Those dark marks under your pup’s eyes aren’t from staying up all night chasing his tail or binge-watching the latest Netflix series—they’re likely the dreaded tear stains. Sad, but true. The reddish-brown streaks are usually caused by tear duct blockage: “It is not overproduction of tears but inadequate drainage of normally produced tears that is the problem,” according to Dr. Jessica Meekins, an ophthalmologist at Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center. “The staining is believed to occur due to an antimicrobial protein naturally present in tears.” It’s generally a cosmetic concern that does not indicate a more serious eye health issue. But there are steps you can take to treat and prevent them:
What causes tear stains?
Genetics can play a big factor: toy breeds and short-nosed breeds, such as miniature and toy poodles and Maltese dogs, are predisposed due to a mild rolling in and tightness of the eyelids and excessive hair around the eyes, which may act as a ‘wick’ to pull tears onto the face, says Dr. Meekins. Dogs with bulging eyes, such as pugs, are also more vulnerable. Poodles and Cocker Spaniels are more prone to blocked tear ducts—and the stains are more visible in general in dogs with lighter coats.
High mineral content in your dog’s drinking water can also contribute to tear stains—staining around the mouth can tip you off. If that’s the case, give your pup fresh, filtered water instead of tap. Low-quality ingredients in your dog’s food like fillers can cause allergic reactions that result in excess tearing, too. A higher quality food with no preservatives, fillers or additives can boost your dog's resistance to inflammatory reactions and in turn, reduce tear staining.
What can you do to get rid of tear stains?
There are several ways to help minimize the appearance of your pup’s tear stains naturally: If you are careful to avoid direct contact, you can clean around their eyes with a saline solution, though consult your vet before doing so. The boric acid will oxidize and lighten the stains caused by the iron in your pup’s tears. Lemon juice is another alternative cleanser—use a cloth dipped in a mixture with warm water to gently wipe the affected area around your dog’s eyes, doing this once a day to lighten the stains. If you prefer to buy a natural remedy, make sure it does not contain Tylosin, a potentially harmful antibiotic (Tearplex is a good option.)
How can you prevent future tear stains?
Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water daily to increase its acidity, thereby changing your dog's pH level to help prevent any bacteria or yeast infections, which can exacerbate tear stains.
Keep the hair around you dog’s eyes trimmed to avoid irritation that can cause excessive tear production.
Replace plastic food and water bowls with stainless steel, porcelain, or glass. Plastic containers can harbor bacteria that may irritate your pet’s face.
Keep the area around your dog’s eyes and mouth dry; moisture won’t have the opportunity to settle on your pup’s face, which will help prevent tears stains from occurring.
As always if you suspect your dog has a more serious eye issue, see your vet!