Excessive Tearing and Eye Drainage in Dogs

Eye Health Tips for Your Dog

Shih Tzu

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Several issues can cause excessive tearing (epiphora) and eye drainage in dogs. Breeds such as the Shih Tzu, cocker spaniel, Maltese, and toy poodle are especially prone to this problem as well as dogs with short noses (brachycephalic breeds) such as the pug.

The facial and nasal skin folds of these breeds collect the moisture from tears, wick it along the hair, and provide a favorable environment for bacterial overgrowth. This natural moisture may lead to infection if not kept clean and dry.

If an infection develops in this area due to the location and moisture that sits there, a foul odor may develop. This can be itchy and uncomfortable for your pet and if noted, a trip to the vet should occur. Giving daily attention to areas of eye drainage by gently wiping away moisture and drainage may help keep odors and skin inflammation under control.

Dogs that rub and paw at their faces may further compound the problem by scratching their eyes and abrading the sensitive skin.

If you notice any of the following, it is important to seek veterinary help:

-odor is present from the eye discharge

-yellow or green discharge from eye

-squinty or keeping their eye's somewhat closed shut

-red eye

-red inflamed skin around eye or seemingly itchy or painful eye

If any of these signs are noted, a more serious problem can exist and veterinary help should be seeked immediately. Eye problems can quickly turn serious due to the delicate nature of eyes.

What Causes Excessive Tearing and Eye Drainage in Dogs?

Excessive tears in dogs may be caused by either overproduction of tears or a blockage of the tear ducts that normally drain tears away. Inflammation, hair, tumors, congenital malformation, injuries, and scarring are all potential causes of tear duct impairment or blockage. Other common causes may include:

  • Conjunctivitis or pink eye: This contagious disorder usually goes along with other symptoms such as yellow or greenish discharge, pain, and swelling. If you see yellow or green discharge from your pet's eye, bring your pet to the vet immediately.
  • Dry eye: Surprisingly, very dry eyes can result in thick, sticky discharge, infections, pain and visual issues. Dry eye can be painful and have serious implications for your pet's eyes and should be investigated by your vet as soon as possible.
  • Overgrowth of hair: Not only may some breeds wind up with hair in their eyes, but many also have extra-long eyelashes that can grow inward and irritate their eyes. Dogs that have inward-growing eyelashes, or distichiasis, experience excessive tearing from the irritation. Eyelid surgery may be indicated in these cases. Once the irritation is removed, the tearing problem resolves on its own.


A veterinary exam is the first step. Your veterinarian will examine your dog's eyes and will likely use a painless, harmless dye called fluorescein to rule out ulcers of the cornea in addition to watching the flow of the dye to determine if the tear ducts are draining as they should be. Dogs suffering from reduced or blocked tear flow may require an additional workup to determine the cause of the blockage.

Nonsurgical treatment for your dog's eyes may include further veterinary intervention and a palliative measure that you can take:

  • Ophthalmic antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian may be used both in the eyes and on the surrounding skin.
  • You may need to use an e-collar on your dog to reduce rubbing and scratching until the eye and skin areas have calmed down with treatment.
  • Your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics for severe cases of tear duct and/or surrounding skin infection.

Unfortunately, it may be the case that the problem is not treatable. Some dogs have absent, small, or malformed tear ducts or facial folds that interfere with tear drainage. Some of these problems can be repaired surgically, whereas some are difficult to repair. Since this problem involves the eyes, you must take extra care not to cause further damage by introducing foreign material such as washes, ointments, or other topicals. Avoid products that bleach the tear-stained hair; they are not recommended due to their potential to harm the eyes.

How to Prevent Excessive Tearing and Eye Drainage

If your dog has no underlying health issues, there's a good chance you can prevent excessive tearing and the resulting odor by following a few simple procedures:

  • Take your dog to the veterinarian regularly.
  • As home maintenance, keep the hair around your dog's eyes trimmed as short as possible. To help avoid injury taking your pet to a groomer to have this hair trimmed is often best.
  • If your dog is prone to excessive tearing, daily washing and gentle drying of the area around its eyes can help prevent problems with irritation. Over-the-counter optical-grade eye irrigation solutions are generally safe to use to keep the eye area clean and odor free.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.