Dog Tear Stains


What are Tear Stains and how do I get rid of them?

First, what are dog tear stains?


What I learned is that the medical term for this issue is actually “epiphoria.” Yeah, it sounds a lot like “euphoria,” but if you’ve ever seen a dog with epiphoria or dog tear stains, you know the look resembles nothing approaching elation. “Epiphoria” actually means “watery eyes,” and in most dogs the condition creates an expression somewhere between chronically bummed out and weirdly hung over.

In certain cases, epiphoria or dog tear stains can also be the sign of some pretty sobering health issues. Animal ophthalmologist Dr. Noelle McNabb stresses that it’s truly a symptom, rather than an outright disease. Ordinarily, dog tears help lubricate the eyes and excess fluid drains away into the lacrimal (tear) ducts on either side of the nose. Healthy ducts are shaped to drain the tears toward the back of the nose, down the throat. However, when those ducts aren’t functioning optimally, excess fluid drips down the face. This leads to dampness and tear stains.

What causes dog tear stains? And why are dog tear stains rusty-brown?

Holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker explains that dog tear stains are rusty-brown because animal tears aren’t clear like human tears. They contain waste products from the breakdown of red blood cells which means they carry naturally occurring, iron-containing molecules called porphyrins. It’s the iron that discolors those dog tears.


What’s important to note is that dog tear stains can be caused by a wide range of factors, some more serious than others. Certain dogs simply suffer from seasonal allergies Others may have slightly misshapen or partially plugged tear ducts. Additional causes include abnormal placed eyelashes, conjunctivitis, injury, infections and even glaucoma.

So our first order of business was making sure your pets tear stains weren’t due to a pre-existing health condition. In some cases it’s simply the teary type of dog or cat. This can lead some pet owners on a pseudo-quest for the Holy Grail of natural dog tear stain removers that may actually help alleviate this unsightly staining issue. Ultimately, my strategy to deal with dog tear stains boiled down to two chronological phases: prevention and cleaning.

How to prevent dog tear stains

If there’s anything I learned from the tear stains on light-colored dogs it’s that dog tear stains are seriously stubborn. Wiping/cleansing the area is practically futile if you’re not addressing the root cause of dog tear stains so focus on the following factors:

  1. Food: What does your pup eat daily? Forget the fancy marketing lingo on the front of the package turn it over and look at the label. Lots of cheap carbohydrate fillers, chemical flavor additives, artificial colors, and meat by-products lead to systemic overload that can worsen dog tear stains. So first and foremost, switch your pup to a premium, balanced whole-food diet that’s rich in real meat protein.

  2. Water: Do you live in an area with hard water? Those yucky minerals leaving tea-colored rings around your drains can worsen dog tear stains, too. So try switching to pure filtered water. As a bonus, it also removes harmful chlorine and other toxins.

  3. Fluff factor: How fuzzy is your pup’s fur? Often, a gentle trim around the eye area can help remove older, darker, crustier dog tear stains. For safety’s sake, enlisting a professional pet groomer to perform this service is a smart precaution.