We chatted with a veterinarian to get the inside scoop on handling this pesky problem.
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white dog with tear stains lying in owner's lap
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You may have noticed dark red or brown marks underneath your dog's eyes, especially if your pooch has white fur, allergies, or frequent eye irritation. These dark marks are known as tear stains, and they can happen to any dog regardless of breed, age, or fur color.

The discoloration of the fur near the eye is typically a result of an overproduction of tears, leading to staining from natural pigment in your pooch's tear production. The good news is that these stains don't always indicate a health problem with your dog, and there are lots of ways to safely and naturally remove tear staining from your dog's fur.

We chatted with veterinarian Ilia Medina, DVM at VCA Bolingbrook Animal Hospital, to learn more about what causes tear staining in dogs, how to clean the discolored fur, and how to prevent tear stains from recurring. If you're wondering how to get rid of tear stains on your dog, check out our helpful tips and tricks below.

What Are Tear Stains?

Dog tear stains are the deep reddish or brown marks that can appear beneath a dog's eyes—sometimes in conjunction with discharge, but not necessarily.

Tear staining can be the result of an overflow of tears or an inability for your pup to drain them, and natural pigments in your dog's body can leave behind the rust-colored marks. Tear staining is more likely to be apparent on dogs with light-colored fur, but pretty much any pooch can develop the condition.

"Typically, tear staining is more of a cosmetic problem than a medical problem in most pets," Medina says. "When in doubt, contact your veterinarian to work together on a unique treatment plan to assess your pet's specific needs."

What Causes Tear Stains on Dogs?

"Tear stains are the result of porphyrin deposits released in tears. Porphyrin is a normal product produced in the body from the breakdown of iron," Medina explains. "Each dog has a variable amount of porphyrin and some dogs have more than others. The amount of porphyrin in the tears directly correlates to the color of the tear stains."

While tear overflow and overproduction (also known as epiphora) is what leads to the staining, figuring out what leads to the tear overflow to begin with can be helpful.

For some breeds, like poodles and cocker spaniels, genetic issues with the inability to effectively drain tears can be the culprit. For short-nosed brachycephalic breeds, like the pug and Pekingese, a predisposition to eye problems can cause irritation that leads to overly productive tear ducts.

Other issues that can cause too many tears in any breed are issues like eye infections, glaucoma, ingrown eyelashes, shallow eye sockets, improper diet, stress, and allergies. Teething in puppies can also cause an overproduction of tears.

The dark-colored stains left behind can sometimes be an indicator of something more serious than natural porphyrin staining. Medical conditions like a yeast infection can thrive in the moisture trapped in your dog's fur and lead to further discoloration, so it's important to get your dog's tear stains checked out by your veterinarian if you suspect something is up.

How to Clean Dog Tear Stains

"If the staining is present deep in the fur, using eye wipes and washes labeled for ophthalmic use will ensure no trauma occurs to the eyes secondary to the cleaning process," Medina says. "A warm washcloth can be used in combination with ophthalmic eye products to loosen dried debris on the fur and facilitate removal of these clumps."

Other than a warm washcloth, Dr. Medina cautions against the use of home remedies and household products to clean tear stains. "Coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide are not safe to use near your pet's eyes," she says.

To safely and effectively get rid of dog tear stains, try one of these dog tear stain removers:

  • Angels' Eyes Gentle Tear Stain Wipes, $10; chewy.com
  • Optixcare Dog & Cat Eye Cleaning Wipes, $11; chewy.com
  • TropiClean Spa Tear Stain Cleanser, $11; chewy.com

How to Prevent Your Pup's Tear Stains

"The best way to clean and manage tear staining is to properly groom the fur around the eyes, keeping it as short as possible," Medina recommends.

Another way to prevent the build-up of tears resulting in staining is to keep a handkerchief or soft cloth on hand to frequently dry the area beneath your dog's eyes. Medina also advises that some breed-specific problems or eye abnormalities that lead to tear staining can be corrected and prevent future overproduction of tears.

"If your pet has a conformational change leading to drainage of tears onto the face, a veterinary ophthalmologist may be able to help with a simple procedure to correct the abnormality," Medina explains. "Alternatively, there can be other ocular conditions leading to excess tear or mucus production like dry eye, corneal ulcers, and allergic conjunctivitis."

Remember—if you are ever concerned for your pet's eye health, it's best to contact your veterinarian for further recommendations as soon as possible.