Dog tear stains – causes, myths and remedies

You lock eyes with your dog giving you those longing puppy eyes whilst you eat that last mouthful of food. Yet you can’t help but notice those rusty coloured marks that plague the corners of your furiend’s eyes. Any attempt to just wipe away this residue fails miserably resulting in a very sad looking pooch. Read on to find out causes, natural remedies and misconceptions about dog tear stains as well as pictures showing Smudge's journey to becoming stain free.

Why do dogs cry?

Fun fact: your dog has three eyelids. The third eyelid is used to spread a film across the outer most layer of the eye. There are three layers comprised of this film which mix together to form a precorneal tear film. It's job is to form protection from bacteria and keep the eye clean. When the glands secrete too much precorneal fluid, this leads to an overflow which leaks out of the eye in the form of a tear. A build-up of this may look like a dog is crying but rest assured there is no evidence that it is from a negative emotional state. 

What are tear stains?

Epiphora, Damp Tears, Dark red, Eyes, Crying

The medical term for excessive tear production is known as Epiphora. Epiphora is the inability to properly drain tears. Some dog breeds with shorter snouts (brachycephalic) and more prominent eyes suffer from this. Often the canal (tear duct) which is supposed to carry the fluid away from the eye is congested and blocked resulting in an overflow of tears escaping from the lower eyelid. As the area is constantly wet, stains result.

Dog tear stains tend to be dark in colour ranging from red and brown marks. Permeating a dog’s face, they originate from the inner corner of the eye. With the aid of gravity, these tears run down their face leaving behind a rusty pigmented trail. As well as genetics, there are numerous other factors that can cause tear stains;

Causes of tear stains

There are many different reasons which factor into why dog tear stains are so prevalent amongst most dogs inclusive of gender, breed and age. Causes can be acute and chronic and some a cause for concern e.g. infections that need to be remedied. Factors include:


Certain breeds of dogs like Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apso's and Maltese dogs are more susceptible to developing tear stains than others. Stains are more noticeable on lighter coloured fur.

Irritation and infection

Your dog’s eyes are sensitive to certain irritants and being exposed to smoke or even some shampoo can lead to an irritation. When a dog has irritated eyes, they will tend to use their (dirty) paws to rub them or find objects to rub their face against to satisfy their ‘itch’. If these objects are contaminated, this can lead to bacterial or fungal infections. If the skin directly beneath the eye is exposed to tear accumulation, this can lead to a yeast infection due to permanent moisture.  


Changes of season can trigger an immune response from your dog such as hay fever. However, if tear stains are a year-round problem, it's more likely linked to food intolerances. The immune response cause your dog’s eyes to produce an excessive amount of tears. Swelling from the allergy can cause the tear duct to become blocked and lead to dog tear stains. 

For a happy healthy pooch, you need to feed them proper food tailored to their needs. Some dog foods may have lower quality ingredients or things that can trigger food intolerances. Ignore the pretty design on the front of pack or call outs like grain free and instead turn that bag, tin or tray around to check the full ingredient list. Whether it's a dry dog food or wet dog food, we recommend opting for a food that contains natural ingredients and a good level of meat content. Added functional ingredients like probiotics can further help your dog's daily wellbeing and certain ingredients like whole grains have added benefits including reducing inflammation, which can aid the healing from an allergy or irritation. 


A potentially stressful time for you and your puppy is the teething period (that and toilet training). Over production of tears can happen at this stage of your dog’s life as their facial structure and features are still developing. Mouth disease and tooth decay can lead to ulceration which has been linked to an increase of dog tears resulting in stains. Puppy chews can help stop prevent this and help keep those pearly whites, white all at the same time! If you've not already, check out our earlier blog on dog dental care.

Long lashes

Big beautiful lashes can also rub and irritate eyes leading to the tear gland producing more tear fluid than the tear duct can handle.

Common misconceptions about tear stains 

Fake news, we can hardly escape it and the internet is rife with it. Lots of pet pawrents take to the internet to find ways to tackle their dog's tear stains but get facts and myths confused. Below are three common misconceptions about dog tear stains:

Red tear stains mean there is an infection 

The redness from tear stains is caused by a compound called porphyrin found in the precorneal fluid. When red blood cells are broken down, some left over iron seeps into this fluid which is exactly what causes that rusty coloured stain.

Trimming eyelashes and fur around the eye will reduce dog tear stains

This is treating a symptom not the root cause. Ingrown eyelashes that are unable to be groomed could still be the cause of an increase in dog tears but the staining can be reduced and even prevented.

The dog food's to blame

Myths include avoiding beet pulp or switching to a raw diet. Neither of these things will ensure your dog's tear stains disappear. Food intolerances have an impact on the level of tearing but the reality is that multiple factors are likely to be driving the problem. We've met dogs that feed all types of foods but continue to struggle with tear stains.

So what can you do?

How to remove and prevent dog tear stains naturally

There are methods on the internet that include bleaching the red tear stains and using special wipes. We recommend avoiding doing this as not only are these procedures dangerous for your dog and the environment, these are treating the symptom and not the cause. If in doubt always consult with your vet.

Below, is a list of helpful, natural ways you can prevent dog tear stains:

Determine the root cause

As there are so many factors at play, it's important to first establish the cause of your dog's tear stain. Is it down to genetics or does your dog suffer with an environmental or food allergy? If you notice that stains worsen during Spring this could be down to hay fever. Does a windy day make the condition worse? It could be a mixture of a few different causes.

Keep your dog's face clean naturally 

Hygiene, Dog bath, groom, tear stains

Day to day hygiene is important when dealing with dog tear stains. If you notice a spike in the amount of tears, you can ask your groomer to check for ingrown hairs and keep the hair around the eyes a little shorter. If excessive fur is not an issue, you can use a clean, warm and damp cloth to wipe the area. Ensure that you dry the area too otherwise prolonged dampness can lead to a potential yeast infection.

There are a lot of commercial tear stain cleaners on the market. Be wary and stick to natural solutions. Coconut oil as well as healthy dog treats are other things you can use to help which is an anti inflammatory and has a host of other benefits for your dog's skin and coat.

Avoid tap water

Living in an area where the water is heavily treated with harsh chemicals. Iron and magnesium levels that give off an orange colour alongside limescale can contribute to a dog’s tear stains. Switching to a filtered water source can help tackle tear stains.

Say no to plastic bowls!

Plastic is everyone's enemy right now and plastic bowls are no friend to your dog's eyes. Consider using a stainless-steel or ceramic bowl as plastic bowls develop cracks which harbour bacteria.


Are probiotics the answer?

Rather than using controversial antibiotics, have you considered probiotics? We previously wrote a blog on the benefits of probiotics for your dog's wellbeing but did you know they can also help minimise if not completely eliminate tear stains. We know this first hand from our experience with Smudge - throughout her life she had had varying levels of stains and we had tried all of the above but it's only fully eliminated once she started her daily dose of probiotics from her Scrumbles.

There are a range of supplements available in pill, powder and paste form but we believe it’s easier plus better value to feed a probiotic dog food which your furriend likes the taste of like our full range of our dog food.

Whilst you’re here, do you know:

  1. Your dog's age in human years?
  2. How to keep your dog cool?
  3. Why does my dog eat grass?

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