Dog Tear Stains: Causes and How to Avoid Them

By Clearvoice / June 12, 2018
white brown dog with red dog eye patch aka epiphoria

If you have a small breed dog or a white dog, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with dog tear stains. These are the brown or reddish-brown stains that develop around your pet’s eyes. When you have a pup with tear stains, you may need to frequent the groomer more often to get rid of them.

Most dog breeds have small holes beneath the eye that drain away tears called a nasolacrimal duct. But, certain breeds can’t drain excessive tears because of shallow eye sockets. That’s why so many small dog breeds have tear stains.

For the most part, tear stains are completely normal for some breeds as long as there’s no underlying health issue. Let’s get more into what tear stains are, what breeds have them, and what causes them.

Dog Tear Stain Causes

So, here’s the thing. Our cute, little dogs come from centuries of selective breeding. This breeding process has resulted in dogs with short noses and protruding eyes that, while very cute, have crooked tear ducts. Because of this, some of these breeds have excessive tearing.

Excessive tearing is the main reason for dog tear stains. This occurs for similar reasons to humans. There could be allergies, irritations, genetics, or an infection. It’s important to rule some of these causes out with your veterinarian so your dog can get treatment if it is indeed an infection.

However, if your pet suffers from allergies, they will also show other symptoms like itchy skin, redness, and eye discharge.

Another factor for excessive tearing in dogs is sharp hairs near the eyes causing irritation. If this is the case, a groomer can carefully trim these unruly hairs.

Also, puppies will generally have more tear stains. As your pup reaches maturity, tear staining will lessen in some breeds.


For most dogs, tear stains are caused by excessive tearing or insufficient drainage. This is referred to as Epiphora. It’s basically like when your own eye is irritated and starts to tear up. The eye is trying to flush away the irritant.

But, with Epiphora the eyes water constantly and drain down into your pup’s fur, causing red or brown tear stains.

white poodle with teary eyes

Other Medical Causes

Some other medical causes for dog tear stains are:

  • Glaucoma or other eye disease
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Ingrown eyelashes
  • Eye infection
  • Unusually large tear glands
  • Unusually small tear duct opening
  • Ear infection
  • Inverted eyelid
  • Teething in puppies
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke

Breeds With Dog Tear Stains

All dogs get tear stains. It happens. But, tear stains are most noticeable on dogs with white fur. There are a lot of variables for which breeds tear the most, but it comes down to breeds with shallow eye sockets. These breeds just don’t have a way to drain all the excess tears.

Three of the most common dogs effected are Poodles, Maltese, and Bichons.

White Dog Breeds

White dogs display the most tear stains. You can often notice them as brown or reddish stains around the eyes. Yes, it just so happens that a lot of cute, small breed dogs with shallow eye sockets are white. Genetics combined to make them particularly adorable but alas, tear stains are a side effect.

White Poodle

One great dog breed we all love are white poodles. White poodles are sweet, highly trainable, and intelligent. That’s why they are so dearly loved! But, you guessed it, their beautiful white coat also makes them the number one candidate for tear stains! Totally worth it though.

White Maltese

The cute white maltese is a highly lovable breed of toy dog. The white Maltese is playful, curious, and clever as well as being adorably tiny. But, and I think you already where I’m going with this, these little balls of fluff are also owners of dog tear stains.

Maltese Bichon

A Maltese Bichon is a darling mix of Bichon Frise and Maltese and a quickly growing toy breed favorite. They are highly intelligent. loyal, and sweet little guys. In fact, Bichon Frise are so trainable, they were kept by Circus performers in the 1800s and trained to perform!

If you are going to get one for yourself just know, they too have tear stains.

pup with angel eyes for dogs

Other Breeds Affected

Here are some other breeds that are effected by tear stains:

  • Shih Tzu
  • Pekingese
  • Havanese
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pug
  • Boston Terrier

What are Tears Made Of

When we think of tears, we oftentimes think of them as being salty. But, dog tear stains are actually caused by some other pesky ingredients. The kind that stain your pet’s fur are made up of one of two things.

Either, they are an accumulation of a pigment called Porphyrin, which is found in tears or they are a buildup of yeast. Let’s get into it.


Most dog tear stains are caused by dye molecules called porphyrins. Porphyrins are iron-containing molecules. They are usually excreted from the body through the intestinal tract but dogs excrete porphyrins through, you guessed it, tears.

When tears that contain porphyrin drip onto the fur, stains occur. Not to mention, these iron containing stains will intensify after exposure to sunlight! All dog breeds produce porphyrin, but it’s most noticeable on white dog breeds.

Stains caused from porphyrin will usually have a reddish hue to them.

These stains can be avoided by keeping your pet’s face porphyrin free. This means keeping the fur around the eyes trimmed. You can also wipe your pet’s face with a damp wash cloths twice a day to wash away the tears.

Yeast Infection

If your pet’s tear stains are more brown than red, your pet probably has a yeast infection. This can happen because the fur on your pet’s face is constantly wet with tears. You can also tell when tear stains are from yeast because your pet’s face will be smelly. That’s the easiest way to tell.

It’s important to know the distinction because you don’t want to be treating tear stains with the wrong method.

water for dog tear stains

How to Get Rid of Dog Tear Stains Safely

There are a lot of natural ways to help improve your pup’s tear stains.

  • Wiping your pet’s face twice a day with a damp, warm, washcloth is a way to avoid tear staining
  • Replace your pet’s plastic bowls with porcelain or stainless steal. Plastic bowls can collect bacteria that contribute to dog tear stains.
  • Feed your dog a balanced and highly nutritious diet (we prefer a species appropriate raw food diet). The more clean your dog’s diet, the less stress on their organs.
  • Switch to filtered water. Tap water can be high in iron and other impurities that aren’t good for your pet.

But, if these methods aren’t cutting it, there are other natural ways to help dog tear stains.

Homemade Antibiotics

The good news is, there are a lot of natural antibiotics that fight tear staining. Natural antibiotics are derived naturally from herbs, plants, and essential oils. They have natural antibiotic and anti-fungal qualities. Two that are effective for dog tear stains are coconut oil and colloidal silver.

Colloidal Silver

Colloidal silver is microscopic silver particles in a liquid base. It combats fungus, bacteria, and parasites and helps fight against tear stains. It is a great, natural way to remove tear stains.

Cleaning you pet’s face with colloidal silver is very effective. Just apply a little to a cotton ball and wipe around your pup’s eyes. Colloidal silver reduces yeast infections that occur in the corners of the eye and guess what? You can buy it at most health food stores.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil not only helps to eliminate tear stains but it is also completely safe to use around your pet’s eyes. It’s a natural stain remover! Just blot away any moisture from the area around your pup’s eye. Once you’ve gotten it as dry as possible, use clean hands to massage a little coconut oil under your pet’s eyes.

Coconut oil fights tear stains in two ways. First, coconut oil is water resistant so it doesn’t allow tears to soak into fur. Secondly, it naturally fights yeast and bacteria to avoid more stains forming.


NaturVet is a natural product that fights tear stains. While it doesn’t include any Tylosin, an anti-biotic, it’s best to avoid giving your pet on a daily basis. It is water based and helps to gently remove stains from your pet’s fur.

There’s nothing harmful about it so it could be worth a try!

pup with dog red eyes/epiphora

Avoid List for Dog Tear Stains

There are some suggestions floating around the internet to clear up dog eye stains. The one’s we would avoid are:

  • Tums
  • Makeup remover
  • Topical apple cider vinegar
  • Corn syrup
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Gold bond
  • Milk of magnesium
  • Dish soap
  • Whitening shampoos

These things can cause irritation to your pet’s eyes so they should be avoided.

Angel Eyes for Dogs

Angel eyes for dogs are soft chews that can be effective in fighting tear stains. They use antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients and reduce oxidation through tear ducts. Angel Eyes kills off yeast as well. But, it contains an antibiotic and must be used everyday in order to be effective.

The active antibiotic ingredient is Tylosin. Tylosin is safe but using it on a daily basis isn’t recommended. Daily antibiotics lead to side effects like vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and loss of appetite.

Generally, it’s not a good idea to put your pet on a daily antibiotic for most of it’s life just to get rid of tear stains. In fact, we think your pup is cute even with stained fur!

Dog Tear Stains: Final Thoughts

Overall, there’s a lot that can be done to help with dog tear stains. I tend to lean towards the natural remedies unless the problem worsens. And, it’s always a good idea to have a veterinarian look at your pup if you aren’t quite sure!

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