Dogs and Tear Stains

Your snow-white poodle is so cute -- but he'd be even cuter without those reddish-brown streaks under his eyes. Dogeye discharge and tear staining are common problems, especially with certain breeds. So, what causes these issues, and what can you do to remedy them? WebMD offers answers to four common questions about dog eye problems and discharge.

1. What causes tear stains under a dog's eyes?

Excessive tearing, technically called epiphora, can occur as a result of irritation to your dog's eyes or because your dog's tears are not draining properly.

Just as your eye waters if a speck of dust blows into it, dogs' eyes will make tears when irritated to flush away anything harmful. When the eyes are continually irritated, this can lead to chronic tearing that produces stains. Conditions that might irritate the eye include dog eye infections, glaucoma, and eyelash or eyelid problems.

In a normal dog eye, there are small holes that drain tears away from the eye and down the throat. A variety of dog eye problems can affect this drainage, causing excessively watery eyes. These conditions include:

  • Shallow eye sockets. If the eye sockets aren't big or deep enough, tears can spill out onto the fur around the eyes.
  • Eyelids that are turned inward. If the eyelids roll in toward the eyeball, the drainage holes for tears (called puncta) may become blocked.
  • Hair growth around the eye. If hair grows too close to the eye, it can wick tears away from the eye and onto the face.
  • Blocked tear drainage holes (puncta). Previous dog eye infections or eye damage can cause scar tissue to form that blocks some of the drainage passages for tears.

2. Which types or breeds of dogs are more susceptible to dog eye discharge and tear stains?

Regardless of breed, white dogs are more likely to have visible tear staining on their faces, because the pigments in their tears can easily dye light-colored fur. Also, dogs with long hair on their faces may be more prone to excessive tearing.

Short-nosed dog breeds, such as Shih-tzu, Pekingese, Maltese, and pug, are prone to excessive tearing because they often have shallow eye sockets or hair growth in skin folds around the eyes that cause problems. Also, cocker spaniels and poodles are more likely than other breeds to have blocked tear ducts.