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Cleaning dog tear stains

The essentials

  • Tear stains can be more prevalent in certain breeds — White-coated breeds suffer most from tear stains.
  • Clean with care — A dog’s eye area is sensitive, so be careful when removing tear stains.
  • Food, water, and hygiene are key — A healthy diet and good hygienic care may prevent your dogs from developing tear stains.

If you’ve got a light-colored dog, chances are you’ve noticed tears staining their fur. These brown tear stains appear beneath the eyes, near the muzzle, and between the toes. While not a disease itself, tear stains may indicate underlying health conditions. Here’s what pet owners need to know.

How to clean your dog’s tear stains

While mainly seen on light-colored dogs, tear stains can affect darker breeds, too — the stains will just be less visible. Dogs develop tear stains when tears containing iron particles build up and don’t drain properly. Because the tears contain iron, they result in a reddish-brown stain on your dog’s fur. Here’s the best way to approach cleaning them.

1. Deep clean

A visit to a professional dog groomer to deep clean your dog’s tear stains is one of the best ways to set a clean slate for managing them. Certain products specially formulated for cleaning their eyes can prevent buildup and remove light tear stains. These come in wipes, eye rinses, and drops. Before starting any treatment, speak with your veterinarian. They can recommend safe products and the best way to clean your dog’s eyes.

2. Trim hair

Proper grooming and hygiene is an essential step in preventing stains. Maintaining the fur around their eyes and nose can help reduce debris and moisture build-up. Trim the hair and keep it as short as possible to help prevent build-up, gunk, and matting. While you can do this at home, a professional groomer can safely trim around sensitive areas like the eyes and the nose. Professional grooming is especially important for dogs with long hair.

3. Daily hygiene maintenance

Establishing a daily hygiene routine of cleaning your dog’s face can help manage tear stains. Use a warm washcloth daily to gently wipe around their eyes, nose, and mouth. Use eye-cleaning solutions, wipes, or rinses that are safe and vet-approved to stay ahead of staining.

Tear staining needs regular cleaning, and establishing a daily routine can help tackle fur staining before it becomes hard to remove. After cleaning, it’s crucial to dry the areas thoroughly to avoid bacterial infections — this is especially true for wrinkly breeds or dogs with more facial folds.

4. Figure out the cause

Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of excessive tearing can help pet owners properly manage and care for tear stains. Excessive tearing may indicate environmental and dietary factors, glaucoma, allergies, stress, narrow or blocked tear ducts, and eye issues. Certain breeds are also more prone to excessive tearing. Pinpointing specific triggers that affect your dog can help you manage and treat it appropriately.

5. Know when to see the vet

Aside from regular veterinary check-ups, if your dog’s tearing doesn’t improve or worsen even with routine cleaning and adjustments to their diet and environment, it’s time to see a vet. Your vet can perform tests, diagnose certain conditions, and check your dog’s eyes. Your dog may be in discomfort and pain, and if left untreated, the condition causing their tearing may worsen.

Preventing tear stains

Preventing your dog’s tear stains is not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, both grooming and environmental management can help. This multifaceted approach involves knowing what causes tear stains, adjusting environmental and dietary factors, and maintaining a regular grooming routine.

What causes tear stains

Preventing tear stains is a lot easier if you know the cause. Aside from easy visibility on a light-colored coat, certain breeds are more prone to excess tearing. Brachycephalic or flat-nosed breeds have shallower eye sockets than other breeds, making the eyes unable to contain tears, which spill onto the skin instead.

Conditions like canine conjunctivitis or fungal infections can also lead to excessive tear production and brown stains. Another cause is an eye disease like glaucoma , which increases tearing and pain. But with glaucoma, you’ll also notice symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, swelling of the eye, or a cloudy cornea.

Excessive hair growth around the eyes, ingrown hairs, and eyelashes also exacerbate the issue. Hereditary tear duct obstructions , inflammation, foreign materials, and tumors can lead to excessive tearing. Identifying and addressing the underlying cause can help you effectively prevent, manage, and treat your dog’s tear stains.

Look at the dog food quality

Your dog’s food quality plays a bigger role than you may think. Food allergies and sensitivities can produce an immune response in dogs, including watery eyes — a primary component of tear staining. The inflammation from allergies can also obstruct the tear ducts. When they become blocked, the overflow of tears stains around the eyes. Identifying and removing allergenic foods from your dog’s diet can help reduce these symptoms and prevent tear staining.

Check your water quality

When dogs drink water from sources outside the home, like water bottles or other dog bowls, they may contain minerals that irritate your dog’s eyes. Give your dog purified or distilled water. In most cases, tap water is fine. Always make sure they have access to clean drinking water. We recommend using a stainless-steel bowl for their drinking water since it’s non-porous. Plastic bowls can crack and develop bacteria, contributing to poor water quality and your dog’s tears.

Stay on top of hygiene and grooming

Grooming around your dog’s face and best hygiene practices goes a long way. Long hair can cause more build-up from excessive tearing around the eye area. You should always make sure the area around your dog’s eyes is clean and dry. Having tear-stain wipes on hand can help with quick wipe-downs to keep the area clean.

What are tear stains? 

Have you ever noticed red or brown stains under or around one or both of your dog’s eyes? Have they even started to smell bad? The stained area is probably especially noticeable if you have a white dog.

Tears are essential to a dog’s health. They aid in vision and provide a dog’s eyes with nutrients. Tear stains typically occur when the tear ducts don’t drain properly. They should drain away from the eye instead of under it and onto the face. Most of the time, tear stains are nothing to worry about and are just an aesthetic problem. But sometimes, tear stains from excessive tear production can indicate an underlying issue.

Probiotics may help prevent tear stains by promoting good gut health and reducing the number of porphyrins needing elimination. Poor-quality foods can cause gut imbalances, contributing to excess porphyrin production. You can reduce porphyrin production and lessen tear stains by feeding your dog good-quality food with fewer carbohydrates and high-quality ingredients.

Due to the structure of some dogs’ heads and eyes, they may have tear stains more frequently. These dog breeds include:

There’s more to tear staining than meets the eye. By getting to the root cause, like food allergies, environmental and dietary factors, and anatomical issues, you can reduce their occurrence and manage them with the right treatment. Preventive measures like daily grooming, a high-quality diet, and regular vet visits can help keep their eyes healthy and stain-free. Working with your vet can help you identify and address the underlying conditions contributing to excessive tearing.

Frequently asked questions

When should I take my dog to the vet for their tear stains?

Always take your dog to see your vet if you suspect an underlying health issue or medical condition. If they experience symptoms like eye discharge, pain, or redness, make a vet appointment.

Why won’t my dog’s tear stains go away?

Be patient. Some products and methods may or may not work for dogs with tear staining. Dog owners should experiment with a few different cleaning methods for tear stain removal and avoid harsh chemicals. Speak with your vet about the best way to treat your dog’s specific issues.

What do groomers use to get rid of tear stains?

Groomers use specifically formulated products to remove tear stains. They’ll also recommend ways to care for, manage, and prevent tearing and build-up at home.

What causes brown tear stains in dogs?

Iron-containing porphyrin molecules cause the reddish-brown discoloration you’ll see from tearing. Porphyrins are removed through digestion, saliva, and tears.

How often should I clean my dog’s tear stains?

You should clean your dog’s tears twice a day. You can use a damp cloth or tear-specific products to remove excess tears and reduce the buildup and accumulation of debris and gunk. Regular grooming appointments can also help maintain the fur around your dog’s eyes and nose.