Tear Stains in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

dog with tear stains

The brown-colored staining under the eyes is one of the more common complaints of dog owners in the veterinary clinic. Tear stains happen when excess tears spill out of the dog's eyes and run down their face and sides of the nose. Though harmless in and of itself, the staining can be unattractive, and many owners wish to eliminate it. In severe cases, it is possible that excessive tearing may lead to skin irritation, infection, and odor in the area. Here's how to prevent and treat tear stains in dogs.

Causes of Tear Staining in Dogs

Normal Tearing in Dogs

Many dog breeds naturally have excessive tearing. In reality, this issue is not “normal” but can be something that the dog suffers from due to their breed and head anatomy. For example, many “apple-headed” breeds, such as Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Boston terriers, pugs, and poodles, have eye sockets that are not efficient in draining tears due to the shape and size of the eye. In a normal eye, the tears produced by the eye’s lacrimal glands will drain out of the eye through the nasolacrimal puncta. These are small holes in the corners of the eye that act as drains for tears. The openings lead into a small tubular passageway which provides a path for the tears to drain into the dog’s nasolacrimal duct. This duct directs the tears down into the back of the dog’s nose and mouth, where they are swallowed unnoticed.

Many dogs of the aforementioned breeds tend to have shallow eye sockets, which causes the tears to overflow the lower eyelids instead of draining through the nasolacrimal duct. The presence of tears on the face results in visible staining. This is not a medical condition and has no cure; it is simply a function of the dog’s anatomy. In these cases, there is no treatment for the excessive tearing itself.

Other issues may also result in excessive tearing in dogs. These include entropion, misplaced or long hair acting as a wick and drawing tears from the eye onto the face, and blocked or damaged punctae and nasolacrimal ducts. To open blocked structures in the eye, your veterinarian may recommend flushing them under general anesthesia or perhaps surgical correction.

Abnormal Tearing in Dogs

Just as in humans, a dog’s eyes will produce more or excessive tears in response to irritation of any sort. Tears serve to lubricate and protect the eye as well as flush out foreign objects and irritants. You should suspect eye irritation if your dog does not typically have excessive tearing and staining, is squinting the eye, has only one eye affected, is rubbing the eye, has yellow colored discharge from an eye, or has a reddened eye. In these cases, you need to make an appointment for your dog with their veterinarian as soon as possible. Irritated eyes are very painful, and there also may be a vision-threatening eye issue. Corneal ulcers and injuries, uveitis, and infections will need to be aggressively treated and monitored.

Allergies can also lead to red, irritated eyes in dogs. Typically, environmental allergens, such as pollen, grass, or air pollution, cause allergy eye in dogs. The allergy will need to be addressed through the elimination of allergens, bathing, or allergy medications. If the dog’s allergies are able to be controlled, the excessive tearing and resulting staining should resolve spontaneously.

If your dog suffers from entropion (inward curling of the eyelids) or ectopic eyelashes (misplaced eyelashes that rub the cornea), they will need surgical correction. These procedures are relatively straightforward and will likely be performed by your general practice veterinarian. Once the swelling has subsided, and the dog has fully recovered from the surgery, the tear staining should resolve

Diagnosis of Tear Staining in Dogs

If the tear staining is a result of abnormal excessive tearing, the underlying issue must be addressed. Your veterinarian can assess your dog’s eyes to determine what is causing the excessive tearing. Diagnosis will likely require a thorough ophthalmologic exam, fluorescein staining of the cornea, and Schirmer tear testing. Once a definitive diagnosis is made, appropriate treatment or surgery should resolve the tear staining issue.


If your veterinarian suspects that the nasolacrimal duct may be blocked, they will place your dog under general anesthesia and use flushing and small surgical instruments to remove the blockage. This procedure can also serve to widen nasolacrimal ducts that are narrowed as a result of chronic irritation, infection, or an injury.

If your dog is exhibiting tear staining due to normal spillage of their tears as a result of their anatomy, the issue is harder to address. One effective treatment involves the administration of low dose antibiotics on a continual basis. Though effective at reducing tear staining, unfortunately, this approach is dangerous as it may lead to serious antibiotic resistant bacteria and is not recommended.

How to Prevent Tear Staining

In my practice, I have had the best success with a combination of good hygiene and probiotics. The area under the dog’s eyes and their face should be gently wiped at least daily with a damp wash cloth. This removes the tears and accumulating debris from the dog’s face before the tear staining can occur. A small amount of hydrogen peroxide may be applied to the tear stained area to bleach the staining out of the hair. It is also helpful to keep the fur of the face and around the eyes as short as possible, so tears and debris do not get stuck in the hair. A high-quality probiotic can be recommended for your dog by your veterinarian. My favorite product for preventing tear staining is Purina’s Forti Flora probiotic.