What Causes Tear Stains and How To Treat Them

Tear stains on a dog can turn into an unsightly mess—here’s how to treat them.

I’ve got a light-colored dog and one of my biggest pet peeves is dealing with tear stains on a daily basis. Not only do they look bad, but they can smell, too! This is a common concern for many pet parents and we’ve just come to the conclusion that there’s nothing to be done.

But wait—there are ways to deal with tear stains. We need to go over some of the causes of this problem first, followed by a couple of homemade grooming solutions that will ease the stain and smell.

Causes of Tear Staining

There are a number of reasons that lead to tear staining. It can be caused by the irritation of an ingrown eyelash, an inverted eyelid, or hair growing too close to the eye. Or, it could be that your dog’s tear ducts aren’t draining properly. There are also several medical conditions that produce excessive tears, such as glaucoma and chronic eye infections.

If it turns out that the tear staining problem is due to drainage, several things that could contribute to the issue include:

  • Hair growth around the eye: Your dog’s hair grows too close to his eyes, causing irritation or blockage of the puncta (drainage holes for tears).
  • Inward-turned eyelids: Referred to as entropion, this condition leads to excessive tearing or blockage of the puncta.
  • Infection or scar tissue: Prior eye infections can lead to scar tissue that blocks the drainage of the puncta.
  • Shallow eye sockets: Some dog breeds are prone to shallow eye sockets—if the eye sockets aren’t deep enough to contain the tears, they spill onto the fur surrounding the eyes.

Because all dogs are different, causes vary from one dog to another. However, there are certain breeds that are more prone to tear staining than others. Short-faced breeds in particular are at a higher risk for staining—these breeds include Pekingese, Maltese, Pugs, and Shih Tzus. In terms of blocked tear ducts, Poodles and Cocker Spaniels seem to be the most susceptible. And of course, dogs with light or white hair or long hair on their faces have a higher risk for staining.

Finally, your dog could be suffering from environment or food allergies that cause his eyes to excessively water. Dust, pollen, gluten and smoke are common allergies that contribute to tear staining.

How to Get Rid of Tear Stains

Once you determine the cause of tear staining on your dog, you’ll find that cleaning the stains will become a lot easier. Here are a few DIY solutions that will help clear up tear stains:

  • White Vinegar/Apple Cider Vinegar: Add a teaspoon of distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water daily to increase the acidity of your dog’s body pH. Not only will it take care of tear stains, the alkalinity of your dog’s body will help to prevent bacteria or yeast infections from recurring.
  • Milk of Magnesia: In a bowl, mix equal parts milk of magnesia and hydrogen peroxide, and then add a bit of cornstarch to make a paste. Rub the paste into the stained area and let it set for four hours before thoroughly washing it out. You may need the “cone of shame” to keep your dog from rubbing it off with his paws.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Soak a cotton pad in a water-diluted hydrogen peroxide mixture (one part hydrogen peroxide with 10 parts water) and apply carefully to clean the stained area. It’s important to take your time and be careful—you don’t want to get any of the hydrogen peroxide in your dog’s eye.

Your local pet supply store should also carry a selection of herbal and all-natural tear stain removers. As with any grooming that needs to be done around your dog’s eyes, please be careful when cleaning your dog’s face to avoid getting anything into his eyes. If you don’t trust your shaky hands to the task, ask your groomer if he or she can help.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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