Like their owners, every dog gets eye boogers – it’s a canine social equalizer of sorts. However, how much they tear and what color the tears are can exacerbate the problem into the telltale red streaks seen on far too many dogs.
Dog’s eyes water the same as humans. Usually tears accumulate while asleep, hence the endearing term ‘you have sleep in your eyes’. Dogs are the same.
Excessive tearing is the umbrella, catch all reason why one dog may have more staining then another, however, it is not the cause. For example, a cause of excessive tearing can be a blocked or infected tear duct or an ear infection while a variety of genetic factors contribute to how much the eyes tear.
Dogs with a normal eye similar to what you see in their wild cousins tend to tear less and without the typical build up of stains. Brachiocephalic breeds (breeds with a shortened muzzle and protuberant eyes), however, tend to ‘tear’ more then breeds without this genetic trait. This is probably due to the combination of a greater amount of the eyeball being exposed to the elements and the shortened, cramped sinus cavity up tight against the eye sockets.
The other genetic predisposition is dogs that do not shed their fur and are considered hypoallergenic tend to tear more then dogs that shed.
It is believed that approximately twenty percent of small dogs are born with lower and physically closed tear ducts. If your small breed puppy seems to suffer from excessive tears, have your veterinarian book a consult for you with a veterinary ophthalmologist to have this condition checked and possibly have surgery to open up the closed ducts.
Although it may seem like white or light colored dogs are more prone to tear staining, most dogs have a propensity for the red tears. Dark colored dogs just hide the problem so much better.
As dogs age they tend to produce more tears as well. However, do not assume that a sudden change or drastic increase in tear production is just part of the aging process. It is best to ask your veterinarian if there is an underlying medical cause for the change.
Dog tears tend to have a brown hue to them (in fact, if your dog has tears the colors of human ‘sleep’, there is a good chance he has an eye infection and needs to be seen by a vet). The reddish-brown is caused by a number of natural reasons as well as some less then natural things. These include an excess of minerals leaching from the body and the food coloring in most commercial dog food.
Lastly, excessive tearing can cause the fur and skin under the eyes to stay wet, causing a build up of yeast and bacteria, the most common of these being Ptyrosporin or Red Yeast.
Genetics aside, if there has been a change in how much your dog is tearing, your best option is to take them to the vet.
Preventive measures are the first step in removing tear stains from your dog’s eyes.
- From puppyhood onwards, wash your dog’s face every morning with clean water and a soft towel. This preventive cleaning helps not only keep the tear stains to a minimum, it also helps to gently get them used sitting still while having their area around their eyes washed.
- Try to keep the fur and skin under your dog’s eyes dry. Again, a soft dry towel after their morning face wash will help keep yeast and bacteria from building up.
- Read dog food labels! A dog’s palate is stimulated by smell, not looks so food dyes are put into food for our sake only. Bet pulp can also cause tears to stain more then usual.
- Filtering their water or cutting it 50/50 with distilled water does help to remove a portion of the minerals that would normally be leached out through their tears. An indicator of tap water with a higher then normal mineral content is staining around the mouth and beard as well as the eyes. However, NEVER switch their water exclusively to distilled water as some minerals are vital to the health of your pet and problems such as lowered bone density can arise. Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions.
- Irritation and allergies can cause excessive tearing so keep your dog’s hair out of their eyes with either a shorter haircut or with a barrette or pony tail (this also allows for better air flow to help keep the area dry and from yeast and bacteria from developing). If you feel your pet has environmental allergies that are contributing to excessive tearing, consult your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist for more information and possible allergy testing.
- Check for fleas! Fleas are often found around the head and eyes because they need moisture to live. The fleas then irritate the eyes, causing excessive tearing. Added to that, flea feces are made up of blood so some of the staining you are seeing could be from their waste. If you suspect your dog may have fleas, treat them with a proven flea killer available through your veterinarian.
How to Remove Tear Stains from Dog’s Eyes
If you have gone through the list above and are confident that you have found and treated the root cause of the staining, it is now time to slowly remove the old stains.
If your dog is not a show dog, the fastest fix to removing the old stained fur is to take your pet to a reputable groomer and have the stained area shaved within a few millimeters of the skin. This will also help keep the area dry and free of any bacteria or yeast while the prescribed antibiotics and/or anti-fungal medications do their thing.
For the fur that is remaining or if your dog is a show dog and cannot afford to have the fur shaved off, there are a variety of products that can help remove, or at least lessen, the staining.
Many groomers suggest using 2% peroxide mixed with a whitening shampoo and let it soak for a few minutes before rinsing. Because you are working so close to the eyes, extreme care must be taken when both applying and rinsing the product off the face. This will, however, remove a good portion of the staining. Make sure to apply conditioner to the hair afterwards, as the peroxide will dry out the fur.
There are several products on the market recommended for daily use to treat tear staining. These are often a case of ‘buyer beware’ however as some are purely liquid mixed with talc that masks the stains without actually removing them. The talc can in theory have a temporary drying effect but within a few hours you will find your dog’s eyes are tearing more due to irritation. Talk to your veterinarian about what products would work best for your dog.
The best way to remove tear stains from a dog’s eyes is by preventing them in the first place. Once you have the problem under control, stay diligent on keeping the area dry and any eye irritation to a minimum and you should have the problem solved in no time!