Overhead view of a white Chihuahua with tear stains

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Dog tear stains are discolorations on their fur near the eyes. Known as “angel eyes,” some breeds are more prone to them than others.1 Tear staining on dogs is preventable for the most part, and they’re usually not dangerous, but they can signify an underlying health or lifestyle issue that can be dangerous. 

If you notice your dog’s tear stains worsening, consult a vet for examination and diagnosis to find the underlying cause. 

Tear stains are typically caused by an overproduction of tears

What Causes Tear Stains On Dogs?

Understanding the common causes of dog tear stains can help determine when it’s time to take them to the vet. Generally, some breeds are prone to tear stains, such as Maltese, Poodles, and Shih Tzus.2 

Tear stains are more noticeable in dogs with light-colored or white fur. These stains typically occur when there’s an overproduction of tears, a condition known as epiphora.1 Causes of tear staining can include the following: 

  • Porphyrin: Porphyrin is a pigment excreted in tears and other bodily fluids and can be responsible for stain coloring.2
  • Genetics: As we’ve mentioned, certain breeds are predisposed to tear stains, including brachycephalic dogs, because of the shape of their head and shallowness of the eye socket, which can cause the accumulation of tears and improper draining of the ducts.2 
  • Environment: Environmental causes of dog tear stains include adverse reactions to plastic and allergies, which can affect the eyes and lead to excessive tear production. In addition, since iron is transformed into porphyrin, water with more iron in it can exacerbate the issue.2 
  • Eye, skin & ear Infections: Like humans, dogs can get eye infections like conjunctivitis. Additionally, skin infections around the eye may cause discoloration, making it appear like the dog has tear stains. For example, yeast infections near the eye can have the same brown appearance as stains.2 These infections can cause blocked tear ducts affecting the tears’ ability to drain properly. Ear infections can also cause drainage to leak out, resulting in tear staining.
  • Poor diet & water: What goes into your dog’s body can affect their tear production and discoloration of fur or hair. Additionally, water with higher concentrations of iron and other minerals can lead to discoloration. 
  • Lash and duct abnormalities: Dogs can have lash and duct abnormalities that affect tear production, especially if they have eyelids that fold inward or clog their tear ducts.2 
  • Eye conditions: Eye conditions like glaucoma can cause inflammation and fluid buildup in the eye that result in discharge and tear stains. 

Breeds that are most prone to tear staining

Which Breeds Are More Prone To Tear Staining? 

Several breeds are prone to tear staining because of their genetics. While dogs with darker fur can get tear stains, they’re more common and noticeable in dogs with lighter or white fur. However, any dog can get tear stains. The breeds more prone to tear staining include the following: 

  • Brachycephalic dogs
  • Poodles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Dachshunds
  • Pekingese
  • Maltese
  • Bichon Frise

The reason these breeds are more prone to tear staining vary. For example, poodles may be predisposed to tear stains because they’re prone to tear duct abnormalities and have long, white facial hair. Meanwhile, flat-faced brachycephalic breeds are prone to tear stains because they have a shorter distance between the eyes and nose and round bulging eyes that often produce more tears. 

How To Clean Dog Tear Stains

Tear stains may seem like an aesthetic problem, but because there are many different potential causes, you should always have your pet examined by a vet to ensure tear stains aren’t a symptom of a more serious health condition, such as an eye infection or glaucoma. 

Ultimately, tear stains tell you that your dog is producing more tears or that those tears aren’t draining properly, which could indicate a medical condition or a need for better grooming.1 

Cleaning your dog’s tear stains as soon as possible and often can prevent the stain from worsening by removing dirt, debris, and bacteria from around the eye. Unfortunately, if the stain has set in, it will be harder to remove by wiping alone. Instead, you may have to trim deeply stained areas and keep the area clean as the fur grows back. 

If your pet has been diagnosed with an underlying health condition, treating it will help remove tear stains on dogs over time. For example, suppose your dog experiences tear stains due to allergies. In that case, your vet may suggest allergy treatment via medication, to prevent the overproduction of tears as a response to certain environmental allergens like dust or smoke. Once your vet gives your dog a clean bill of health, you can choose between a variety of dog tear stain removers, including the following: 

  • Eye wipes: Tear stain wipes make it easy to remove tear stains on dogs without putting them in a bathtub. They’re a no-mess solution for pet parents who can easily wipe away stains by rubbing underneath and around the eye. The main benefit of eye wipes for dogs is that they’re easy to use and don’t make a mess because they don’t require rinsing. 
  • Liquid solutions: Besides eye wipes, you can use liquid eye rinses that remove irritants, mucous, and bacteria from your dog’s eyes with regular use. They also break down and dissolve eye crust and discharge, making them effective at relieving tear stains due to allergies. When using eye rinses, thoroughly dry the skin and fur to prevent further staining. 
  • Supplements: Tear stain supplements aim to prevent and eliminate tear stains on dogs by providing them with the essential vitamins they need for optimal eye health. These supplements are marketed to reduce discoloration and may offer antimicrobial benefits to prevent infections. 

Be careful around the eyes when you give your dog a bath. You should never use shampoo near their eyes, nose, or mouth because it can cause irritation or contain potentially harmful ingredients. Instead, only use products designed for eyes, such as eye rinses. 

Tips to prevent tear stains

3 Tips To Prevent Dog Tear Stains

Removing tear stains in dogs is relatively easy, but you should try to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Of course, not all dog tear stains are preventable, but you may be able to reduce their appearance or eliminate them by following these tips: 

  • Practice good grooming & hygiene: Dogs most prone to tear stains are those with long, white fur around their eyes. Depending on the severity of the tear stains, you may need to use eye wipes daily. In addition, you should keep the fur around your dog’s eyes trimmed to avoid irritation and excess tearing.2 
  • Consider food & water quality: Low-quality food and water can contribute to dog tear stains. The diet best for your dog will depend on their life stage and overall health, but you can talk to your vet about the types of kibble or wet food that can prevent tear stains. In addition to food quality, you should consider the water you give your dog daily. Not all tap water is created equal, and water with too much iron can make your dog’s tear stains more noticeable.3 If your dog has tear stains, consider giving them filtered water or investing in a pet drinking fountain to filter their water and remove any excess minerals.
  • Talk to your vet: Remember, only your vet can determine the cause of your dog’s tear stains. Therefore, if you notice they’ve worsened or your dog experiences any other signs of eye infections or conditions, you should take them to the vet for examination as soon as possible. Tear stains can be a symptom of a serious eye problem, so don’t wait to get your pooch the help they need as soon as you notice a change in their tear stains. 

FAQs

Is it normal for dogs to have tear stains on their eyes?

Tear stains are a common dog problem, especially for certain breeds. However, while normal for some, they can indicate more serious health issues in others. Allergies, eye infections, eye conditions, poor diet, and genetics can cause tear stains. Unfortunately, you won’t know the cause of your dog’s tear stains until a vet examines them. 

If your dog experiences any other symptoms, such as cloudy eyes, take them to the vet as soon as possible for examination and treatment. While tear stains are more common in some breeds, they can affect dogs of all shapes and sizes. However, dogs experiencing other symptoms may have more serious underlying health conditions, such as glaucoma. 

Do tear stains mean my dog is sad?

Tear stains don’t mean your dog is crying like a human might when they’re unhappy. Instead, tear staining occurs because of an overproduction of tears or the improper draining of the tear ducts, which can occur for various reasons. 

In most cases, tear stains are genetic and caused by tear duct issues due to the shape of your dog’s face and eye sockets. Additionally, some breeds are prone to eye conditions that can cause staining, while others have white fur that makes staining more noticeable. 

Unfortunately, you can’t determine if your dog is sad because they produce tears. Instead, you should focus on other aspects, such as their body language and behavior.

How do groomers get rid of tear stains?

Groomers can get rid of tear stains in several ways to remove the discoloration. Unfortunately, if the underlying cause of your dog’s tear stains isn’t resolved, they’ll likely return. Depending on your dog’s breed and fur, groomers may clip the stained fur from around their eyes before grooming. They’ll also use eye solution and gentle cleanser on the fur to remove the stain. 

If the stains have set in, it can be difficult for your groomer to completely remove them in one session. However, they can suggest their favorite dog tear stain remover to help you further remove the stains at home. 

Side view of a white poodle with tear stains

Final Notes

Dog tear stains are not typically a medical emergency as long as your dog isn’t experiencing any other symptoms of eye irritation or vision problems. However, if your dog’s tear stains worsen or appear suddenly, talking to a vet can provide peace of mind and ensure you’re armed with the right information to reduce and prevent them. 

Dutch provides pet parents with easy access to pet care to help them diagnose underlying conditions that can contribute to excessive tear production and stains. Additionally, our vets can recommend products that remove stains and support your dog’s eye health. Try Dutch today.
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References

  1. “Professionally and Safely Treating Dog Eye Tear Stains.” Merryfield School of Pet Grooming, 20 Oct. 2017, https://www.merryfield.edu/treating-dog-eye-tear-stains/

  2. “Treating and Preventing Dog Tear Stains.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/treating-and-preventing-dog-tear-stains

  3. “Dog Tear Stains: How to Prevent & Clean Them.” American Kennel Club, 11 Feb. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/tear-stains-prevent-and-clean/

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $7/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.