Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Tear staining is not life-threatening, but it can be a problem for those owners who have to deal with it. My Maltese began to show some stains around his face when he was still a puppy, and these are some of the methods I used to make the problem a non-issue.
It is more common in some breeds than in others, but Maltese, a breed with large eyes and small tear ducts, are almost always affected. If you have a Bichon, a Poodle, or a Chihuahua, it may be a problem, too.
Are these methods going to work on your dog? It is impossible to say. If tear staining were a straightforward problem, there would be an easy solution, one all dog owners could count on. But there are many different things to try, just like there usually are when a problem does not have one great solution that consistently works.
What Causes Tear Stains on Your Dog's Face?
- Allergies: The allergies can be to food, which is why some dog owners swear changing your dog´s diet will eliminate this problem.
- Diet: Dogs may also be allergic or sensitive to the dyes in some cheap foods, too, so changing the diet makes a lot of sense and does work, sometimes.
- Water: If the water has a high mineral content, it is more likely to cause stains. You can try demineralized water, and you can also train your dog to drink from a water bottle to decrease stains around his mouth.
- Teething: Tear stains may be caused by teething. Since this really is a temporary problem, it will go away without any treatment.
- Blocked tear ducts: Tear staining can be caused by blocked or tiny tear ducts. If the tears are flowing out of the eye and cause the top of the face to remain wet, your dog may develop a yeast infection, making the staining even worse. The ducts will need to be surgically repaired.
- Dust or smoke: Tear stains can also be caused by a dusty or smoky environment. If your dog's eyes are always red and inflamed she is going to tear excessively. The solution? Stop whatever is contaminating your dog's house.
How to Clean a Dog's Tear-Stained Face at Home
Some people will prefer to shave the face and remove the majority of tear buildup before starting the cleaning process.
To remove the stains, you can try several herbal products (like Pet Alive i-Clenz), regular saline, but I prefer cornstarch paste mixed with a little dilute hydrogen peroxide.
Mix a tablespoon of peroxide and a tablespoon of water with the cornstarch until it the consistency is thick and pasty. Apply the cornstarch just under your dog´s eyes, and let it dry before washing it out. You need to be careful to apply it just under the eyes, in the stained area, and never let it get to the sensitive skin inside the eye.
Peroxide can be irritating but much less so than bleach so I do never recommend you use that method.
What Are the Best Natural Methods to Control Tear Stains?
- To prevent most stains from coming back, you can add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your dog's water. If the tear staining is caused by cheap dyes in the dog food, blocked tear ducts, or teething, this method may not help.
- Some stains can be prevented by changing the diet to a more natural one. Even if you are still feeding your dog commercial food, make sure it is not contaminated with dyes, chemical flavor additives, and carbohydrates. Read the label.
- Start giving your dog filtered (not bottled!) water. This will help in some cases, especially if the water in your tap is hard.
- If there is excessive smoke in your house from a fireplace, take care of that problem. You and your dogs are going to have more serious health problems than tear staining if you do not fix it.
- If the condition does not clear up, have your dog examined by your regular vet. There is a chance that the problem is due to very small tear ducts.
- Cutting the hair around your dog´s eyes is a very temporary solution.
- Antibiotics may also help for a while, but unless you are using them to clear up an infection on your dog´s face I would not recommend them. Tear staining is ugly but it is not life threatening. If your dog is put on antibiotics long-term there are several serious side effects.
- If nothing works, learn to accept your dog. She is not a perfect piece of furniture with which you can accessorize your living room; she is a living being with potential faults. Are you so perfect?
Questions & Answers
Question: What type of peroxide do you use for removing tear stains on your dog?
Answer: Regular hydrogen peroxide, 3%. It should be diluted with water and mixed with corn starch so that it is not a liquid and does not get into your dog´s eyes since it will irritate them.
Question: What can I use for stains around the dog's mouth?
Answer: If the stains are mild, you can use the same natural cures for tear stains. If the dog drools a lot, it is not going to do a lot of good since the stains will just come right back.
Question: Is it okay to put apple cider vinegar into my Pomeranian´s distilled water? He gets urinary crystals and eats SO food.
Answer: I assume that you are monitoring your Poms urine pH since he is on SO. It should be less than 7. Apple cider vinegar will also do this, so with the SO it can become too acidic. Talk to your vet about getting some pH strips so that you can monitor the urine pH at home while starting this trial, or take a urine sample every week or so to check the pH.
tatai on June 18, 2020:
thanks a llot already have some changes her ater had to be changed
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 01, 2020:
Martha, not long as it will just dry out. I just allow my Maltese to sit on my lap, about 5 minutes. If I let him down he will just rub it off on the carpet, much longer and it will just dry out on his face.
I do not think it is necessary or a good idea to do this at night.
Martha Myers on April 26, 2020:
Thanks for accepting me in the group. I noticed there is no suggestions about the length of time that we could apply the mix to deal with the tear stains.
How about during the night?
Thanks for your time ans advise
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 14, 2020:
Joan, I do not know what product you are talking about so I cannot say.
Joan on March 14, 2020:
I purchased a product from Talis for my Bichon & it has not even touched the stain. Do I do the paste more than once a day?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 14, 2020:
Kristina, every dog is a little different. It depends on how soon the area below the eyes is stained again. I never overdo it.
Kristina on January 14, 2020:
How often do you apply the paste
Rita couch on November 19, 2019:
I axopfedt my white boxer from a friend that passed away in Nov. No one knew he was dead for an entire day, which means when he passed out then bled to death I believe she cried and maybe even licked the blood. Sad situation but I got a wonderful reminder of my friend
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 28, 2019:
Rita, you can try other natural therapies (like apple cider vinegar) but it is possible that your Maltese was born with small tear ducts, and the staining will not get better.
Rita on January 27, 2019:
I have a Maltese and she has very bad stains...
She drinks reverse osmosis water and eats Natural dry food with no grains...
It’s chix and sweet potato
Shirley Sousa on September 03, 2018:
I have a 2 1/2 year old Maltese. I have tried everything to clean her tear stains and reduce the running of her eyes. I have changed food 4 times, always top quality food. I decided to make them home made food as she was a few ponds over weight. I do cook the meat and potatoes. After about 2 weeks we noticed that her eyes have completely cleared up. Four weeks later and they are still clear. I think there must be something in bought food ( very high quality food) that she is allergic to. What an amazing difference. Our other Maltese still has some running eyes. This has shown me that dogs like people may have very different allergies. She still a workin progress as we believe chicken makes her feet and ears very very ichy.
Joyce Hosaflook on May 09, 2018:
P.S. To my suggestion on tear stains. This was not a cure to tear stains, the "make-up" of Desitin or Zinc Oxide, it was more of preventative. After a nice grooming is when to start. Thir make up will also prevent the wet tears to penetrate to their fur. Like keeping a baby's bottom dry also! Try this is all else fails, or try it first, and you may not have to do all the other stuff! So easy. Thanks and kind regards, Joyce-MaMa of 5 small Poodles over the course of many years. Wishing I had another. If anyone has one in need of a good home. Let me know!
Linda O on December 18, 2017:
I read an article that suggested giving your dog buttermilk. It works pretty good. I make tiny frozen buttermilk cubes and give her 2 per day. She's a havanese/maltese mix and weighs about 11 lbs. Still clean the area every morning but it is much better.
Vrob on July 18, 2016:
We my groomer told me to only give my white schnauzer Distilled water to drink and it has worked . I was using a commercial agent for tear stains and it did not work as well. She is 5 now and we never have a problem with tear stains.
Miranda on April 06, 2016:
My dog eat fresh meat en dont have it.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 30, 2015:
There are several possible causes for the tear staining so the filtered water probably will not do any good, but if the water in Ark. is very hard a water from outside the area is worth a try. I guess if you let it get thick and crusty it would be painful, but it hardly ever gets that bad, just looks nasty.
Sorry again about your soul mate. My Pitbull is like that for me, and I cannot imagine my life without her. It is a 5 day weekend here in Brazil so the beaches are crowded and we just got home from out midnight walk--the poor dog does not know why all these strangers are afraid of her walking along late at night! (My Schnauzer is a lot more fierce but the tourists would never believe that.)
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on December 30, 2015:
Hi Dr Mark! Good to see you again! Thanks for answering my question about tear stains in the forum. I should have known you would have a hub on the topic. I should have looked! I will try the peroxide/corn starch mix, and the ACV in the water. I have read that changing their water to filtered has helped, too. Is that true? Well, I'm going to try. Like the hub says, it's not life-threatening. It's just not attractive, and it's often wet and gets crusty. I don't know if it's uncomfortable to them?
I mentioned in my response to your response (they don't give much room for an answer) that Gizmo died in January. He had tumors throughout--spleen, liver. I still miss him like crazy--probably always will. He was my "soul dog," as I've heard someone say before. But I've rescued two more little white fluffy dogs, a 10 lb Shih Tzu mix--Audrey Rose--and an 8 lb mini poodle mix--Sissy. They're dolls and help to make the days worthwhile and enjoyable.
Thanks as always for your help. I really need to go through more of your hubs for helpful information. Thank you and Happy New Year!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 16, 2015:
Let me know if you have any questions that I can help with. Just leave a question on one of my hubs about homemade raw food and I will answer as soon as possible.
carlynh on May 16, 2015:
Thanks for all of your information! It looks like I have a "little" research to do... :-)
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 14, 2015:
I appreciate your interest, since one of the reasons to feed raw is to avoid all of those chemicals. Some pass right through, but the others have to be excreted somewhere, and some come out in the skin and in dark tears.
I have written a hub about buying raw food:
It is more work than just buying a bag of dry, but if you go to a butcher and buy "parts" it is no more expensive. I buy organic chicken legs and necks, grass fed beef that humans would not eat (tracheas, etc) and many other things my dogs like. Read that article for some ideas and check out some of the great forums on how to feed raw.
Your dogs will benefit from your efforts!
carlynh on May 14, 2015:
Thank you DrMark!
One other question, you feed your dogs "fresh natural foods...raw chicken legs and feet, throats and esophagus from cows, etc.", please tell this city girl where I can find these items. I've been giving my critters chicken and rice I've cooked mixed with dry dog food. Not cooking would be a time saver for sure and if it is better for my dogs that's the main concern....not that I am complaining.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 13, 2015:
Hi carlynh, I would steer clear of any of the dog foods that look red like fresh meat, have "real vegetables" that are green, or otherwise colored for the humans, not the dogs. You can find the colors in the labes, Red dye No. 2, Green Dye, etc. I feed my dogs fresh natural foods (raw chicken legs and feet, throats and esophagus from cows, etc.) so I do not need to worry about any of those chemical colors in their diets.
carlynh on May 13, 2015:
I found your information on Pinterest.
Thanks for the article about tear staining. I have a question...you commented that some dog foods have cheap dyes added, what should I look out for on the dog food labeling? Thank you!
mandapanda on February 01, 2015:
Really? Did your article really just say this: "Peroxide can be irritating but much less so than bleach so I do not recommend you use that method."
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 24, 2013:
Hopefully watery eyes and a stained face will never be a problem with your Beagle, dogfond, but thanks for coming by and reading!
dogfond on May 23, 2013:
My dogs never have issues with tear stains but this is definitely a good read.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 16, 2013:
livewithrichard, I hope the cornstarch paste works for you. If it is a new problem, it may be diet. Consider a raw diet too and do some reading about it. There may be a chemical in the kibble that she is having a problem with.
Richard Bivins from Charleston, SC on May 13, 2013:
Some good advice here and I think I'll try the homemade cornstarch paste you described on our Pekinngese/ Poodle mix Daisy. Her photo is in my Hub on How to take professional pet photos. I'm thinking there was something in her diet that caused the staining. She was pure white but when we changed her brand soft to hard the stains started to appear. Thanks for the suggestions.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 27, 2012:
I like the monster story! I can just imagine my kids afraid of my little Maltese. It wouldn´t be a silly topic to them; not even _n_l glands are so important.
Thank your for the comments Highland Terrier and Eiddwen.
Highland Terrier on October 27, 2012:
Good hub, full of very useful info.
Eiddwen from Wales on October 27, 2012:
Interesting and so useful ;thank you for this gem and enjoy your weekend.
Bob Bamberg on October 27, 2012:
Au contrair (or however the French say it) I don't think it's a silly topic at all. Anything that concerns folks is worthy fodder, and I had a lot of customers who wanted to resolve the problem. While not life-threatening, it does detract from the dog's appearance, which is a concern to many owners.
I had one customer whose grandchild was terrified of his dog during advanced staining. The child thought the dog was a monster. Like most folks, he thought the beet pulp in the food caused it, and since he was hard-pressed to find a food without it, resigned himself to having a monster that scared the bejeebers out of his grandchild.
We carried products that worked, to varying degrees, at eliminating the staining. One of them worked well enough to maintain this particular customer's dog at sub-monster status until the child outgrew the fear.
I've learned that when it comes to people and their pets, there's no such thing as a silly topic.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 26, 2012:
Yes, you are correct, all of them are caused by the porphyrin in the tears; the tear staining is always due to excessive tears or tears leaking over the face.
You are probably chuckling over this silly topic! Definitely not as important as rabies, right?
Bob Bamberg on October 26, 2012:
I didn't realize there were so many causes of staining. The only one I knew of was porphyrin in the tears and saliva. Thanks for the additional info.
I don't know about your neck of the wood, but around here a common misconception is that the stains are caused by beet pulp in dog food. Most folks don't realize that the beet pulp in dog food is a by-product of sugar beets and is actually black.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 26, 2012:
Thank you both for your comments.
Deborah from Las Vegas on October 26, 2012:
Great hub, very interesting info on why my older dog has tear stains. Thanks, Voted up and shared!
MissDoolittle from Sussex, UK on October 25, 2012:
Useful - My dog doesn't get it but it was interesting to read nonetheless.
Home Remedies for Dog Tear Stains
How to Clean Tear Marks From the Eyes of a Maltese and a Shih Tzu
Long-snout dogs like poodles and cocker spaniels as well as short-nosed breeds like Pekingese and Maltese are prone to developing tear stains. These stains, though they may not adversely affect your dog's health, can be unsightly. Rather than purchasing expensive commercial remedies to eliminate tear stains, consider trying a few natural, home remedies to treat your dog. You can make a home remedy for tear stains using ingredients you already have around the house.
Tear staining is a common problem in Maltese. Tear staining is the reddish brown discoloration that is found on the hair under the eyes. It occurs in other breeds as well, but with the white face, does make it show up more in the Maltese.
Tear staining is caused by excessive tear production (epiphora). The hair under the eyes is constantly wet and this can lead to it staining.
One interesting fact is if there is no excessive tearing, there will be no tear staining. It's also not unusual to have littermates---one who stains and one who doesn't. Genetics does play a role in tear staining.
First and foremost, it is very important to see your vet or ophthalmologist first to rule out any medical causes for excessive tearing. ***This can't be stressed enough.
Some medical causes include: ingrown eyelashes, infection of the eye, unusually large tear glands, unusually small or blocked tear ducts, glaucoma, entropion (inverted eyelid), large prominent eyes, ear infection, dental issues, some kind of systemic issue and certain medications.
There are other elements that can cause excessive tearing: stress, hormonal changes, higher humidity, smog, high winds, allergens, irritants, second hand smoke, plastic food/water bowls, high mineral content of water, allergies, type of food fed, hair in the eyes and teething.
As you can see, there are many possible reasons for excessive tearing.
Tear stains are usually the result of porphyrins. Porphyrins are iron containing molecules that are produced when the body breaks down red blood cells. Some of these porphyrins are excreted through tears, saliva and the pads of the feet.
When tears containing porphyrins sit on the hair for any period of time, staining will occur. And yes, the iron related stains will darken if exposed to sunlight.
Besides porphyrins, red yeast (Pityrosporum) can also contribute to tear staining. Yeast loves moist areas, so wet hair under the eyes would certainly be favourable for it to flourish. Yeast infection under the eyes will have a noticeable odour.
It is quite possible for a dog to have both porphyrins and yeast at the same time.
To add to the confusion, bacteria seem to be involved somehow. The mechanism of bacteria is not well understood. What is clear is that some dogs who are given certain antibiotics will result in the tear staining clearing up.
So what to do?
Once the vet has ruled out any medical issues, there are a number of things you can try to reduce the staining:
--Keep the facial hair clean and dry. This may require tending to the wet area 2-3 times a day. Avoid using commercial liquid products. You want to keep the area dry, not wet.
Use a flea comb to remove any eye debris and blot with a tissue.
A favourite recipe is to take a pinch of half cornstarch/half boric acid powder and work it into the wet hair with your fingers, then leave it. The cornstarch helps dry the area while the boric acid will gradually lighten the staining. If you do this diligently every day, usually within a month, you can see a noticeable change.
--Try changing the diet. Food allergies can contribute to staining.
--Adding a probiotic may be of benefit
--Use glass or stainless steel food dishes. Plastic dishes can harbour bacteria. Many breeders use "water bottles" to help keep the faces dry.
--Try distilled or filtered water instead of tap water
--For pets, trim the hair at the corner of the eyes. It helps prevent the tears from "wicking" down the moustache.
--For some, flushing the eyes daily with an eyewash containing boric acid eg. Collyrium can help
--If the tear ducts are plugged, your vet might be able to flush them out. Be aware however, that this is often a temporary measure, as the ducts often plug up again with time.
--Air filters or air purifiers can be helpful
Just to mention, Tums, apple cider vinegar and buttermilk have been "said" to change the pH of the tears. There is little evidence to show this is the case and results are very variable.
Last but not least is going the antibiotic route. This is something that should not be taken lightly. Antibiotic resistance is becoming a huge problem in the world.
If all of the above has failed, then perhaps trying a course of antibiotics might be worth looking into.
You and your vet will have to work together on to figure out the correct dosage and for how long.
Tylan (tylosin) seems to be the drug of choice these days.
Antibiotics for tear staining doesn't work on all dogs, so if the staining isn't clearing up after a reasonable length of time, don't continue using it.
Likewise, an antibiotic may work, but you can't keep them on it for a long length of time either.
As you might gather, there is no magic wand for stopping tear staining. Every dog is different, but with perseverance, it should be possible to get staining down to a minimum.
Causes of Dog Tear Stains
There are quite a few causes of tears overflowing the lids resulting in tear stains in dogs. Some common reasons include:
- Shape of the Eye: Many miniature and toy breed dogs have eyes that stick out. This shape can result in eyelids that become stretched thus cutting off the tear drainage system.
- An Abnormal Eyelid: Some dogs may have eyelids that turn inward, rubbing against and irritating the eye surface. This problem can be remedied by surgery.
- Genetics: Some dogs are born with an abnormal drainage system that results in excessive tearing. This problem may or may not be corrected by surgery.
- Excessive Hair Around the Eyes: Hair can act like a wick, drawing out the tears from the eye. This problem can easily be corrected by removing the excessive hair.
- Infections: Excessive tears on the face hair around the eyes can cause bacterial and yeast growth, such as the "red yeast" which causes reddish-brown stains. Sometimes you may even notice a strong odor coming from the stains. Tear ducts may also become infected and as a result the affected eye will have excess tearing and staining.
- Eye Irritations: Excessive tears will be produced if the dog's eyes are irritated, either caused by a particle of a foreign object in the eye, or an allergy.
- Inflammation of the Eye: Corneal ulcers or inflammation of the duct system can also cause excessive tears to overflow.
Untreated, some of these causes of tear stains can be painful. They can also lead to infection and even blindness.
If you suspect that your dog's tear stains are caused by an allergy, inflammation, or infection, be sure to ask a vet to check out the dog's eyes.