How to Remove and Prevent Dog Tear Stains

What You Need to Know

Dog tear stains have multiple causes with the most common cause being a byproduct of the iron found in excessive tear production (epiphora or watery eyes) which causes the familiar red/brown stains on dogs. Tear stains are especially common in white-furred dogs such as Maltese, Shih Tzu, Westie, Poodle, and the Bichon Frise breeds.

We suggest first asking your veterinarian about excessive tearing and staining in order to rule out any medical cause such as infection or an abnormality with the dog's tear ducts or eyelids. Once ruled out, consider simple steps such as wiping the area around the eye with a wash cloth dampened with warm water or an eye cleaning solution formulated for dogs. After wipe and keep dry the area. Other tips and prevention ideas are provided in the article below.

dog tear stains
The dogs depicted above exhibit dogs tear stains which are a natural occurrence in healthy dogs and are attributed to the presence of iron in their tears.

Determine the Cause of Dog Tear Stains

Causes of tear stains may vary from breed to breed. While some are easily resolved by simple measures such as using over the counter products such as clear eyes chews or nutritional supplements, it is necessary to determine the underlying cause to select the best course of action. Your veterinarian may suggest visiting a veterinary ophthalmologist if there is a cause of concern. 

Some of the medical issues that can cause excessive tears and tear stains are:

  • Epiphora: Excessive tear production. Stains are caused by iron in the tears.
  • Porphyrin: This is a byproduct of hemoglobin metabolism. The polyphyrin contains iron which results in tear stains. 
  • Genetic Predisposition: Some dogs are more prone to tear stains.
  • Eye infections and conjunctivitis: Any infection that forms around the eyes can be a problem that a pet parent thinks is a tear stain. If a stain is brown consider causes such as yeast. An infection often has a distinct odor. Other accompanying symptoms are irritation and itch.
  • Brachycephalic dogs: dogs with short noses have a head shape that is prone to cause tear stains.
  • Environment: Exposure to irritants such as those in their soap or shampoo, or even second-hand smoke. Also water that has too much iron can result in stains.
  • Allergies: can be food-related, seasonal or a response to chemicals found in their water bottles and feeding dishes. Allergy to ticks, fleas or even plastic food bowls can also result in inflammation and eye redness that could be mistaken for tear stains. If other signs exist such as problems around the lips, nose, or ears in addition to the eyes, the problem could be an allergic reaction.
  • Irregularities such as small tear duct openings, abnormal tear ducts or lashes. Entropian is a disease where the eyelids have an inward fold, causing excessive tear production. Blocked tear ducts can also cause issues.
  • Shallow eye sockets –when lids don’t fully close.
  • In older dogs, it can be a common sign of glaucoma.

If the vet determines that there is no underlying health issue, there are other things to consider:

Food Quality

Some dog owners make the mistake of feeding leftovers to their dogs. While, in some cases, it can be harmless, certain breeds may be more prone to food allergies. Excess tearing can be a result of a poor diet. To determine the best diet for your dog, consider general health status, age, breed, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Keeping a feeding journal is a great tool when it comes to tracking changes that may signal an issue. If you are hesitating about the best nutritional option for your dog, consult your veterinarian, and establish a plan together.

Water Problems

Excess minerals in the water may cause more tear staining. Try giving your dog filtered or purified water to see if it prevents excessive staining. If you are going to travel with your dog, the good idea is to bring them water bottles, as water conditions change a lot from one place to another.

Hygiene Routine

A hygiene routine is essential to keep your dog tear-stain free. If you are dealing with a breed that is prone to tear stains, using a saline solution to clean your dog’s eyes daily is recommended. Monthly trimming of hair around the eyes is helpful, not only for tear stains but in preventing eye infections. 

A periodic visit to a professional groomer can be great in helping prevent or clear tear stains. Keeping their fur dry is extremely important, so you may consider wiping their face after they drink water if you find that your dog's fur is prone to stains.

Supplements and Home Remedies

Some supplements help to prevent excessive tear staining. Ask your vet about your options to further prevent tear staining and other issues. A good, natural solution is to add a very small amount of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water. Vinegar balances the PH in water, and it may help prevent tear stains. One simple approach is to use a wash cloth dampened with warm water to wipe the area. An alternative is to dampen the washcloth with an eye cleaner formulated for dogs. After wiping keep the area around the eye dry.

Environmental Conditions

As much as possible, keep your home smoke-free for your and your dog's health. If you live in a large city, environmental pollution may be causing your dog’s tear stains. If you believe this is the case, a good idea is to get an air purifier that can filter allergens.

Pay attention to any signs that may signal a health problem. Exercise, proper nutrition, and periodic visits to the vet are the best measures to ensure that you have a healthy dog. Aside from your veterinarians, groomers are a good source of tear stain prevention information.


How to clean tear stains naturally?

Use a wash cloth and warm water, or a wash cloth with a dog eye solution to wipe the area around the eye. Keep the area around the eye dry. If the tear stain is caused by yeast try adding one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or white vinegar to the dog's drinking water. Vinegar acidifies the water and can help to lower the level of yeast in your dog's system. Be sure to keep the hair around the eyes trimmed.

Other approaches include:

  1. Cornstarch: Some people find that applying a small amount of cornstarch to the stained area, after cleaning and drying, can help absorb moisture and reduce staining. Be careful not to get cornstarch into your dog's eyes.
  2. Hydrogen peroxide solution: Mix equal parts water and 3% hydrogen peroxide (do not use a higher concentration). Dip a cotton ball in the solution and gently wipe the stained area. Rinse with water afterward to remove any residue. Avoid getting the solution in your dog's eyes and use this method sparingly, as excessive use may cause skin irritation.

How to clean dog tear stains?

Cleaning dog tear stains requires some trial and error. Assuming your veterinarian has said there is no underlying medical issue, you can try either a home remedy for removing tear stains such as using a wash cloth wet with warm water or eye solution, adding one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a water dish, or a wipe such as Angel eyes.

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