Tear Stains in Dogs

Tear stains are a common problem in toy breed dogs due to their confirmation. Once and awhile, a dog with normal confirmation will develop tear stains from a blocked tear duct. In either case, tears spill down the face usually between the inner corner of the eye and nose. I was taught in veterinary college that the stains are caused by porphyrins within the tears.  The chronic moisture also contributes to bacterial growth which may cause a skin infection.  

Over my career, I have seen many different treatments for tear stains. Here are some of the most common ones:
1) Lacrimal flush- Sterile saline is flushed through the lacrimal duct with an olive-tipped catheter to remove debris.
2) Topical shampoos and/or solutions- I have seen many different chemicals used on tear stains. I personally do not recommend them for fear of damaging the cornea if some of the chemical gets into the eye.
3) Probiotics- After attending a holistic veterinary course, I tried probiotics for tear stains in a few dogs. In this limited experience, it worked well for one dog but did nothing for the others.
4) Tetracycline and Tylosin- These two antibiotics are thought to decrease the amount of porphyrins in the tears. They also might decrease the viscosity of tears, allowing for better flow through the lacrimal ducts. A low dose of either of these antibiotics is given orally to the dog. Tylosin comes in a powder or in a flavored tablet marketed as Angels’ Eyes. I personally am not a fan of giving chronic antibiotics, even at a low dose, for fear of creating bacterial resistance.
***Please note: Tetracycline will stain developing teeth. Only use tetracycline in dogs with all of their adult teeth present.
5) Hypoallergenic diets- I have placed a few dogs on hypoallergenic diets for food allergies and noticed that their tear stains improved. I have also noticed improvement when dogs who suffer from atopy are treated with anti-inflammatory medications. 
6) Surgical correction- depending upon the confirmation of the dog, there are several different techniques that can be used. Procedures include ablation of hair that grows in the area, enlarging the opening of the lacrimal duct and relocating the entire duct. 

Personally, I rarely recommend the treatments listed above (and some of them I never recommend) because this is primarily a cosmetic problem.  If the dog’s face is kept clean, they rarely develop any problems. I recommend keeping the hair around the inner corner of the eye trimmed short and cleaning the face with a warm washcloth to keep it clean.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.