Do you struggle to keep your dog's eyes clean? Find out what causes dog tear stains. Plus, get natural prevention and treatment tips!

Dog Tear Stains: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment


People always ask me how I keep my poodle’s eyes so clean. And to be honest, it’s a daily struggle. It requires a lot of washing and, if I’m not diligent and the dark (sometimes stinky) stains get out of hand, we pile into my car and drive down to the groomer for a good ol’ face shave. If you have a light-haired dog like my little Gigi (her hair is white as snow) then you may know exactly what I’m talking about.

So What Exactly Are The Rusty-Looking Stains On My Dog’s Face?

To put it simply, those rusty and sometimes stinky stains are tears. You see, in order to keep the eyes healthy and lubricated, the body naturally produces tears. When everything is working properly, tears are produced and any excess fluid drains via the tear ducts. In your fur baby, the tear ducts are located near the corner of the eyes. When they are draining properly, the tears will flow from the corner of the eye to the nose. If the natural drainage pathway is either blocked or obstructed, though, the excess tears will flow from the eyes onto the face. The same thing will happen if excessive fluid is produced – any drainage the pathway can’t handle will flow as tears from the eyes. The medical term for this excessive watering of the eyes is epiphor.    

Some dogs are more prone to drainage problems and tear stains.

  • Some dogs suffer more because of structural abnormalities within the tear ducts.
  • Dogs with shallow eye sockets can get a spillover of tears because the socket is not deep enough to hold the tears in.
  • Short-nosed breeds like the Shih-Tzu or Maltese are more prone, as are non-short-nosed breeds like Poodles and Cocker Spaniels.
  • If you have a white or a light colored dog, staining will be the most visible. Even with watery eyes, you normally won’t even notice stains on dark colored dogs.

Why Are My Dog’s Tear Stains Reddish-Brown?

The reddish-brown or rusty color associated with canine tear stains are a result of porphyrins. Dr. Karen Becker says:

Porphyrins are naturally occurring molecules containing iron – waste products from the breakdown of red blood cells – and are mostly removed from the body in the usual way (in poop). However, in dogs and cats, porphyrin can also be excreted through tears, saliva, and, urine.  

Medical Causes Linked To Watery Eyes and Tear Stains

If your pooch is experiencing excessive tearing, the first step would always be to check with your vet to make sure there are no underlying medical issues going on.  Some common medical causes of watery eyes include: 

  • Abnormality of Tear Ducts
  • Ear Infections
  • Congenital Eye Problems
  • Something in Fido’s eye
  • Infection 
  • Yeast
  • Glaucoma
  • Allergies
  • Ingrown Eyelashes
  • Inverted Eyelids
  • Dietary
  • Stress

Prevention and Treatment

  1. Keep your dog’s face clean and dry. Washing and diluting your fur kid’s tears twice a day with plain warm water on a soft washcloth can work wonders.
  2. Keep the hair groomed and trimmed around the eyes.
  3. Feed your pooch either a completely fresh food diet (one that isn’t loaded with controversial additives) or a high-quality grain-free food.
  4. Use filtered or bottled water instead of tap water. Tap water can be higher in iron and other minerals that contribute to tear stains.
  5. Control environmental exposure to eye irritants such as dust, smoke, perfumes, sprays, or anything else that may cause your dog to experience an allergic reaction.
  6. Use stainless steel or glass bowls for feeding. Plastic can harbor bacteria.
  7. Use one of the many over-the-counter eye cleansers, washes, and pads made specifically as tear stain removers. Read all instructions carefully before applying any cleaner near your fur kids eyes.

I know that some people suggest using things like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, powders, talcs, Visine, and other human eye products to clean tear stains. Since these various home remedies can cause pain, burning, and possible damage to the eye if they get too close to, or inside, many experts advise against them. If you do try a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution or another homemade concoction, be extremely careful!

Good luck 🙂