Many dogs experience those dark brown or reddish stains near their eyes commonly called tear stains.  The correct medical term is Epiphora which is excess tear production.  Epiphora can actually have many causes.  While it is unsightly, it is not dangerous or painful.  Tear stains sometimes signify another underlying medical condition and determining the root cause of the problem can help you remove the stains and prevent them later on. 

Porphyrin, is a brown pigment that is found in tears, saliva and urine.  Iron that is released when red blood cells breakdown becomes part of porphyrin and causes the actual stain. 

Causes of tear stains include:

  • Genetics – Certain breeds tend to be more prone to tear stains.  Maltese, Shih Tzu and Poodles are among these.  Dogs with light colored coats will show tear stains more than others.  Short nosed or Brachycephalic dogs are more prone as well.  The shape of their head can affect how the eyes fit into their sockets and cause tears to accumulate rather than drain properly through the tear ducts.
  • Environment – High iron levels in water can be a factor in tear stains.  Plastic food bowls can also cause adverse reactions.  Suspect this if you see redness and inflammation around the eyes, ears, nose and lips.  Allergens, either environmental or from food, can cause excess tearing resulting in stains as well.  Irritants such as dust or smoke can cause tearing.
  • Infection – A skin infection around the eyes can cause symptoms similar to tear stains.  It is possible that the infection is caused by yeast or bacteria.  You should have your vet determine what type of organism is causing the infection.  Sometimes an infection will develop because of the chronic dampness that occurs from tear staining.  Infections that are associated with odors can cause itchiness and irritation.  Ear infections can also cause the eyes to tear.
  • Abnormal Lashes and Ducts – Some dogs may have ingrown or abnormal lashes or have a problem with a tear duct.  Entropion is a condition where the eyelids fold inward causing the eyelashes to rub and irritate the eye surface.  Producing more tears than normal is a typical response.  In addition, if the tear duct does not empty properly into the nasal cavity you will also get tear stains.  Tear ducts can become clogged and prevent drainage.

Before you attempt to treat tear stains, visit your vet to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions that first need treatment.   If there are no health issues, you can try these steps to get rid of tear stains:

  • Keep the fur around the eyes clean and well groomed.  By keeping the hair short, you will help avoid irritating the eye.  Clean the area around the eye daily using a cotton ball or towel soaked in warm water.
  • Switch to stainless steel or ceramic bowls.  This will avoid reactions to the plastic.
  • Evaluate their diet.  Lower quality foods that use corn, wheat and meals as fillers do not ensure long-term good health and can cause allergic reactions.
  • Examine the quality of your water.  Stains can develop in response to excess minerals so you may want to use purified, distilled or filtered water.
  • Supplements can help as well as pet friendly tear stain removers.

A little daily care and common sense steps can keep those tear stains at bay.