Get rid of those ugly brown tear stains under your dog’s eyes by feeding him a healthy diet and being diligent with his facial hygiene.
Thanks to unsightly brown tear stains, many dogs with light facial hair can look a little sad even on a good day. However, that doesn’t mean they’re depressed. The problem is due to overwatering, technically called “epiphany.”

You may have a similar problem, especially if you wear contact lenses or have sensitive eyes. Allergies can also occur, both in dogs and humans. If the dog has long hair around the eyes, the tearing may be due to the hair getting into the eyes and irritating them. And just as our own eyes can tear up on windy days or when we sneeze, so can a dog’s eyes. What happens is that the dog is more noticeable when those tears discolor the fur under his eyes.

Dr. Jessica Meekins, an ophthalmologist at Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center, adds that in some dogs, the tear ducts become pinched or blocked. When this happens, tears overflow and flow out of the eye instead of draining. This is not usually a problem, but you can talk to your veterinarian to see if a severe blockage can be cleared.

The longer you leave tear stains, the harder it will be to get rid of them. If the discoloration is severe and the cleaning tips in this article don’t work, you may have to wait for the hair to grow out and then trim it.

What causes the color?

According to Dr. Karen Becker, veterinarian, pet tears differ from human tears because they are not clear. “Tear staining is usually the result of porphyrins, which are naturally occurring iron-containing molecules – waste products from the breakdown of red blood cells – that are normally eliminated from the body in the usual way, i.e., by pooping. But in dogs, porphyrins can also be excreted through tears, saliva and urine.” Think rust, with its reddish-brown color: that’s the iron you see in tear stains.

If the dog has long hair around the eyes, the tearing may be due to the hair getting into the eyes and irritating them.

Steps to a clean face

  • Examine your dog’s diet. A poor and/or unbalanced diet can contribute to unsightly tear stains, among other health problems. Feed your dog a high-quality, whole food diet, free of by-products, synthetic colorings, flavorings and preservatives.
  • Avoid commercial products that claim to eliminate tear stains. Any part of your dog that contains mucous membranes – the soft tissue surrounding the orifices, including the eyes – is especially vulnerable. Commercial products containing harsh chemicals or antibiotics can do more harm than good. See the sidebar for a selection of other natural products to try.
  • Daily hygiene should be a priority. A few minutes of facial care each night will help minimize discoloration before it has time to develop or stain. The American Kennel Club recommends the following steps:
    • Rinse the eyes with a mild saline solution.
    • Moisten a cotton ball with the same solution and gently rub it under and around the eye area.
    • Wash the muzzle hair with dry or waterless shampoo (choose a mild, natural product) and a damp cloth. Then comb and dry.
    • Keep the hair around the eyes trimmed to prevent it from irritating the eyes and causing tearing.

Tear stains themselves are not usually a sign of disease. They are usually part of the package if you want a light-skinned dog. If your dog’s eyes and tears start acting differently, with more or less moisture, see your vet to rule out a problem. Otherwise, a healthy diet and careful attention to facial hygiene should make the brown spots disappear.

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