What Causes + How To Remove Dog Tear Stains

by Amy DeYoung

small white dog with tear stains sitting outside on grass

The red staining is caused by porphyrins, a naturally occurring chemical excreted in tears, urine, and saliva. When exposed to light, porphyrins turn red or rust-colored. 

Do you ever wonder why some dogs have reddish “tear stains” on their faces? If your dog looks like they’ve been crying, this is the article for you. Keep reading to learn more about what causes tear stains, dog breeds prone to tear stains, and how to remove tear stains naturally.

What Causes Tear Stains in Dogs?

Most pet parents notice tear staining on their dogs when reddish or rust-colored discharge builds up on their pets’ faces below the tear duct. Visually, this can make your dog appear like they were just crying, giving these marks the name “tear stains.”

The red staining is caused by porphyrins, a naturally occurring chemical excreted in tears, urine, and saliva. When exposed to light, porphyrins turn red or rust-colored. 

Fortunately, tear staining doesn’t mean your dog is unhappy. Tear staining is usually found on specific dogs due to their breed and build. However, medical conditions can cause tear staining to occur more frequently. 

In some cases, a dog may experience excessive tearing due to medical reasons, especially if they suddenly develop aggressive tear stains. The Point Vicente Animal Hospital shares the following medical causes for excessive tear staining: 

  • A poor-quality diet
  • Ear infections
  • Allergies (food or environment) 
  • Ingrown eyelashes
  • Extra large tear-producing glands or smaller tear duct openings
  • Some medications
  • A foreign object in the eye
  • Eye infections
  • Teething in young puppies
  • Bacteria from plastic food bowls

If your dog experiences frequent tear staining, having your veterinarian check your pup out is always a good idea so your vet can rule out medical causes for excessive tears. 

Commonly Affected Dogs

So, why are some dog breeds more affected than others when it comes to tear stains?

Certain dog breeds are more likely to experience tear stains than others because of their face and muzzle shape. 

For example, brachycephalic dogs - think “squishy-faced,” short-muzzled dogs like pugs or boxers - experience tear staining more because the anatomy of their face prevents proper drainage of the tear film. 

According to the Veterinary Centers of America, tear stains on dogs with this kind of facial anatomy are often chronic but, in most cases, not a sign of significant problems. For most brachycephalic dogs, this is a cosmetic problem alone, which can be addressed by their pet parent with gentle cleaning. 

Tear stains are also more obvious on dogs with white fur because of the stark difference in coloring between the red-brown tear stains and the pup’s white coat. An example is long-haired dogs with white coats, like Bichon Frise, who are known for these stark, dark stains. 

How to Get Rid of Tear Stains on Dogs

If your dog happens to be one of the lucky ones with chronic tear staining, don’t fret! After your veterinarian rules out any medical causes for the tear staining, you can tackle these stains with gentle “face grooming.”

As always, check with your veterinarian about what personalized recommendations they have for your dog, but here are a few of the most popular ways to remove tear stains naturally: 

  • Use canine eye-wash, like eye-wash solutions or Terra Septic eye drops, to flush your dog's eyes
  • Take a dog-safe eye wash wipe and gently rub underneath your dog’s eye area. 
  • Wash their muzzle with waterless shampoo and a wet washcloth. If your pup has long hair, comb and blow-dry it afterward. 
  • Trim hair around the eyes regularly to prevent it from irritating the tear ducts. 

Long-Term Solutions

Certain dog breeds, like brachycephalic dogs, will frequently experience some degree of tear staining due to the shape of their face. However, healthy lifestyle choices may help how often your dog experiences tear stains.

The quality of your pet’s food and water may trigger more tear staining, so a long-term approach to providing your dog with high-quality food and water without excess minerals may help. According to the American Kennel Club, a diet without inferior-quality foods and fillers can support your dog’s long-term health and reduce the chances of allergies, which sometimes trigger excessive tearing, among other problems. 

Some pet parents report their dogs developing more tear stains when they drink water with excessive amounts of minerals, so purified, distilled, or reverse-osmosis water sources may be preferable for dogs already prone to tear staining. 

Supplements for tear stains and vision are available on the market with claims to reduce how much porphyrin is in your dog’s tears, limiting the red, rusty stains. If you look into these products, always consult your veterinarian before giving your pup new supplements or using other products on or near their eyes. 

Interested in healthy, fresh dog food for your pup without the headache? Sundays for Dogs is made with human-grade ingredients and air-dried to lock in peak flavors, then delivered right to your door. Our fresh dog food is designed by veterinarians with no synthetic additives and delivers all the nutrients your dog needs to support their overall health. 

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