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Managing Tear Staining

What causes tear staining?

Tear staining is caused by the overflow of tears running onto the hair below the inner corner of the eye causing a brown/pink stain.  The colour change is due to the reaction that occurs between the tears and the normal bacteria and yeast that live on the skin and hair in that area. It shows up particularly obviously on dogs with light-coloured or white coats.

The most common is conformation of the dog’s face. Normally the tears would be drained away from the eyes via small ducts called “tear ducts” that drain into the nose (this is the reason your nose runs when you cry). If the eye sockets are too shallow, the eye will stretch the eyelid, so tears will not drain into the tear ducts and down into the nose. Some examples of breeds commonly affected are the Maltese Terrier, Shih-tzu, and Pug.

Excessive tear production can also occur if the tear ducts are blocked due to scar tissue from previous eye infections, or abnormal development.

Entropion is a condition where the eyelids roll inwards and block the tear ducts, and the hair on the eyelids can rub on the eyeball, causing further tear production due to the severe irritation.

Long hairs from the face, or hairs growing in parts of the eyelid that they shouldn’t, will also rub on the eyeball, causing irritation, excessive tear production, discharge and long term damage to the eyeball.

The source of the problem should always be determined, and treated if necessary. Most of these conditions can be very uncomfortable or painful for your dog (you can get an idea of how painful by thinking of when you have an eyelash in your eye – imagine not being to get it out!). It is best to take your dog to your vet for an examination to ascertain whether or not the problem is just simple tear staining. This will also allow you to rule out any serious problems such as infection, and discuss possible treatment of surgically correctable problems.  

How do I remove the stains? 

There are several different stain removers available. These are designed for use around the eye, unlike most shampoos and other cleansing agents. Hownd Miracle Tear Stain Treatment is a tear stain remover popular with both professional breeders and pet owners. Frontline Pet Care Eye Cleaner is also a safe and effective tear stain cleaner, or if you prefer ready-made wipes, Petkin Jumbo Eye Wipes are a handy option. Eye cleaners should be used daily for best results. 

How can I distinguish tear staining from an eye discharge?

It’s important not to mistake an eye discharge for tear staining. Discharge from the eye can be a sign of eye disease, which may have serious implications for your pet if left untreated. If you notice any of the following it is highly advisable that you take your dog immediately to your local vet to get it checked out:

  • Yellow-green thickened discharge

  • Watery discharge

  • Blood/dark red discharge

  • A bloody discharge can sometimes be mistaken for eye staining, if in doubt get it checked out by your vet.