Eye Condition:
Tear Stains

Your dog’s eye health is essential to everyday comfort and well-being. Understanding the potential risks and conditions can empower you to ensure your dog’s long-term eye health.

Tear Stains

These are the dark red or brown-colored stains around the inner corner of a dog’s eyes. While not generally painful or serious, they can be dismissed as just a “cosmetic” issue that makes your dog less attractive. However, they can sometimes signify a more serious medical condition. Understanding the cause of tear stains can help you remove and prevent them in the future.

Causes of Tear Stains

Here are five common causes:


This is a pigment excreted in tears, saliva and urine. Porphyrins are iron-containing molecules produced when the body breaks down iron. All dogs have some porphyrin in their tears, but some dogs have more than others.


Water that is high in iron may be responsible for the staining. Dogs may also have adverse reactions to plastic food bowls. You may see signs of redness and inflammation around your dog’s eyes, ears, nose and lips which can be mistaken for tear stains.


Lashes and Ducts

Eyelashes can rub on and irritate the surface of the eye due to a condition where your dog’s eyelids fold inward, called entropion. The eye responds by producing more tears than normal. Further, if the tear duct isn’t emptying into the nasal cavity properly, your dog may develop tear stains. Clogged tear ducts can also be the culprit.


Certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to tear stains, and dogs with light-colored fur will have more obvious tear-staining than will darker dogs. Breeds commonly susceptible to tear stains include the Maltese, Shih Tzu and Poodle. Short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs can be prone as well due to the way the eyes fit into the socket and the configuration of the muzzle, which can cause the tears to accumulate instead of flowing through the ducts and draining away.


An infection of the skin around the eyes can cause symptoms that look like tear stains in dogs. If the stain is brownish in color, it’s possible it might be caused by yeast rather than bacteria. A veterinarian should properly diagnose the infection. Infections can also develop due to the chronic dampness that can occur with tear staining.

Preventing and Treating Tear Stains in Dogs

Day-to-day hygiene and maintenance can really help – have your veterinarian or groomer trim the hair close around the eye area to help prevent the accumulation of tears and then use a wash cloth dampened with warm water or an eye cleaning solution to wipe the area. Other treatment options depend on your veterinarian’s diagnosis but may include the use of antibiotics for infection, recommendations for dietary changes, and surgery for an eyelash-related issue.