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Dog Tear Stains: What They Really Are and How to Prevent Them

A brown and white cocker spaniel has its paws placed on an outdoor planter, looking out toward a parking lot. The cocker spaniel has visible tear stains on its face.

Have you ever noticed dark streaks under your dog’s eyes or around their mouth? These patches, known as tear stains, are as mysterious as they are bothersome to pet owners. They can mat or discolor fur and can cause general concern. But just what is a tear stain? Do they actually harm dogs? And, most importantly, can they be removed?

Let’s find out!

What Are Tear Stains?

Tear stains look like reddish brown streaks under your dog’s eyes. There may be similar stains around your dog’s muzzle and toes. These stains are more noticeable on dogs with white or light colored coats, such as Bichon Frises, Malteses, or Shih Tzus. While these marks may cause some owners grief, there is no need to panic. 

Tear stains are caused by porphyrins. Some porphyrins are iron-rich, produced during the natural process of red blood cells breaking down. These porphyrins are then ushered out of the body in the form of urine, salvia, and tears. The dark color of these stained areas is a result of the porphyrins interacting with a dog’s fur. 

Tears stains in all breeds of dogs are normal. In most cases they do not indicate a more serious condition. However, excessive or sudden tear staining can be a sign of a deeper problem.

A pug sits at the top of a set of outdoor stairs. It is looking directly at the photographer.
Certain breeds, like Pugs, are more likely to have visible tear stains or other eye related health issues.

Other Conditions

On rare occasions, tear stains are caused by optic health issues. Indications that there may be a more severe illness is irregular, smelly, yellow, or bloody discharge. If your dog seems to be rubbing their eyes, blinking rapidly, or has any redness on or around the eyeball, these may also be signs that something is wrong. 

Let’s quickly go over some other possible conditions.


This condition is caused by an irregularity in the shape and direction of a dog’s eyelid. Instead of pointing outward, the eyelid will push inward, rubbing the eyeball to the point of irritation. English Bulldogs, Mini Poodles, and Great Danes are at higher risk for entropion and may require surgical correction. 

Yeast or Fungal Infections

Just like humans, a dog’s eyes are vulnerable to viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases. If your dog has contracted an eye infection, you will likely notice redness, inflammation, irregular discharge, or frequent rubbing of the eyes. 


While it may sound strange, eyelashes can sometimes be a pesky problem for dogs. In a condition known as ectopic cilia, eyelashes grow incorrectly and poke a dog’s cornea. This can be painful and cause corneal ulcers overtime. Another eyelash condition is distichia in which extra eyelashes grow in uncomfortable spots, also rubbing against the cornea. These conditions more commonly occur in Shih Tzus, Boxers, Pugs, Collies, Boston Terriers, and more. They can be corrected via surgery. 


Glaucoma is a disease where internal pressure against the eye is increased due to fluid build up. This can damage the retina and optic nerve, leading to blindness.

Allergies and Injury

When Spring comes around, you may find that your own eyes are irritated and watery. Pollen and other allergens are just as troublesome for your dog as they are for you, leading to occasional discharge and redness in certain environments and seasons. 

An eye injury, such as a scratched cornea, may also cause discomfort, redness, and discharge.

Once these conditions are ruled out by a vet, you can assume that your dog’s tear stains are natural and harmless.

A black woman pets a white, scruffy dog on the top of its head. The dog has its mouth open and eyes shut. Both are seated on a brown, leather couch.
While there are many products designed to remove tear stains, make sure your choice is safe and vet approved before using it on your dog. 

How to Remove Tear Stains

Tear stains are not a health risk to your dog and shouldn’t bother them, but if you’d prefer your pooch’s face stay pristine and bright, you’re not alone. There are hundreds of products claiming to be miracle cures for tear stains, although reviewers will tell you there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s recommended that owners do thorough research before purchasing any of these products. This means reading reviews, ingredient lists, and making sure the product is vet approved. Two go-to brands are Angel Eyes and Optixcare. 

Angel Eyes offers wet wipes designed to clean pre-existing stains. They are made with natural ingredients that are safe and gentle on dog’s faces. Chewy offers a 100 count container of wipes for $9.97.

Optixcare also has wipes available. They contain no boric acid, peroxide, bleach, or antibiotics, meaning they won’t cause further irritation around your pup’s eyes. A 50 count pack goes for $6.69 on Chewy.

As a general reminder, remember to only use products around the eyes, never on the eyes.

A small yellow dog with white on its eyebrows, muzzle, and chest stands outside. It looks at the photographer as its tongue licks its nose.
With or without tear stains, your dog will still be the cutest pup in town!

How to Prevent Tear Stains

There are plenty of supplements and additives out there that say they prevent tear staining, but the verdict is still out on their efficacy. For some dogs it may help while for others it could worsen the problem. Others may see no change at all. If you decide to give a brand a try, make sure it contains no antibiotics, such as tylosin. Non-prescribed long term antibiotic doses can cause resistance to bacterial illnesses down the road.

The best way to limit tear staining is to practice good hygiene on your dog. By keeping fur around the eyes short, drying the face after baths or romps in the rain, and using gentle, pet safe wipes, you can reduce tear staining. 

Grooming Tips

This daily grooming routine can help prevent further tear stain buildup. 

  • Start by using a saline solution or wet wipe around your dog’s eyes and mouth. Be careful not to touch the eye or tug the skin. 
  • Use a cotton ball to remove any crusties. 
  • Pat the area dry with a clean cloth. Make sure it remains dry throughout the day.
  • Trim any long hair to prevent matting.
  • Finish off with a light spritz of Fauna Care’s Protect & Condition Spray to protect your dog’s skin from damage and keep their fur extra shiny.

Experts also suggest looking into your dog’s food quality to identify any possible nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, others recommend giving your dog filtered water rather than straight from the tap in case of excess iron, as well as using a stainless steel water dish and adding a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to each bowlful. This will lightly acidize the water and may help boost certain immunities. 

In the end, tear stains are not a threat to your pet’s health or comfort. Removing and preventing them is a cosmetic choice rather than a necessity. If those brown patches bother you enough, you can utilize these tips or talk to an expert. But let’s be real, tear stains or not, you’ll always love your dog no matter what.

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