Have you ever noticed reddish-brown stains in the facial hair of a dog, particularly around the surface of the eye? Although some dogs will have these same kinds of stains around the mouth and the forelegs, the ones around the eyes seem particularly annoying. These are called dog tear stains, and they are a common issue in dogs. In fact, they are chiefly found in dogs with light-colored hair. Poodles as a breed are quite prone to the issue, and, for this reason, are sometimes referred to as “Poodle eyes.” However, any dog of any breed can develop this condition.
Dog tear stains are the result of a chemical that is produced naturally in dogs called porphyrin. Both humans and canines produce this chemical. However, in dogs, the chemical porphyrin is chiefly secreted in the intestinal tract, and it is present in stomach bile. In dogs, however, porphyrin is excreted in the canine’s saliva, urine, and tears.
In dogs, tears and saliva contain a lot of porphyrins, particularly one called “heme.” Heme is the pigment in red blood cells. Some dogs produce an overabundance of tears. There are medical reasons for these tears, but some experts believe that it goes back to the domestication of dogs that is chiefly to blame for the issue. Some dogs—due to selective breeding many, many generations ago—developed a characteristic of excessive tears because of crooked tear ducts. These tear ducts changed over time when dogs developed shorter snouts (think bulldog breeds) as well as protruding eyes (think Pugs) because of shallow eye sockets. Some tear stains are due to this issue, while other tear stains are symptoms of a medical problem.
Some dogs have allergies, and the irritants that cause an allergic reaction may cause a dog to excessively lick certain areas of the body; this is one cause for a dog’s feet and legs had red stains. However, there are medical conditions that can be quite painful to a dog, and they may result in dog tear stains. Some dogs develop ingrown eyelashes. This is a painful condition of the eyes that can result in blindness if the dog is not treated properly. Entropion, as this condition is called, literally causes the eyelash to grow back into the eyelid. Often, the reddish-brown tear stains you see on your pet’s eye area are a symptom of this serious medical issue, and you should consult your vet to rule out entropion.
Pet parents should also keep in mind that some vets state there IS no excessive tear production in dogs; this is simply due to a malformation in the tear ducts of the dog’s eyes. Some dog breeds are more prone to developing this condition than other breeds. However, this is NOT indicative of an underlying health condition. You’ll just have to keep the eye area clean as a part of routine grooming.
Some dogs have abnormally small tear ducts, which is a condition pet parent can treat at home. Other causes for excessive tearing in dogs include exposure to cigarette smoke or other allergens. It is always best to have your vet perform a physical examination on your dog if she develops dog tear stains to be sure that the stains are not indicative of a physical ailment. Otherwise, you can treat tear stains in your dog at home as needed. However, pet parents must keep in mind that to completely remove tear stains is “virtually impossible.”
If your dog develops tear stain and you have met with the vet who gave Fido a clean bill of health, then begin to focus on how you can keep these stains around your dog’s eyes to a minimum.
How Can Keep Tear Stains Minimum
1. Keep the hair around the eyes as short as possible.
If you begin to notice your dog, particularly if she has light-colored hair, developing red tear stains, then you’ll want to keep her hair around her eyes, nose, and mouth as short as possible. This is a good practice in the first place, as longer hair in the eyes can irritate dogs. Also, you may notice some stains around a dog’s mouth. One can prevent staining around the mouth by keeping hair in this area quite short (plus you won’t have to clean Fido’s face every single time he eats or drinks).
2. Always keep your dog’s face clean and dry.
This should go without saying, but some dogs are truly messy eaters. The shorter you keep Fido’s facial hair, the easier it will be to keep his face dry. If you feed your dog wet dog food, it is a good idea to clean his face after a meal. Allowing wet food to become entangled and dry in his facial hair can be a serious problem.
3. There IS a natural remedy for dog tear stains, but it’s best to check with your vet before you try it.
Some pet parents use a warm washcloth with just a touch of baby shampoo around the eye area (hint: not IN the eye area) in order to clean the porphyrin from around the eye. Check with your vet and get his approval before attempting this natural remedy on your own. Some baby shampoos contain chemicals that are harmful to animals.
4. If you aren’t comfortable trying the natural method for cleaning tear stains, there are products on the market to assist you in keeping Fido’s tear stains to a minimum.
There are a number of eyelid and eyelash cleaning pads available for pet parents who aren’t crazy about baby shampoos so close to their pup’s tender and sensitive eyes. Again, you should contact your vet regarding these products; he may have a solution that he can prescribe for Fido so that you can clean his eyes confidently.
5. Contact solution can be used around a dog’s eye area, but not the eye itself.
Some pet parents use contact solution as it contains boric acid. Boric acid oxidizes the iron in the porphyrins in the dog’s natural eye secretions. This process is thought to actually lighten the stained area.
6. After you wash your dog’s face, always make sure to dry it using a clean towel.
When a dog’s facial hair is left wet over and over without proper drying, the dog can develop ulcerative dermatitis.
7. Some pet parents advocate using products with tylosin.
Let’s talk about tylosin. It is highly important that pet parents understand that tylosin is NOT indicated to rid your dog’s face of tear stains. Rather, tylosin has had varying results, and the product only seems to work hit and miss when it comes to removing your dog’s tear stains. Tylosin is indicated to be an antibiotic; some over-the-counter treatment products contain tylosin, but they do not give a percentage on the list of ingredients. Overuse of tylosin can cause your dog to build up a resistance to the product, and, should your vet prescribe it for another issue, it may not work for your dog. These are a few things to consider when choosing this product to treat tear stains.
8. There are lots of canine probiotic products out on the market that is claiming to help prevent or at least lessen the presence of dog tear stains.
Now, this would seem plausible because, as stated previously, many dogs develop tear stains due to the presence of porphyrins in a dog’s saliva. We also know that it is present in the digestive system of many animals. However, this claim has not been backed by scientific evidence. Any claim that probiotics would lessen the presence of dog tear stains is anecdotal at best.
9. There are some other ways to treat your dog’s tear stains without using baby shampoo.
- You can purchase saline products MADE FOR CANINES that can help to flush the eyes. Unlike human contact solutions, these are safe for Fido’s eyes. However, we suggest getting a vet’s okay before purchasing one over the counter. Your vet may have some suggestions as to a good saline solution for your dog’s eyes.
- If you do choose a pet-safe saline solution, you’ll want to flush out her eyes every morning.
- Every morning, you’ll want to use a warm bath cloth to wipe the gunk away from around her eyes. Wipe the fur around her eyes, nose, and mouth as well.
- Another homemade concoction for treating dog tear stains is this: mix ONE TABLESPOON of hydrogen peroxide into an eight-ounce glass of water. Use a cotton ball to dip into the mixture and wipe the fur AROUND your dog’s eyes. You must be careful NOT to get any of this solution into your dog’s eyes. If you have a dog that naturally resists grooming, you may want to skip this homemade solution and try one that is safe for canine eyes. Poodle grooming is often more precise than for other breeds.
- You can use canine-formulated wipes if you aren’t comfortable with the “natural” solutions suggested here.
- There are some pastes you can make to put in the hair around Fido’s eyes. First, you can mix cornstarch with a tablespoon of peroxide. Mix into a paste; put it on the hair around the eyes. Wait until the paste dries, then wash it out .
Keep in mind that some dogs will try to rub the paste mixture off. This can irritate the eyes if they happen to get some of the paste in the eye area. Some experts even mention getting a dog scratch cone to prevent this.
Finally, one must keep in mind that many of the over-the-counter products made to reduce tear staining contain antibiotics, and these ingredients can lead to your dog developing a tolerance. This is important for other issues regarding your dog’s health. It is probably best to stay away from these products.
1. How do I get rid of my dog’s tear stains?
Getting rid of your dog’s tear stains is virtually impossible, but you can treat them and keep them to a minimum. You can use solutions to lessen the production of the porphyrins in your dog’s tear stains but stay away from solutions with tylosin in them. This is an antibiotic and your dog can develop a resistance to the product.
2. Do dog tear stains go away?
Unfortunately, no. Some dogs, particularly with light-colored hair on their face, will show signs of dog tear stains all their life. However, you can prevent much of the staining, and you can keep it to a minimum by using some home remedies. You can also keep the hair around the eyes, nose, and mouth short, and clean your dog’s face after he eats.
3. What causes tear stains in dogs?
Mostly, tear dog stains are caused by the presence of porphyrins in your dog’s tear ducts and saliva. However, some instances of tear stains are indicative of another, possibly more serious problem, such as entropion. See your vet rule out any major medical problems.
4. How can I get rid of my dog’s tear stains naturally?
There are a few homemade treatments for dog tear stains, but you’ll likely never completely rid your dog of the issue. However, keep facial hair short, keep the facial area clean and dry, and dog tear stains will remain at a minimum.