive watering and subsequent tear stains.
- Teething: Your dog’s puppy teeth grow in at around 8–10 weeks old, and their adult teeth come in between months 4 and 7. This teething process can put a lot of pressure on their tear ducts, leading to excessive watering and puppy tear stains.
- Disease: Certain diseases, such as glaucoma, can lead both to unnatural discharge and blocked or damaged tear ducts, which then results in more discharge and staining. If you believe your dog is showing signs of glaucoma, you need to take them to the vet right away.
- Scarring: Most of the above causes, as well as damage caused by your dog scratching an irritated eye, can lead to long-term damage and scarring of the cornea or tissue around the eye. This abrasive scarring can then lead to new irritation and staining, which is why you need to learn how to prevent the underlying causes of dog tear stains in the first place.
How to remove tear stains on dogs
Clean up the gunk as early as possible
The best way to remove dog tear stains is by cleaning the area early and often before the stain has a chance to set in. To do this, you’ll need a good dog tear stain remover. These can come in liquid, powder, paste, or wipe form.
Our guide to the best dog tear stain remover explains all of your options while taking safe, natural ingredients into consideration, so you can find the solution that will work best for your dog.
In short, liquid removers are good for softening dried eye crust and stripping them from your dog’s hair. Paste removers are good for fighting bacteria in your dog’s rolls and wrinkles. Wipes are best for physically removing the gunk that has built up around your dog’s eyes, and powder removers are really only good for keeping your dog’s face dry—we don’t usually recommend them.
- 100 pre-soaked wipes
- Natural juniper berry & coconut-based formula removes stains, crust, and mucus without harsh chemicals or bleach
>> Read more: Can You Use Baby Wipes on Dogs?
Trim deeply stained areas
Soaking and wiping your dog’s tear marks can do wonders to lighten and remove stains. But if you’re addressing this problem for the first time and you’ve already allowed deep stains to set in, you might not be able to eliminate them entirely.
In this case, the best course of action is to trim the stained areas and allow new hair to grow in. This will take time, of course, but if you’re proactively cleaning your dog’s face, you’ll see steady improvement over time.
If your dog has short hair and you’re not able to trim it, the same general principle applies. Clean the area regularly to prevent new stains from setting in, and wait for the hair to naturally replace itself via shedding.
Apart from regular cleaning and grooming, the only other way to eliminate tear stains is by preventing them from occurring in the first place. Read the final section of this guide for more info.
Is there a home remedy for dog tear stains?
Chemical-conscious dog owners often wonder how to clean dog tear stains naturally. This is a great question to ask, since many pet products include harsh chemicals that, though effective, may irritate your dog’s skin. Here are some natural remedies you’ll often see other dog owners recommend, as well as our thoughts on them.
Hydrogen peroxide will likely be effective at treating existing dog tear stains. However, you’d need to be extremely cautious when using it around your dog’s eyes. Additionally, while peroxide is safe to use topically, using it undiluted could dry out your dog’s skin, leading to other issues.
If you’re considering hydrogen peroxide, you’d be better off using Bodhi Dog’s Tear Stain Remover, which includes peroxide supplemented with other ingredients, such as lemongrass oil and tea tree oil, to help fight the bacteria without being so harsh on your dog’s skin.
Apple cider vinegar
Some dog owners claim that adding 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to their dog’s water or meal each day helps remove tear stains. The theory is that this can alter the acidity of your dog’s pH balance, which prevents new stains from forming. We have not seen any hard proof that this approach works.
However, apple cider vinegar is safe for dogs in the amounts mentioned above and there is anecdotal evidence that it can improve gut health and digestion, so you can try it if you want.
Alternatively, it could be diluted with water and used topically to remove tear stains. But as with hydrogen peroxide, you’d need to take caution to avoid contact with the eyes, and it’s easier and safer to use a tested, pre-mixed solution provided by a reputable company that uses high-quality ingredients.
Similar to apple cider vinegar, some dog owners and experts suggest giving your dog a teaspoon of plain, unsweetened yogurt each day to improve their gut bacteria, thereby preventing tear stains. Again, we haven’t seen hard evidence that this will help staining, but yogurt is a healthy and safe treat for your dog (as long as they’re not lactose intolerant!), so feel free to try it out.
Do not apply yogurt directly to your dog’s face.
How to prevent tear stains in dogs
As we’ve explained above, the first step to preventing dog tear stains is cleaning them early and often. Some amount of discharge will always mark your dog’s face, and you need to wipe it clean before it has a chance to set in. Keep a container of high-quality dog eye wipes on hand to make this a part of your nightly routine.
However, there are other steps you can take if you want to mitigate the chance of stains occurring in the first place.
Improve their diet
A healthy diet that consists of real, whole foods won’t just help mitigate tear stains—it will lead to holistically better health, which will impact all aspects of your dog’s life.
Cheap over-processed food and low-quality water sources can expose your dog to additives and minerals that lead to tear-stained eyes. Tear marks may be the result of specific compounds in your dog’s diet, or the result of increased tearing due to an allergic reaction.
Specific foods, such as Forza10’s Sensitive Tear Stain Plus, claim to be made specifically to eliminate tear stains. But other foods made for sensitive stomachs (which tend to have fewer harsh fillers) may work just as well. Our guide to the best dog food for tear stains covers our favorite picks.
You’ll be best off upgrading your dog’s diet to all-natural, human-grade ingredients, such as you’d get through a meal plan from The Farmer’s Dog, NomNomNow, or Ollie Dog Food, or by cooking their meals yourself. Of course, this will demand more money or more time, depending on which option you choose.
Treats & food additives (exercise caution!)
There are also many dog tear stain treats available that contain enzymes and supplements to help prevent tear stains. However, most of these treats contain harsh antibiotics, including tylosin, which can do more harm than good for your dog’s body if used in perpetuity. So, you need to take caution when considering treats and use them sparingly.
One brand that doesn’t include tylosin is Petpost’s Tear Stain Soft Chews. Still, we’d only recommend using treats in combination with the other prevention methods described, rather than depending on treats entirely.
You could also experiment with other food additives, such as the plain, unsweetened yogurt or apple cider vinegar we discussed above, although we’re unsure of their effectiveness.
Finally, if your dog forms severe, rusty-colored tear stains, it could be worsened by the mineral count of their water. Consider giving them only filtered water for a few weeks to see if that makes a difference.
You should also make sure they only drink out of clean water sources (no puddles!), and make sure their water dish doesn’t have any fine cracks or scratches that could be harboring bacteria. A stainless steel water dish works best for this reason.
Rinse their eyes during allergy season
Dogs get seasonal allergies just like humans do, and this can lead to excessive watering and tear-stained eyes. If your pup just tackled your pile of freshly raked leaves or went for a romp through a pollen-filled field, it’s highly likely they’ll have irritated eyes a few hours later.
Keeping an eye rinse on hand for such occasions can help you flush out irritants before they have a chance to bother your dog’s eyes. Just make sure you’re using an eye rinse meant for use directly on your dog’s eyes, such as Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial Pet Eye Wash, and not simply a liquid tear stain remover that’s meant to be used around the eyes.
Keep facial hair short and dry
Keeping your dog’s facial hair short can help mitigate tear stains in two ways. First, stained hair won’t last as long, since you’ll trim it more frequently, and the shorter hair will be easier to clean.
Second, as we described in the causes section above, longer hair can contribute to tear stains in a number of ways.
Long hair that curls into your dog’s eyes can wick tears away from the eye and down the face. Long hair and ingrown eyelashes can block your dog’s tear ducts. Finally, long hair around the eyes and mouth will stay wet longer after your dog tears or drinks, and prolonged dampness in the area is one of the main reasons tear stains and bacterial infections form.
Treatments to be wary of
At the end of the day, dog tear stains are usually just a cosmetic issue. You don’t want to cause harm to your dog for something so minor. So, there are a couple of treatments you should be wary of.
We already mentioned that many tear stain treats and other products include antibiotics that will help prevent new stains from occurring. However, there’s a reason your vet or doctor only ever prescribes antibiotics in limited doses.
They can have long-term effects on your dog’s body if overused. That’s why you should consult your veterinarian before giving your dog an over-the-counter antibiotic, such as tylosin or tetracycline.
Some products, such as Always Bright Eyes’ Super Whitening Face Wash, claim they can literally whiten your dog’s fur. Those dealing with tear stains on white dogs may be overjoyed to hear this promise.
However, you should exercise caution. Some whitening products contain harsh chemicals that could irritate your dog’s skin, while others are less than transparent about what ingredients they contain in the first place.
Don’t cry over dog tears. Eye stains can be treated!
Tear stains are an unfortunate part of life for some dogs, but don’t fret! There’s a lot you can do to mitigate staining. Stay on top of your dog’s eye stains by cleaning and grooming them regularly. And consider upgrading your dog’s diet to food that doesn’t contain cheap fillers. It will boost your dog’s health in ways far beyond cosmetic tear staining.
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- Llera, Ryan, BSc., Ward, Ernest, DVM. “Eye Discharge (Epiphora) in Dogs” https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/eye-discharge-or-epiphora-in-dogs