It’s likely you’ve noticed a dog with red or brown stains around its face and eyes. These stains aren’t a result of playing in the dirt; rather they are actual “tear stains” caused by a variety of physical factors. Just like humans, dogs produce tears that keep their eyes moist and protect them from environmental irritants. Some breeds are more prone to tear stains than others, but white pups are most likely to have visible staining because of their light color. Pigments in canine tears dye white fur easily, making these light-colored pups’ eyes the hardest to keep bright and clean!
Several factors that can contribute to tear stains on your pup include:
- Excessive tear production: If your dog is producing too many tears, there is nowhere for them to go, so they end up immediately outside of the eye, on the snout area.
- Faulty tear drainage: Dogs have small holes that drain tears away from the eye (called “puncta”), but a variety of conditions can affect the functionality of this system. Eyelids turned inward, shallow eye sockets (as in snub-nosed breeds), and blocked drainage holes can all contribute to your dog’s tear drainage not working properly.
- Long hair around the eyes: Overflow of tears is more likely and heavy when there is more hair growth around the eye. Thus, long-haired breeds may be prone to staining.
Puppies are also susceptible as they are born with the conditions that cause tear stains. Prevent the stains from forming by incorporating “face grooming” into your daily maintenance routine. A quick wipe down of your puppy’s face and eye area every day can go a long way in keeping those stains under control. Make sure to:
- Use a cotton ball or soft cloth to clean the eye area. Moisten the cotton or cloth with a saline eye-wash solution, and rub gently underneath and around the eyes. (Pre-made saline solutions are perfectly fine, but if you prefer a homemade solution, mix boric acid powder into distilled water and boil. Keep refrigerated until use.)
- Trim hair around the eyes as often as necessary to keep excess hair from irritating the eye and wicking away tears.
- Wash hair on the snout with a wet cloth and a gentle dry shampoo or hydrogen peroxide to remove stains.
- Keep moist areas dry by wiping away excess water after your dog drinks or goes for a swim. For added moisture absorption, sprinkle cornstarch under the eye and around the muzzle. Moisture in these areas can lead to the growth of bacteria and yeast, which will likely cause irritation, or even infection.
There are plenty of special grooming products available for removing tear stains under your puppy’s eyes (check out these wipes and this comb). It’s always worthwhile to check with your vet as well, to confirm there is no medical problem and no foreign body present that may be causing excess tearing. If a medical problem is present, your vet can usually suggest an effective treatment and send your pup on his way to cleaner eyes in no time.