Everything You Wanted to Know About Tear Stains in Dogs


Pet owners often seek advice on how to treat the messy, frustrating problem of tear staining in dogs. If you research online the phrase “tear staining”, you will find numerous different products, ideas, and suggestions that claim to fix or prevent the staining. The fact that there are so many products available means that there is not ONE magic treatment or approach that will work for every dog.

What Is Tear Staining?

The red/brown discoloration in tears (Figure 1 and 2) comes from porphyrin. Porphyrins are iron-containing molecules produced when the body breaks down iron. Porphyrins are excreted through the gastrointestinal tract, urine, saliva, and TEARS!

All dogs have some porphyrin in their tears, but some dogs have more porphyrin and the staining is always more noticeable in white or light-colored dogs.

Figure 1. Tear staining in a middle-aged dog.

Figure 1. Tear staining in a middle-aged dog.

Figure 2. Tear staining in a middle-aged dog.

Figure 2. Tear staining in a middle-aged dog.

What Causes Tear Staining in Dogs?

A common misconception about tear staining is that it is due to excessive tear production. Most dogs with tear staining have normal tear production and do not have an underlying ocular problem.

Many dogs have a normal variation in their eyelid conformation that causes tears to drain onto their face rather than draining down the tear ducts.

How to Safely Treat Tear Stains in Dogs

A frequently asked question among dog owners is “How do I get rid of tear stains?” or “Is there a natural home remedy I can use to clean my dog’s tear stains?” Here are some treatment options for dealing with tear staining in dogs include:

  1. Keep the hair around the eyes and nose as short as possible.
  2. Keep the face clean and dry. A natural home remedy to treat tear stains in dogs is to use a warm washcloth and baby shampoo. These are safe to use to clean around the eyes. There are many types of eyelid and eyelash cleaning pads that can also be used to clean the face and around the eyes. Contact lens solution can be used to clean around the eyes—not in the eyes!  The boric acid in the contact lens solution oxidizes the iron in the porphyrins and may lighten the staining. After washing the face, always dry the area with a clean towel to prevent ulcerative dermatitis secondary to wet skin.
  3. Tylosin-containing products claim to treat or prevent tear staining. Tylosin’s effect is unpredictable and often has intermittent efficacy. Because tylosin is an antibiotic, there is controversy using it for cosmetic purposes due to possible drug resistance. There is also controversy regarding tylosin’s addition to over the counter medications that do not always list it as an ingredient or identify how much tylosin is in the product.
  4. Many probiotic supplements claim to decrease tear staining as well.
  5. Dogs with tear staining should be evaluated by your veterinarian to determine if there is an underlying eye problem that requires specific treatment. If the tear staining is secondary to conformation, the treatment plan may include referral to an ophthalmologist to rule out underlying ocular disease and to discuss the possible surgical options.

How to Treat Tear Stains in Dogs


We hope this information helps you understand more about tear staining in dogs.

If you have further questions about your dog’s tear stains, contact your family’s veterinarian or MedVet.