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essential tips

How to clean your dog’s tear stains

Some dog breeds are more prone to tear stains than others. Learn what causes these marks and how to prevent them.

Updated September 29, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,
chihuahua dog tear stains

The essentials

  • Tear stains are normal at certain points in a dog’s life — But not always, so it’s important to identify the cause for your dog’s tear stains.
  • Tear stains can be more prevalent in certain breeds — White-coated breeds suffer from tear stains the most.
  • Clean with care — A dog’s eye area is sensitive, so it’s important to be careful when you get rid of tear stains.
  • Food, water, and hygiene are key — A healthy diet and good hygienic care may prevent your dogs from developing tear stains in the future.

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.

Tear stains typically occur when the tear ducts don’t drain properly. They should drain away from the eye instead of over the eye and onto the face. Most of the time, tear stains are nothing to worry about and are instead just an aesthetic problem. But sometimes, tear stains from excessive tear production can be the sign of an underlying issue.

👉Tears are important to a dog’s health. They aid in vision and provide a dog’s eyes with nutrients.

Some breeds are more prone to tear stains

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

  • Maltese
  • Shih tzus
  • Pugs
  • Poodles
  • Bichon frisé
  • Bulldogs

Causes of tear stains 

  • Fur color. White or light-haired fur makes tear stains more visible.
  • Eye infections. Infections in the eye such as canine conjunctivitis can cause excessive tear production, gunk, or watery eyes that stain the fur. Especially brownish stains may be a sign of a fungal or yeast infection.
  • Glaucoma. This eye disease causes excess tear production in addition to pain for your pup. Look out for your dog’s display of pain.
  • Shallow eye sockets. Brachycephalic (short-snouted) dogs often have shallow eye sockets. This causes the eyes to struggle to contain tears and makes them spill onto the skin instead.
  • Hair growth around the eye area. Tear stains may be more likely due to hair growth (and ingrown hairs or ingrown eyelashes) around the eyes. This is one of the reasons dog grooming is important.
  • Eye injury. An abrasion to the eye or previous surgery can cause excess tearing.
  • Tear duct obstruction or blocked tear duct. This can occur as a birth defect, due to inflammation, if foreign material gets in the duct, or if there is a tumor blocking the duct.

👉 You may notice accompanying discharge, redness, or itching in the eyes along with your dog’s tear stains. These symptoms should prompt a trip to the vet.

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A three-step treatment for safe removal of dog tear stains

If you’ve come to the conclusion that your dog’s tear stains are due to harmless causes, you can clean the stains around their eyes at home. If you’re not up for using one of the home remedies, there are also great store-bought products.

1. Pick your product or cleaning solution

  • Apple cider vinegar. Mixing equal parts water and equal parts apple cider vinegar is a soothing way to clean around your dog’s eye area. It has plenty of other benefits, like calming itchiness and preventing bacterial infections. You can also drop a bit in their water bowl for drinking and to balance out pH levels.
  • Milk of magnesia. Milk of magnesia mixed with a bit of cornstarch makes an effective cleaning and drying solution for tear stains.
  • Hydrogen peroxide. Soak a cotton pad or washcloth in hydrogen peroxide distilled with water. You can add a bit of cornstarch to make a paste to be applied with a clean hand. If you’re using this solution, take extra care so that you don’t get it into your dog’s eyes.
  • Wipes. There are some great wipes on the market for cleaning your dog’s eyes. We like Angel’s Eyes Gentle Tear Stain Wipes because they use ingredients like juniper berry oil.
  • Drops. Eye drops can come in handy for dogs too. This Burt’s Bees dog tear stain remover has chamomile and dandelion extracts which help to break up bacteria causing tear stains.

⚠️Your vet may prescribe antibiotics. This is usually a last resort due to the possibility that it causes bacterial resistance.

2. Apply your product

Whenever you clean the area around your dog’s eyes, you should do so with care. Make sure the dog’s eye area is dry by dabbing it with a cotton ball.

Cotton pads are also ideal for soaking with your chosen cleaning solution and you should always be sure not to get anything in their eyes. Placing a dog on a table or other surface may help to get them in a comfortable position for cleaning.

👉 There are some helpful techniques to keep in mind when cleaning your dog’s tear stains. Using an eyebrow brush can be a great way to gently remove hardened build-up.

3. Repeat accordingly

You may have to clean your dog’s eyes several times before you notice a significant improvement in their tear stains.

Prevention

You should always make sure the area around your dog’s eyes is clean and dry. You should also bathe your dog regularly, take them for vet visits, and make sure to trim and clean the fur around their eyes.

There are a few things you should keep tabs on to prevent tear stains in the future.

Food. Make sure your dog’s diet includes healthy fiber and high-quality ingredients. This will decrease the likelihood of an allergic reaction.

Water. When dogs drink water from sources outside the home, like water bottles or other dog’s bowls, they may contain minerals that irritate a dog’s eyes. Give your dog purified or distilled water. In most cases, tap water is fine. We recommend using a stainless-steel bowl for their drinking water.

Hygiene. Grooming around your dog’s face and best hygiene practice goes a long way. Long hair can cause more build-up from excessive tearing around the eye area.

👉 Wipe your dog’s mouth after they drink water. You can also dust a bit of cornstarch around the eyes and muzzle to help with matting.

Frequently asked questions

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

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

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

Be patient. Different products and methods work for different dogs with tear staining. Dog owners should experiment with a few different cleaning methods for tear stain removal and be sure not to use any harsh chemicals. Make sure to speak to your vet about solutions if the issue seems chronic.

👉 Regularly flushing your dog’s eyes is a great practice for tear stain prevention. Ask your groomer or vet for advice.