What Causes Tear Stains In Dogs?

By helloBARK!
Updated on 29 October 2020
Expert Content

My Alaskan Klee Kai have always struggled with tear stains.

They’ve struggled with consistent tear stains since the age of one, leaving a reddish mark on their white fur underneath their eyes.

I took my Klee Kai to their veterinarian to see if there was something more sinister going on.

However, the vet reassured me that there was no rogue eyelash or something stuck in their eyes.

Tear stains are an issue that a lot of Klee Kai owners, pet parents of Spitz dogs and owners of small dogs will have struggled with at some point in their dog’s life.

If you want to see how I fixed my dog’s tear stains, check out this YouTube video here.

We spoke to four experts to learn what causes tear stains in dogs, what owners can do to prevent tear stains in dogs and how dog owners can fix tear stains.

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

Smalls Dogs May Have Tears Stains Because They’re Close To The Ground

Steffi Trott, Owner and Head Trainer at SpiritDog Training

What causes tear stains?

Tear stains in dogs are caused by an overflow of tears that accumulate below the dog’s eye. There can be many reasons for this increased production of tears, ranging from eye infections over allergies to blocked tear ducts or ear infections. Puppies can show tear stains due to the teething as well.

Many small dogs have tear stains as they are so low to the ground that their eyes are constantly absorbing dust as they walk. If you own a dog in a busy city, walking him next to roads with a lot of traffic can lead to car exhaust fumes causing tear stains as well.

What can dog owners do to prevent tear stains?

Owners should consult a vet for any kind of sudden and unusual overflow of tears because tear stains can be caused by underlying health conditions such as an allergy or ear infection. Otherwise your dog might suffer unnecessarily without having the actual problems addressed.

Owners can remove existing tear stains by using a saline solution and cotton balls to carefully clean the dog’s face. There are also many products available specifically made for tear stain removal.

If you live in a dry and dusty area (such as Arizona or New Mexico) or a big city, you should wipe their eyes daily to remove any small particles that could accumulate and irritate their eyes.

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

The Best Option Is To Visit A Vet

Claudine Sievert, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine and Veterinary Consultant at CatPet.club

What causes tear stains in dogs?

Tear stains are the result of porphyrins breaking: These are pigment-containing molecules in dog tears, saliva, and urine, appearing there naturally after a canine’s body breaks down red blood cells and getting darker when exposed to sunlight.

Stains happen when a dog produces too many tears with no ability to drain them away, and they can be the symptom of infections or any other serious medical condition.

Possible causes include glaucoma, entropion, eye and ear infections, conjunctivitis, blocked tear ducts, allergies, poor diets, and more.

What can dog owners do to prevent tear stains?

Given that tear stains in dogs may relate to health issues, the best option would be to visit a vet and make sure a canine is healthy. If so, daily eye hygiene can help prevent the problem: Trim the hair around eyes, wash it with dry shampoo, absorb the tears around a dog’s eyes regularly, and flush them with canine eye-washes. All this helps to reduce tear production.

How can dog owners fix this issue?

The treatment depends on the particular cause of tear stains in a dog. In the case of eye or ear infections, drops and antibiotics will help. For mechanical reasons such as issues with eyelashes or eyelids, blocked tear ducts, or large tear glands, surgery could be required. If the cause is stress or poor diets, lifestyle changes and switching to other food can help. In the case of allergies, a vet will most likely prescribe an antihistamine.

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

It’s Not 100% Fixable Or Preventable

Leslie Brooks, Doctor of Veternarian Medicine and Veterinary Advisor for Better Pet

What causes tear stains in dogs?

Tear stains are more common in small breed dogs, especially those with smooshed faces or white/cream-colored fur, such as the Pekingese, Maltese, and Bichons. In some small dogs with bulgy eyes, the natural tears that are produced by their eyes on a daily basis overflow onto their fur, instead of draining through the tear ducts, which then drain out through the nose. It’s just because of conformation.

For other dogs, they may get clogged tear ducts, which causes their tears to overflow onto their fur/skin around their eyes.

Dogs can also get tear stains if they have excessive tearing for some reason, such as allergies or an eyelash growing in the wrong direction.

The stains on the white fur are the result of the molecules called porphyrins that are in the tears. It’s the same reason why if your dog licks at a spot on their leg or foot, it turns a brownish color- from the molecules in the saliva. It just shows up better on white-colored dogs.

What can dog owners do to prevent tear stains?

The best way to prevent tear stains is to keep the face and fur around the eyes clean and well-groomed. Take your pup to a groomer regularly, so they can be groomed and have any extra fur around their eyes safely clipped. Wipe around their eyes on and on their face once to twice daily with a moistened washcloth or with saline solution or eye flush. Be gentle and do not rub the surface of the eye. Also, have your vet check your dog out first to make sure it’s not due to a medical reason or clogged tear duct.

How can dog owners fix this issue?

It’s not 100% fixable or preventable – just have to do regular cleaning and grooming of the face. Unless it’s caused by an allergy causing excessive tears or a clogged tear duct. You can work with your vet to get the allergy under control or have your dog’s tear ducts flushed. Some people use probiotics that seem to help. You just supplement them in your dog’s food. People used to use antibiotics, but that is no longer recommended because of the problem of antibiotic resistance and because it’s not really treating a bacterial infection.

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

Alaskan Klee Kai tear stains (Photo: Albalone Pet Studio)

Wipe Tears From Your Dog’s Fur Once Or Twice A Day

Jennifer Coates, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine and Veterinarian Advisor to Pup Life Today

Stains develop when tears soak the fur under a dog’s eyes. A pigment called porphyrin that is naturally present in tears (and saliva) turns a reddish-brown color when it comes in contact with air, and it can stain light-colored fur and skin.

Most dogs do not have a problem with tear staining because the fur under their eyes stays dry. However, brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed breeds with prominent eyes), dogs with long hair around their eyes, dogs with blocked or abnormal tear ducts, and dogs who overproduce tears due to eye irritation are at risk for tear staining.

Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your dog’s tear staining is a new problem or if it is associated with any other eye changes like redness, poor vision, or pain. Once you are sure that your dog’s tear staining is only a cosmetic concern, you can work on remedying the situation.

Keep long fur around your dog’s eyes trimmed short. Wipe tears from your dog’s fur once or twice a day with a tissue or cloth dampened with warm water or an eye cleaner. Nutritional supplements are also available that can reduce or eliminate the formation of new tear stains.

Some tear stain remedies are made with natural ingredients while others contain the antibiotic tylosin. While the long-term use of tylosin appears to be safe, it’s wisest to avoid giving antibiotics whenever possible. It will take some time for the existing, stained fur to grow out and be replaced by clean fur. Remedies need to be given continually to prevent tear stains from returning.

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