What are tear stains?
Tear stains are the gunk that accumulates under your dog’s eyes over time, referred to as epiphoria in medical terms.
Tears are natural in dogs, they help to lubricate their eyes and carry away any dirt as they drain out of the eye via the tear ducts. There are two reasons that your dog may have tear stains: excessive tears or insufficient drainage of tears.
Excessive tears can result from any irritants or infections in your dog’s eyes. Common examples of these are allergies, inverted eyelashes or conjunctivitis. These conditions should be seen & treated by a veterinarian.
Insufficient drainage of tears happens because of short tear ducts or improperly-shaped tear ducts. This results in tears spilling from your dog’s eyes and staining the surrounding area. In other words, this happens because of your dog’s genetics, likely a result of decades of selective breeding. While there is no way to “fix” this type of genetic problem, there are ways to clean tear stains and make sure your dog is comfortable throughout the process. This will be the focus of this article.
Certain breeds of dogs will have more pronounced tear stains, specifically the Poodle, Maltese, Shih Tzu, Bichon Frise, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Havanese, Lhasa Apso and Pekingese. You might notice some common characteristics among these breeds – light-colored fur, short snouts or protruding eyes.
Should I be worried about my dog’s tear stains?
All dogs with excessive tearing and stains around their eyes should see a veterinarian first to check if they have any eye irritants or infections. If a veterinarian rules out these conditions, you’re in the safe zone.
Often tear stains are mainly a cosmetic issue because it makes your dog look sad. Less commonly, when the tear stains become excessive, it can cover a portion of your dog’s eye and blur his vision, or can make him otherwise uncomfortable.
How to clean tear stains – the natural way
- Clean his face – this is the simplest way to get rid of tear stains, and can be accomplished easily with just a damp cloth. Carefully wipe the gunk off your dog’s face once a day, it can be part of his morning grooming routine. This method is safe and can be done more than once a day if needed.
- Trim the hair around his eyes – this is another simple method to minimize tear staining. Any tears than spill from the eyes will have less to stain if the fur around the eyes is kept trimmed. This can be done at home once a week; if you’re not confident enough to do it yourself or have an uncooperative dog, regular monthly grooming should do the trick.
- Filtered water – give your dog filtered drinking water instead of tap or mineral water. The actual “stain” is because of iron in his tears. Filtered water will have less iron than tap or mineral water, and may have a direct effect on the amount of tear stains your dog will have.
- Quality of food – feed your dog a healthy, balanced diet of whole dog food. This will have an overall benefit on your dog’s health, and may also decrease the amount of tear staining.
How to clean tear stains – commercial products
There are a lot of products available on the market and a lot of homemade solutions on the internet that claim to clear up or lighten tear stains, including:
- hydrogen peroxide
- corn starch
- zinc oxide
- apple cider or white vinegar
- dish soap
- makeup remover
- contact lens cleaning solution (boric acid)
- vitamin C
- any over-the-counter eye cleansers or eye drops
The DOGPWND does not recommend using any of these commercial products. As mentioned above, tear stains are mainly a cosmetic issue (once cleared by a vet), so these commercial products are unnecessary and may even cause a deep irritation if they get in your dog’s eyes accidentally.
Some commercial products that don’t irritate the eye and have been claimed to clear up or lighten tear stains include mineral (coconut) oil and saline solution. Using either of these will be a judgment call on the dog owner’s part. However, considering that using a damp cloth is quite effective, we don’t see the need for using these products in most cases.
- If the stains around your dog’s eyes are yellow or green (resembling pus), or if your dog’s eyes are red, your dog may have an eye infection and it’s time to see a vet.
- Puppies generally produce more tears, especially while they’re teething. You can expect this to decrease as they age
- The iron that causes staining is found in a dog’s tears, but also in his saliva and urine. This may be evident as reddish stains on a dog’s paws after he’s been licking it
- Avoid using plastic food bowls; instead use silver or glass bowls. Plastic bowls develop cracks in them over time and can become home to bacteria or fungi. This may lead to eye irritation.