How to Get Rid of Stubborn Dog Tear Stains

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14 Minute Read
Updated March 14, 2022

Does your dog have dark, crusty stains under his eyes? Find out why dogs get tears stains and learn how to get rid of tear stains on dogs and keep them from coming back.

Lots of dogs get tear stains, but they often go unnoticed until they become a problem. In the beginning, tear stains may just look like a small area of damp fur under the eyes but can build up over time to cause irritating and unsightly stains on the fur. 

A regular and consistent dog grooming routine is one of the best ways to monitor your dog's eye health and catch issues early, but understanding what causes dog eye tear stains in the first place can help you prevent it from becoming a problem again. 

 

What are Dog Tear Stains?

The dog tear stains are red or brown markings under the dogs' eyes. In the early stages, tear stains are easy enough to wipe away with a dog face wipe, but over time, these stains can dye the fur and prove difficult to get rid of. 

Identifying tear stains is pretty simple, but that doesn’t really explain what they are. So what are dog tear stains? 

We call them tear stains because they are caused by your dog's tears. Tears stains are fluid from your dog's eyes that have leaked down onto the fur and discoloured it. 

Can Dogs Cry Tears?

Yes, they can, but not the kind of crying we associate with sadness. Your dog’s eyes, just like your own, create a saline-like fluid that lubricates the eye and helps to remove debris or other irritation. 

Normally, small ducts in the corners of the eye drain out this fluid once it has done its job, but when there is too much fluid, or the drainage system isn’t working correctly, the tears have nowhere to go but down. 

This moisture saturates your dog's fur, just like your tears would streak down your face if you were to cry. 

Dogs that have constant eye irritation would produce an abnormal amount of fluid to try to flush the eyes of debris and irritation. This is more than the tear ducts can remove, and would produce constant tear stains.

 

Why Do Dogs Get Tear Stains?

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Why does my dog get tear stains? If you've been asking yourself this question, then chances are your dog's tear stains have become persistent and maybe even a problem for your dog. 

The natural self-cleaning function of your dog's eyes typically won't lead to dog tear stains, but there are some factors that contribute to fur staining. The first thing to look at is which dogs are more likely to get tear stains. 

Dog tear stains may appear beneath any dog's eyes regardless of breed and size, but they are more visible on light-coloured dogs such as a Bichon Frise, Poodle, or a Cavapoochon dog

Here are some other traits that may make your dog more likely to suffer from tear stains:

    • White or light-furred dogs, like the ones mentioned above
    • Dogs with protruding eyes and congested nasal passages, like Pugs and Bulldogs
    • Dogs with long facial hair, like Schnauzers
    • Dogs prone to eye infections or cherry eye, like Boxers
    • Wrinkly dogs, like Shar Pei's
    • Dogs with dog food allergies or seasonal allergies in dogs

Research your dog's breed to find out if they are predisposed to tear stains or eye problems. 

Other reasons for tear stains are caused by what's going on inside their body. Some health conditions, like allergies or disease, can contribute to dog tear stains. Understanding what causes dog tear stains will be the first step towards treating and preventing them. 

My Dog Has Tear Stains. Should I Be Worried?

Well, it depends on the actual cause. 

Dog tear stains commonly occur due to an excess of porphyrin, a pigment that is naturally present in the dog's tears, saliva, or urine. Usually, it is the result of the porphyrin pigment in a dog's tears that cause these red/brown stains. In this case, your dog won't feel any pain, and it isn't harmful to your dog's health. 

Tear stains can become uncomfortable when the excessive moisture on the face leads to bacteria growth and infection. Additionally, dried tear stains can lead to a crusty build-up on the fur that can be itchy or irritating for your dog. 

Regular cleaning is very important when managing tear stains in dogs. 

Dog Grooming Supplies

What Causes Dog Tear Stains?

Though the tear stains or excessive pigment aren’t typically painful or dangerous for regularly groomed dogs, they could be a symptom of a bigger health issue. Here are some medical conditions that could contribute to tear stains on dogs:

Dog Eye Infections

A dog may develop a skin infection around or within the eye. There could be a couple of reasons behind the infection, such as chronic dampness or yeast. In case of an eye infection, the colour of stains would be brownish rather than red. Additionally, your dog may also show symptoms like irritation in the eyes and itchiness.

So, if you find your dog's tear stains brownish or he's scratching his eyes badly or pawing frequently, get him checked by a vet as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to give you the best treatment method for infections. 

Proper nail care can help to prevent damage from your dog's scratching. Check out How to Cut Dog Nails to learn to trim your pet's nails at home. 

Genetic Issues

Certain breeds such as Brachycephalic breeds are more likely to get tear stains under their eyes due to the shape of their face. Some of these breeds are Maltese, Pug, French Bulldog, etc. 

These breeds require more frequent grooming to prevent issues, and regular vet checks to ensure their compact sinus system is functioning properly. 

Ingrown Eyelashes

Also known as Distichiasis, it is a condition in which the dog's eyelashes are grown abnormally that irritates dogs. The lashes will cause the eye to produce extra fluid to reduce irritation, causing more and more tear staining over time.

Any breed can develop this condition, but some dog breeds such as Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, and Shih Tzu are more prone to it. There are various surgical and non-surgical treatments for this medical condition, so make sure you talk to your vet before you start treating at home. 

Entropion

Another possible eye condition that will cause excess tear production is called entropion. This is a condition that causes the eyelid to roll inward. This will cause significant tear staining, but more importantly, will be very irritating and could damage the eye. Talk to your vet immediately if you suspect any eye conditions. 

Teething

During the puppy teething process between the age of 3 weeks and 7 months, you may witness tear stains around the pup's eyes. Actually, during these 6-7 months, a heavy amount of water is discharged from the puppy's eyes because of the pressure on the tear ducts, and it causes tear stains. You shouldn't be much worried about it as it goes away after the teething period. Just maintain a regular grooming routine and monitor eye health throughout the puppy stage. 

Can Environment Cause Dog Tear Stains?

Health conditions aren't the only cause or catalyst of tear staining in dogs. External factors, like their environment, can play a role in your dog's eye health. It's important to assess your dog's environment for possible irritants before you start trying to treat dog tear stains. 

Take a look at a few environmental factors in dog tear stains:

Poor Diet

What you put in your dog will affect what comes out of them. Dogs with persistent tear staining will benefit from a higher-quality diet. Less processed and more natural foods lead to better digestion and nutrient absorption. 

Raw diets are a great example of a natural and highly digestible dog food diet that will improve eye health, help your dog better break down and utilize nutrients, and boost the immune system to fight off bacteria that contributes to eye infections in dogs. 

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Minerals in Drinking Water

Higher amounts of iron and other minerals in the water may also be the reason for the dog's tear stains. If you suspect the water has high amounts of iron or other minerals, get the water tested from a reputable water testing lab, and if found, consider giving your dog distilled or bottled water.

Smoke

Smoke may be the major reason for excessive tear discharge from the dog's eye that can result in tear stains. It can be any smoke such as from the indoor fireplace, cigarette, or industrial smoke if you live near an industrial area. Remember, the smoke may even lead to severe health problems related to the lungs and respiratory system.

In such a case, make sure there is no production of smoke indoors while there shouldn't be any open path for outdoor smoke to make it to your house. The same is in the case of dust.

Air pollutants can affect more than just your pet's eyes. Smoke and other irritants can have an impact on your pet's overall skin and coat health and respiratory health, so make sure you provide your dog with a clean and safe environment. 

Wind

If you live in a particularly windy city, you may find your dog's tear stains are worse after spending time outside. Strong winds can force tear production, and the wind can blow small pieces of debris and bacteria that irritate your dog's eyes. 

You can't change the weather, of course, but you can try to minimize the effect it has on your dog by reducing exposure to heavy winds. Stick to areas that offer cover from the wind, consider getting dog goggles, and make sure you check and clean their eyes when you come in. 

If you suspect some dirt to debris is causing your dog's eye irritation, try a dog eyewash, like Vet Worthy. This solution will flush out the eyes and remove irritants like dirt. Short term, your dog will feel better; long term, it will prevent tear staining that would have been the result of the irritation in the eye. 

 

How to Remove Dog Tear Stains

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Well, as you already know that there are several reasons behind the dog tear stains and effective ways to eliminate the root causes, next you need to get rid of these stains. But remember, if there are serious issues with your pup's eyes such as red and goopy eyes, an infection, or an excessive discharge, you should get it treated by the vet first. 

If the stains are just the result of an excess of porphyrin or non-medical conditions, you can use a tear stain remover for dogs to clean up their face and prevent future staining. 

Before trying to remove dog tear stains, make sure you have ruled out medical and environmental factors. Here’s a quick checklist.

Get your tap water tested. If it contains high levels of iron and other minerals, you should switch to distilled or bottled water for your dog.

Talk to your vet about the tear stains and have them rule out possible medical conditions. 

Consider your dog's breed and any physical traits that could contribute to tear staining.

Assess your dog’s environment and look for possible triggers. Avoid smoking, incents, air fresheners and other possible irritants for your dog’s eyes. 

Monitor your puppy throughout the teething process. Connect with your vet to make sure your dog is teething normally. 

If all the issues on the checklist are addressed, it's now time to get rid of tear stains from your dog. Check out these 5 tips for how to get rid of dog tear stains:

1. Clean Your Dog's Face Daily

Some amount of tears are inevitable, but if you diligently clean your dog's face and keep them dry, then the tears will not cause staining or irritation. Use a pet wipe or a damp, soft cloth to spot clean their face as needed. 

2. Trim the Fur Around Your Dog's Eyes

Trimming your dog's facial hair can help prevent staining, but it's also a quick fix for removing already stained fur. It’s a temporary solution, but it can help remove the stains and allow you to clean the face better each day.

Make sure the dog or puppy is calm and settled down while you trim the hair or you may hurt him instead. If you aren’t comfortable doing this yourself, then connect with a local groomer to help you out. 

3. Use Hydrogen Peroxide

Permanently stained fur can be treated with hydrogen peroxide, but you have to be very careful. Add 1 and a half teaspoons of Hydrogen Peroxide to a 4-ounce glass of water. Stir the solution and your homemade eye stain remover is ready. 

Now, apply it under your dog's eyes using a cotton ball and when it's dried, wash and rinse it with warm water. Hydrogen peroxide is a mild form of bleach, so make sure you do it carefully as to not get any in your dog’s eye or let them consume it. 

4. Use Dog Tear Stain Removers

earthbath-eye-wipesA safer option for cleaning less severe stains are dog tear stain removers and pet wipes. 

A topical tear stain remover, like Burt’s Bees Tear Stain Remover, helps to break down and remove stain-causing particles in the fur. It’s also pH balanced to prevent infection and skin irritation. Saturate a make-up pad or cotton ball and use it to wipe down the under-eye fur.

Another easy option is dog eye wipes, like these ones from Earthbath, which help get rid of stains under the dog's eyes and you can regularly use them to prevent dog tear staining. These wipes are non-toxic and chemical-free that bear no side effects on your dog's health. They are easy to use and hypoallergenic. 

5. Tear Stain Supplements

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There are various tear stain supplements for dogs available in the market. These supplements are made of natural ingredients that could help your dog in getting rid of bacteria that cause infections and stains. 

Tear stain supplements work well depending on the cause of the staining. For dogs that have tear stains caused by bacteria build-up, then Pet-Tek Tear Stain Aid is a good choice. It’s made from buttermilk powder, which has natural antimicrobial properties. 

Other natural ingredients, like apple cider vinegar, cranberry, and marshmallow root can also be effective tear stains supplements for dogs. 

For an easy-to-feed option, check out Naturvet Tear Stain Soft Chews. In addition to antimicrobial supplements like marshmallow root, this formula contains lutein and omega fatty acids to support eye health and encourage appropriate lubrication of the eye. 

Be wary of tear stain aids that contain antibiotics, unless prescribed by a vet. They can be effective but can have side effects and aren’t designed for long-term use. Talk to your vet if you aren’t sure which tear stain supplements will be safest for your dog. 

 

Dog Tear Stains FAQ's

There are a plethora of issues that are directly or indirectly related to dog tear stains but dog parents usually relate them with other problems.

My dog's eyes discharge a lot of fluid, why?

It could be because of an infection, an allergy, smoke, a foreign object in the eye, or any medical condition. If you are unable to figure it out, you should immediately see your vet.

My dog's allergies cause eye infections, how can I manage this?

To cope with the dog's eye allergy, you have to know the exact cause first. The common causes of eye allergy in dogs are dust, smoke, dander and hair, mould, grass pollen, fleas, and even some medications. There could be some other causes too. So, it is important to get rid of such allergens from your home and then get your dog treated by the vet.

What are the common symptoms of infections in dogs eyes?

Although your dog may show a plethora of symptoms, the most common are:

    • Red or pink eyes
    • Excessive water discharge
    • Yellowish thick and smelly eye discharge
    • Excessive blinking
    • Excessive rubbing at the eyes
    • Swollen eyes

All of these symptoms can be witnessed in one or both eyes. If you see any of these symptoms, it’s time to call your vet.

How to clean tear stains on Poodles?

You can trim the fur around your Poodle's eyes or use hydrogen peroxide to clean tear stains. Stain remover wipes are also effective in cleaning tear stains under the eyes of various breeds. The same is in the case of other dog breeds.

What are the types of dog eye discharge?

There are different types of eye discharges and each of them may have a different cause. These types are:

    • Watery eye discharge: It may be due to an allergy, a foreign object in one or both eyes, a wound, or blocked tear ducts. Certain breeds are also prone to watery eye discharge due to anatomical abnormalities.
    • White discharge: The common causes of white eye discharge are allergies, dry eyes, or conjunctivitis.
    • Yellow or greenish discharge: A bacterial infection or corneal ulcers could be the possible reason for yellow or green discharge from dog eyes.

Which dog breeds are more likely to get tear stains?

You can expect every dog to get tear stains under its eyes while certain breeds such as Shih Tzu, Pug, Poodles, Cocker Spaniel, Maltese, Boston Terrier, and several others may suffer from tear stains.

Can dog eye infections spread to humans?

Yes, several eye-related conditions can be transferred from dogs to humans and humans to dogs. So, if your dog has got an eye infection or a discharge, you should avoid having direct contact with your dog. Similarly, if you have got an infection in the eyes, you should be careful while your dog is around.

Can dog food cause tear stains?

Yes, certain foods or some ingredients in food may be the culprit behind dog tear stains. In such a case try switching your dog to some other food or talk to your vet regarding the best diet for your dog.

Dog Tear Stain Prevention

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Daily grooming is the best way to prevent tear stains on dogs. Develop a routine for cleaning and checking your dog’s eyes and face for anything out of the ordinary. Preventing a problem is always better than treating it after the fact. 

Dog tear stains are something you should not ignore as they may be a sign of a serious health problem. In worst-case scenarios, they may also lead to partial or complete blindness in dogs, it's rare though.

If you find your dog developing tear stains under the eyes, pinpoint the actual cause first and then treat it accordingly. In most cases, it is not a life-threatening condition nor does your dog feel any pain.

Don’t forget to schedule regular vet checkups, as your vet is trained to identify health issues early, and recommend the best and safest treatments.

Earthbath Pet Facial Wipes

Does your dog have tear stains? Let us know your tips and tricks for getting rid of dog tear stains in the comments below!

Written by

Sahir Farid

Sahir Farid is a passionate blogger and a dog lover who also owns The Dogs Journal. The Dogs Journal was started in 2018 with the aim to spread love and awareness about dogs.

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