a white dog with tear staining.

What Causes Tear Stains on Dogs

Yuk, no one likes to see those reddish-brown tear stains under their well-groomed dog’s eyes.  Are you battling with this problem? If so, you came to the right page!
There are tons of products that claim to remove tear stains, but do they work? Some work very well, some not so well. I will be sharing more information on this later. For now, let us focus on what causes tear stains on dogs. In this article, I am going to help you understand how and why tear stains form. This will help you greatly when you start looking at all the so-called cures that are available on the market.


The Cause of Tear Stains on Dogs

I have always said that the best place to start is at the beginning. Yes, it all started with the Wolfe! We manipulated them and turned the wolf into 195 and counting different dog breeds. Along the way, some of these breeds developed narrow tear ducks, crocket eye ducks, small tear duck openings, short snouts, bulging eyes, and many other changes. This is more common in our miniature and toy breeds although other breeds have developed the same problem. As a result, the eyes do not properly drain causing an overflow of tears. This is clinically known as epiphora.

The Lacrimal duck is what carries tears from the surface of the eye down to the nasal cavity. When this system is not properly working the excess fluids drain out of the eye. This drainage will cause the hair it sits on to turn a reddish-brown.



How your dogs eyes work

Other Reasons for Excessive Tearing

You should be aware that there are many other reasons for your dog to have excessive tearing (epiphora).

  • Puppy teething
  • Stress
  • Ingrown eyelash
  • Shallow eye sockets
  • Eyelids turned inwards.
  • Large tear-producing glands
  • Air pollutants like smoking, fumes, dust, and chemicals
  • Ear infections
  • Allergies
  • Eye infections like conjunctivitis
  • Clogged tear duck
  • Parasites like fleas and ear mites
  • Plastic bowls
  • Poor diet
  • Some medications

Some of these reasons for excessive tearing (epiphora) are not fixable. Although some are and can be cured with the proper treatments. Always consult with your veterinarian if you suspect an eye problem before trying to cure it yourself.


So, what is causing the hair to turn reddish-brown?

Good question. I am going to explain this as simply as I can.

The tears and saliva of a dog contain Iron which is found in molecules called Porphyrins. It is the Iron that causes the fur to turn a reddish-brown. The longer the Iron sits on your dog’s fur the darker it will appear. This is obviously more noticeable on white and light-colored dogs although all colored dogs can have tear staining.

You may also notice that if your dog has been chewing on itself that spot will also turn a reddish-brown. We cannot eliminate all Iron from our dog’s system, they need the iron to live. Although we can make sure that they are not getting too much.

Ways to lower the Iron levels in your dog:

  • Use filtered water.
  • Check the Iron content of all foods and treats you give your dog.
  • Use only all-natural organic product, including food, treats, shampoos, and conditioners.


Is it More Than Just a Tear Stain?

Most often no, but as your dog’s eyes tear the moisture from the tears can become a breeding ground for bacteria. This can lead to a Yeast Infection that will need to be cured with antibiotics given by your veterinarian. Yeast infection will cause the eye staining to become a darker brown. You will also begin to notice a foul odor as the infection worsens.

Yeast infections can be avoided by keeping the hair around your dog’s eyes trimmed and as dry as possible.  A well-groomed dog will have a small chance of getting a yeast infection.


Let us review what we just learned!

  1. Genetic manipulation has caused unreversible excessive tearing (epiphora).
  2. Reddish-brown tear staining is caused by the Iron found in molecules called Porphyrins.
  3. Yeast infections are a totally different problem from tear stains.


Now that you know more about what is causing tear stains on dogs you are better equipped to deal with this problem. Remember every dog is different, some may need more maintenance than others.

The best tips I can give you is to keep the hair under your dog’s eyes trimmed using scissors or clippers. Wipe under your dog’s eyes with a dry soft cloth to remove excess moisture. This may need to be done several times a day depending on your dog’s tearing.

If you have any questions please leave me a comment, I look forward to hearing from you.

I am also working on a review post for Tear Stain removers for dogs. Please subscribe to keep up with my latest posts!

Happy Pet Grooming,


About Cathy

Animals are my passion in life. I am here to help you take care of your pet/pets. Educating yourself in pet care will lead to a happier healthier pet and that is something we all want!

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