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. Dogs that rub and paw at their faces compound the problem by introducing bacteria, fungi, and dirt, which may further damage the skin or eye surfaces
To make matters worse, a foul odor may develop from the discharge as it collects on the hair and skin, encouraging normal bacteria that live on these surfaces to proliferate. This is a common problem and one that needs daily attention to help keep odors and skin inflammation under control.
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 pus or greenish discharge, pain, and swelling.
- Dry eye: Surprisingly, very dry eyes can result in overproduction of tears and a sticky discharge. Dry eye can have various causes ranging from distemper to injury 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.
If the vet decides that the problem is treatable, she may suggest that you try over-the-counter products to address the tear staining or hair discoloration that can result from excessive tearing and drainage. Avoid products that bleach the tear-stained hair; they are not recommended due to their potential to harm the eyes.
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.
- For cases of inflamed skin surrounding the eyes, application of a warm compress may help soothe irritation.
- 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.
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.
- If your dog is prone to excessive tearing, daily washing of the area around its eyes can help prevent problems with irritation. Over-the-counter optical-grade or eye-safe wipes and cleansers are generally safe to use to keep the eye area clean and odor free.