Those dark marks under your dog’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. These reddish-brown streaks, most commonly seen on white dog breeds, are usually caused by tear duct blockage. “It is not overproduction of tears but inadequate drainage of normally produced tears that is the problem,” says 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. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to treat and prevent them at home.
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. These breeds also have 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 generally more visible 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. Fillers and low-quality ingredients in your dog’s food 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 very careful to avoid direct contact, you can clean around their eyes with a saline solution, but 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 mixed with water is another alternative cleanser. Use a cloth dipped in a mixture of lemon juice and 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 over-the-counter option.
How can you prevent future tear stains?
As always if you suspect your dog has a more serious eye issue, be sure to contact your vet!
This article was adapted from the Ollie blog. Ollie delivers freshly made human-grade meals to dogs across the country, tailoring the recipes to their nutritional needs. Want to try it? Go to myollie.com to access a special 50% off discount on your first box.