by Nicola Parry DVM
Have you ever noticed discolored, damp fur around the inside corner of your dogs eyes? If so, this is most likely due to tear stains.
What Are Tear Stains?
Tear stains occur when tears spill from the eye onto the surrounding hairs. The damp hairs and skin soon become an ideal place for bacterial and yeast organisms to grow, and this quickly leads to staining of the affected area. Typically the fur becomes red-brown discolored because one of the most common yeasts involved is the Red Yeast.
Many small breed dogs (such as Maltese terriers, bichon frises, and poodles) have small hairs on the inner margin of their eyelids that allow tears to wick along them, to accumulate on the skin and hair below. So it is very common for breeds like this to develop tear stains. And although any dog can potentially develop them, they tend to be more noticeable in white dogs. In dogs with darker hair, however, the stains are typically camouflaged.
Four Causes Of Tear Stains:
- Blocked Tear Ducts: In some cases, the tear staining can be a result of overflow of tears due to blocked tear ducts. This can involve a simple temporary blockage that can be resolved by irrigation, although the ducts may block again in time.
- Genetic Abnormalities: A small percentage of affected dogs have abnormal tear ducts as a result of their genetics – this problem can cause the ducts to be defective and blocked.
- Allergies: Especially in the summer months, many dogs can suffer from allergies, much like we do, and this can cause watery eyes and associated staining.
- Tooth Problems: Tooth root infections, or just the natural cutting of new teeth, can impinge upon the tear ducts in the region of the sinuses, causing blockage and tear overflow.
Two Reasons Why Tear Stains Can Be A Problem:
- Cosmetic Problems: Thankfully, in most cases, tear stains are simply a cosmetic annoyance. This can be troublesome in itself though, in particular for owners who show their dogs and therefore need to keep the fur looking pristine.
- Infections: If the tears stains go untreated, skin infections can develop in the region due to the bacterial or yeast overgrowth that can arise there.
Five Tips For Treatment:
- Trim away long hairs around the eyes: This can reduce the wicking effect. Be sure to take care though, when trimming in this sensitive region – use very blunt-ended scissors and point them away from the direction of the eyes. Someone can help hold your dog very still if necessary.
- Bathe eyes with saline: Clean around the eyes daily using cotton pads moistened with sterile saline.
- Use eye cleaner: After using saline around the eyes, try the HappyTails pre-moistened, hypoallergenic eye pads to gently clean the discolored fur.
- Check tear ducts: If tear staining is excessive, a visit to your veterinarian may be necessary to evaluate the ducts. If these are blocked, often a relatively simple flushing can help resolve the problem at least temporarily. If, however, your dog has a genetic abnormality of the tear ducts that keep them physically blocked, surgery might be necessary to correct the problem.
- Clear infections: In cases that either progress to secondary infection, or in cases that result from tooth infections, a veterinary visit may be needed so that the problem can be diagnosed and appropriately treated with the antibiotics or other necessary treatments.
Although some cases of tear staining can be problematic, most cases are easily managed by regular maintenance on your part in keeping the skin around the eyes clean, with occasional veterinary help to flush out the ducts.