Eye stains below a dog’s eye are more than just an eye sore. They can also be a sign or cause of severe health issues. So how do we get rid of red tear stains?
Getting rid of tear stains on your dog’s gorgeous face may be frustrating for many pet parents blessed with a Poodle, Shih Tzu, Maltese, or similar breed. Red or brown strains in the corner of your dog’s eye and running down the muzzle is unsightly, especially on white or light-colored dogs where it’s more visible. But cleaning up tear stains is about more than just your dog’s looks; but is also vital for their eye and skin health.
But before we look at how to get rid of dog eye stains, let’s first look at what is causing the marks under your dog’s eyes.
Why Are My Dog’s Tear Stains Red?
Porphyrin causes a reddish-brown color you can often see trailing from under the inner corner of the dog’s eye. It is most visible in dogs with a light coat. Porphyrin is a molecule that contains iron and is a waste product from the body breaking down iron. It is excreted in the gut, saliva, urine, feces, and a dog’s tears.
Contrary to what many might say, it usually isn’t excessive tearing (epiphora) that causes tear stains but rather the shape of the dog’s eyelids. Some breeds, especially smaller ones like the Bichon Frise or Maltese, or brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like the Shih Tzu, have large round eyes with eyelids that don’t correctly meet at the inner edge. This means that their eye’s natural lubrication leaks onto their face rather than drained away by the eye ducts.
This is made worse if the dog has long hair close to the corner of their eyes. The long hairs pick up the moisture leaking from the inner eye and channel it further downward, causing a long, moist trail of a reddish-stained coat. Of course, this is most visible on dogs with a light coat, but it still happens to dogs with darker coats.
This problem is that this constant moist environment is a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria that can cause infections. So while we will discuss in detail how to get rid of tear stains, ensuring your grooming kit is equipped with a safe, plant-based product such as PawSafe® dog eye wipes is essential as part of your dog’s daily grooming routine. Using extracts from coconut oil and other non-toxic, safe ingredients, you can make wiping your dog’s eye area a daily practice. This will prevent tear stains from forming over time.
But the true causes of tear stains are fairly genetic. So let’s look at further reasons your dog may struggle with gunk under their eyes.
What Causes Tear Stains in Dogs?
Tear stains and Dog Breed
Genetic eye formation is the biggest reason for tears stains. Dogs with a long muzzle, such as a Husky or a German Shepherd, usually have minimal tearing problems. So if their eyes start to leak tears, there is a high chance of a medical issue being the cause.
Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, or Bulldogs often have tearing problems. This is because the shape of their skull gives them large, slightly protruding eyes, and they often can’t fully cover their exposed eyeball when they blink. Skin folds near the eye can also cause damage and may even result in corneal ulcers.
Toy breeds such as the Maltese, Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, and Bichon Frise are also prone to eye tear stains. This is because they usually have smaller, tightly fitted eyelids that don’t allow the tears to drain away in the tears ducts. You can read this article here if you are curious about how many eyelids a dog has.
Other breeds prone to tearing and eye stains include Mastiffs and Hounds. Their droopy eyes often lead to eyelid abnormalities such as entropion. This is where the eyelid folds inward, and the lashes permanently irritate the eyes. This can lead to significant tearing and irritation, and usually a lot of gunk around the eye.
If your dog has problems with eye boogers, see this article.
Infections and Eye Disease
Infections often lead to tear stains in dogs or make it worse. If the tear stain area is more brown than red, it may be because a yeast or bacterial infection has taken hold in the area. This can infect the skin and cause dermatitis or infect the eye. Blocked tear ducts can also cause excessive tearing.
The leading cause of tear stains that suddenly occur in older dogs is conjunctivitis. This aggravating condition usually causes redness, swelling, and discharge. Glaucoma is another reason older dogs may suddenly develop excessive tearing and tear stains. Another severe eye disease could be corneal ulcers or uveitis (inflammation within the eye).
Remember that the porphyrin in a dog’s tears that causes the reddish color is also in a dog’s saliva. This is why you will often see a dog’s paws become reddish if your dog licks them excessively. Like the eyes, the constantly moist environment from saliva or tears can cause an infection.
Allergies and Irritants
Dogs who have food or environmental allergies will frequently develop itchy skin, ear infections, and may have tearing eyes. If you notice excessive tearing after starting a new food, look for a possible food allergy. Also, be aware of environmental allergens such as pollen or dust mites that may aggravate your dog’s eyes.
An odd fact about puppies is that when they teeth between the ages of 3 and 6 months, they produce more tears. This may be a cause of ugly tear stains on your pup.
Diet and Water
Several experts believe that diet can add to the problem of excessive porphyrin in a dog’s tears. Because porphyrin is a metabolic by-product of breaking down iron, feeding a diet lower in iron may help your dog. This means avoiding red meat-based foods or foods with organ meats. Calcium and high-fiber diets also bind with iron in the gut and somewhat interfere with absorption. However, messing with a dog’s mineral balance is very dangerous, as it can lead to severe health issues.
A better idea is to try dog food with a chelated iron supplement such as iron proteinate rather than non-chelated iron sulfate on the label. Ensure your dog gets plenty of appropriate probiotics for a healthy gut and experiment with high-quality diets. Some claim to help with tear stains.
Give your dog filtered water because high iron levels in the water may also cause excessive porphyrin. Sometimes the bowl your dog eats from or drinks from is the cause of staining, especially around the mouth area. Trying a ceramic bowl may help the problem.
Why Should You Clean Your Dog’s Eye Stains?
Eye stains happen because tears are constantly leaking onto your dog’s face. This moisture can lead to bacterial and yeast infections, so cleaning your dog’s eyes is about their health, not just their looks.
Sometimes eye stains are a health issue, such as conjunctivitis or ulcers. Or it’s a sign of an eye abnormality that may need surgical treatment, such as entropion or ectropion. Either way, ignoring eye stains can lead to severe complications that can permanently damage the eye and even cause blindness.
Infections in the eye can also spread to the nasal passages and the sinuses. From there, it can travel and cause inflammation in the rest of the body, which is terrible for your dog’s immune system. Sinus infections can also get into your dog’s lungs.
Many purebred dogs already have a weaker immune system than they should. This makes them more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections that can spread to other body parts. They can even cause low-grade inflammation problems contributing to disease as the dog ages.
So the takeaway is that cleaning your dog’s red eye stains is not just about grooming; it’s about your pet’s long-term health. So, what is the best way to get rid of pesky red or brown stains under your dog’s eye?
How to Clean Your Dog’s Eyes and Get Rid of Eye Stains
Step One: See a Vet
Always take your dog to the vet first to look for an underlying cause or complication with the tear staining. A severe eyelid abnormality may need surgery. An infection or eye disease may need medication.
And allergies may need some tests to find the cause. Sometimes, a vet may use cryotherapy to freeze the hair follicles near the eyes and pluck them out. This is to stop the hair from returning.
Step Two: Trim the Hair under the Eyes
You may need a professional dog groomer for this. Still, if tearing is an issue, it’s essential to carefully trim the hair under the eyes. This prevents the hair from staining and removes the habitat in which bacteria and fungi can grow.
Step Three: Wipe and Clean the Eye Area Daily
Using safe eye wipes, such as Pawsafe’s tear-free and non-irritating formula, ensure to wipe around the eye area at least once a day. You can also gently wash the area with gently, no tear puppy or baby shampoo. Keeping the site clean prevents the porphyrin from accumulating and staining the area.
Step Four: Get Rid of Old Red Tears Stains With Contact Lens Solution
After wiping and cleaning the area, the best way to brighten the red stains is simply to use contact lens solution around the eye (never in it!). Yes, some people suggest diluted peroxide or a baking soda solution. Still, baking soda can make the environment too alkaline, encouraging bacterial growth. Meanwhile, peroxide, lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar can cause a chemical burn or cause damage if it gets into the eye. So if you use these, make sure you dilute the acid properly and are careful not to get any in your dog’s eyes.
So the best thing to use is simply a standard contact lens solution. The boric acid in the solution oxidizes the iron in the porphyrins and can lift some of the stainings. After that, make sure to dry the area carefully. The drier you keep the site, the less staining can occur.
Getting rid of red tear stains under a dog’s eye is a relatively simple process. But it does take some dedication and commitment. Make sure to wipe and clean the area daily and keep the hair trimmed. Remember, tear stains are a potential health hazard for your dog, so keeping up with this aspect of their grooming is as vital as a regular medical check-up.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.