Understanding tear stains in dogs

tear stains in dogs

If you’ve ever looked down into a cute doggy face and wondered what those reddish-brown streaks under her eyes are, we’ve got you covered. In this article we look at tear stains in dogs: why they happen, how to clean them, and how to prevent them in the future.

Like humans, dogs produce tears for a number of reasons. For instance, tears help to flush away irritants and debris from the eyes. These tears then drain through puncta, small holes in the eyelid, into a series of ducts. However, if these ducts or the puncta get blocked, the tears can’t drain correctly. This in turn causes the tears to overflow from the dog’s eyes.

Epiphora is a condition that causes excessive production of tears. It can also be caused by tears not being drained properly and overflowing from the eyes. Epiphora is usually the cause of tear stains.

Why are they red?

There’s an interesting reason for the dark red colour of those tear stains. When red blood cells break down, they create a waste by-products. One of these is porphyrin, an iron-containing waste product. While it is mostly excreted through urine and faeces, it can also be excreted through tears and saliva.

For this reason, you may also see that reddish-pink colour around your dog’s lips. If your dog tends to lick his paws, you may also see the reddish colour on his paws.

However, if those tear stains are more brown than red and has a strong smell, there could be a different reason. These symptoms could be the result of a yeast infection. This particular type of yeast can infect tear ducts and cause those brown tear marks. A vet should be consulted in this case.

What causes it?

There is a number of causes behind epiphora or tear stains.

  • Glaucoma, a condition that causes pressure to build up in the eye.
  • Ingrown eyelashes can cause eye irritation and tear production.
  • Eye infection caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses. Other irritants like shampoo can also cause eye infections.
  • Conjunctivitis or pink-eye, a condition caused by inflammation of the eye’s lining.
  • Ear infection. It is common for the eye on the same side to tear more than normal.
  • Entropion, a condition that causes the eyelid to roll in. This causes the eyelashes to rub against the surface of the eye and cause irritation.
  • Large tear glands which produce more tears than normal.
  • Smaller or blocked tear ducts that can’t drain the tears correctly.
  • Puppies that are teething may tear more. Because of this, tear stains may become more noticeable.
  • Scarring from previous eye damage may reduce drainage of the tears.
  • Hair around the eyes may wick the tears, pulling the wetness away from the eyes and down the face.
  • Allergic reactions that result in the eyes watering more than normal. These could be seasonal or environmental.

Epiphora can be caused by a number of things. For this reason, we always suggest seeking advice from a veterinarian. 

Dog breeds that are prone to tear stains

White or light-coloured dogs

If you’ve spent a lot of time around white-coated or light coloured dogs, you may be familiar with the appearance of tear stains. This is simply because tear stains are more visible on them. That’s not to say that darker coloured dogs don’t have stains, we just don’t see them as easily.

Some breeds also have a genetic disposition to them.

Many smaller, long haired breeds have prevalent tears stains. These include Maltese and Toy Poodles, Shih Tzu, and Pekingese breeds. Mixed-breed dogs that have an ancestry of these breeds may also have suffer from tear stains.

Many brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds suffer from eye irritation. This is because of their shallow eye sockets, causing their eyes to protrude. In some cases it causes eyelids to not close properly. If that happens, the sensitive eyes are at risk of become irritated, dry, or damaged.

Breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Poodles are among breeds that suffer from imperforate puncta. This condition causes the drainage holes near their eyes to drain improperly. Imperforate puncta can cause a constant build-up of tears, leading to stains.

How do you clean tear stains?

You will need a clean cloth and your VetMed Eye Wash on hand. Simply dampen your cloth and gently wipe at the tear stains. Because of the staining effect of the porphyrin, it may take several days or weeks to see a lightening of the colouring.

Do not use hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or makeup remover on your dogs face or near their eyes.  It is not safe and can cause harm to your pet.

Preventing tear stains

Because there are so many reasons behind epiphora and tear stains, it is always best to consult a veterinarian. Your veterinarian should be able to diagnose and suggest a treatment plan.

  • If the cause is allergies, your dog may be prescribed a change of diet or antihistamines.
  • Problems like entrotopion may require surgery to correct.
  • Stress-induced problems may require lifestyle changes like more exercise.
  • An eye or an ear infection may require antibiotics or other oral medication.

In the case of irritants, flushing the eye will help with the production of tears. To learn more about cleaning your dog’s eyes, read our full length article here.

Wiping tears frequently will also stop the build up of porphyrin. In turn, this will reduce the staining effect of the pigment.

If you need to order your VetMed Eye Wash or any of our other products, click here.