Why Do Dogs Get Tear Stains?

Have you ever looked at a sweet, little dog and wondered why she looks like her eyeliner is running? Those reddish-brown stains aren’t from some strange new trend of makeup for dogs. They’re actually a sign that the dog may need her eyes examined. 

These stains are caused by the dog’s tears. So what is it about dog tears that make them cause stains? What can you do about it? Does it only happen to white dogs, or is it something you should worry about with every dog?

We’re here to answer your questions about why dogs get tear stains. We’ll talk about how, why, and what you can do about it. Ready to learn more? Keep on reading!

What Causes Tear Stains in Dogs? 

Tear stains on your dog’s face aren’t directly caused by an infection or a bad diet. The staining is caused by naturally occurring chemicals that are present in the tears and other body fluids of all dogs. 

These chemicals are called “porphyrins”. Porphyrins cause staining after prolonged contact with your dog’s fur. The build-up of stain-causing porphyrins on your dog’s fur is what causes the brown streaks you see on some white or light-colored dogs. 

dog with tear stains


White dogs aren’t the only dogs who get tear stains. The stains just stand out more against light fur. If you look closely you can sometimes spot staining on darker-colored dogs. 

Porphyrin-staining is only cosmetic. The tears themselves won’t hurt your dog, but you should take a trip to the vet. Tear staining indicates that your dog may, at the very least, have some eye irritation. 

Tear staining is the result of excessive tears. Since dogs don’t cry tears from emotion, you need to find out why your dog is tearing up enough to cause staining. 

Why Is Your Dog Tearing Up?

There are numerous reasons your dog may be tearing up enough to cause staining. 

The first is excess tear production, also called epiphora. Epiphora can be caused by injury, irritation, infection, or an underlying disease. It can also be caused by tears draining improperly due to clogged or abnormal tear ducts. Conditions that can cause epiphora include:

  • Conjunctivitis (pink-eye). This is inflammation of the eye’s lining. It is most commonly caused by bacteria, viral infections, allergies, and irritation. 
  • Glaucoma. An increase in fluid production that eventually causes damage to the optic nerve. 
  • Scarring caused by infection or injury. 
  • Ingrown eyelashes or entropion. The friction of the eyelashes irritates the eyes and causes tearing. 
  • Ear infections.
  • Shallow eye sockets. This is mostly seen in brachycephalic (smushy-faced) breeds. Their face shape can lead to difficulty blinking which can cause irritation. 
  • Large tear glands that produce excessive tears. 
  • Small tear duct openings that don’t allow tears to drain properly.
  • Blocked tear ducts.
  • Teething in puppies.
  • Hair in the eyes causing irritation. 
  • Stress and anxiety. 
  • Hereditary factors. 

In some cases, dogs with tear staining have normal tear production. Their tear stains are caused by structural differences in the eyelid. These structural issues cause tears to rain down the face instead of into the tear ducts. 

The eye area isn’t the only place that can become stained. If your dog is suffering from allergies, anxiety, or skin infections, you may see staining in other places. The feet and the belly are other areas where it is common to see staining, especially in white dogs. 

Do Some Dogs Get More Tear Stains Than Others?

Some breeds are more likely to have eye or skin problems leading to staining. Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs or breeds with bulging eyes like Chihuahuas are prone to tear staining. Other breeds that are more likely to have a problem with tear staining include:

  • Maltese
  • Pekingese
  • Poodles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Bulldogs
  • Shih-Tzus

How Do I Stop The Tears?

Your first step when dealing with eye-staining is a visit to your dog’s veterinarian. You will need to figure out what is causing your dog to have excess tearing. You may, then, need to treat problems such as allergies or infections. 

white dog with tear stains why do dogs get tear stains


If the tearing is due to allergies, you will need to work with your vet to find the source of the allergen. Dog allergies are usually environmental but can be caused by food as well. 

For tearing caused by your dog’s breed or facial structure, the eye area on your dog may require extra cleaning to prevent staining. Serious structural problems may require surgery to prevent further damage to your dog’s eyes. 

Keep the hair on your dog’s face trimmed. This will keep the hair from getting in the eyes and causing irritation. It will also keep the eye area dry and prevent further staining and infection. 

It’s important to keep your dog on a healthy routine. Regular exercise and a well-balanced diet will help prevent stress and anxiety in your dog.  

The treatment your dog needs depends on what the underlying problem is. Work closely with your vet so you can decide on the right course of action. 

Tear Stain Removal

There are hundreds of recommended remedies for tear stains on the internet. Remember that you are dealing with the eye area. Consult with your veterinarian before using products not designed for use around the eyes. 

If an idea sounds a little whacky, it may not be the right choice. For example, when dealing with the eye area, it’s best to keep anything containing vinegar far, far away.

Keep the area around the eyes clean and dry. Use warm water and a mild shampoo to clean the area that gets stained. You can also try a small amount of saline on a cotton round to gently wipe away the stains. 

Regular bathing should also be included in your dog’s routine. This will help in the case of allergies, and with the right products, can also help reduce stress. Use gentle products with dog-safe essential oils to help condition the hair and skin. 

A dog bath bomb added to your dog’s bathwater provides aromatherapy as well as gentle cleansing. If your dog’s tears are due to allergies, a bath bomb like the Fido Fizzies Stop The-Itch can help with any chewing and licking that may be causing staining of the feet or belly.