For nearly 21 years, I was grateful to share life with a snowy-white Bichon ball of fluff known as Sir Lancelot of Camelot. Nope — he couldn’t joust, and he never sat at the Round Table (though he did get a “No Sir” the few times he tried begging at our rectangular dining room table). We actually called him “Sparky” for short. Both names were bestowed upon him at a rescue for abused canines; and when I looked into that brave little face, I couldn’t argue. We brought Sparky home and got him groomed so that his fur practically gleamed. All except for the dog tear stains running down his cheeks, which made it look like he was valiantly weeping over some fickle Frenchie named Guinevere.
First, what are dog tear stains?
Thanks to Sparky’s little round vanilla-white head, these chocolate-colored dog tear stains also made him look like a four-legged ice cream sundae. Realizing that there was nothing remotely noble about this, I started to do some research. 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 abnormally placed eyelashes, conjunctivitis, injury, infections and even glaucoma.
So with Sparky, our first order of business was making sure these tear stains weren’t due to a pre-existing health condition. Turns out he was simply the teary type, and he teared up a LOT. This led me 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 like Sparky, 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:
- 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. Sparky especially loved the Zignature brand, with Tiki Dog as a special-occasion treat.
- 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.
- 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.
- pH Balance: Dr. Becker notes that slightly altering the acidity of your dog’s body chemistry can sometimes help alleviate dog tear stains. So, you could try adding a very small amount of vinegar to a full bowl of your pup’s drinking water each day. “Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is more commonly used in animals, probably because the unfiltered version contains an element called the ‘mother,’” notes Dr. Judy L. McBeth DVM, CVA of Fox Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Oswego, Illinois. Dr. McBeth explains that these cloudy strands of proteins and enzymes help ACV offer “more nutrients and beneficial bacteria than regular vinegar.” However, Dr. McBeth also emphasizes that the daily dose in question should be relatively tiny. This conservative approach can help avoid the esophageal irritation that could potentially result from vinegar’s natural acidity. “While it would be best to use ACV,” Dr. McBeth says, “most people have white vinegar at home so it’s a handy option.” She notes that the recommended daily dose of ACV is generally 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon per 50 pounds of body weight, but strongly suggests starting quite low to gauge your pet’s reaction. She also warns that vinegar would be contraindicated in pets with bladder stones, esophageal injury, or severe dental issues like oral ulcers.
Dog tear stain removers
Depending on the dog in question, I’ve had varying degrees of success with all of the following dog tear stain removers. If time allows, it’s best to employ all three — but at a minimum, once you’ve eliminated the surface goop, daily maintenance cleansing is a must. A quick daily face-grooming session helps minimize discoloration before it can re-accumulate.
- Natural brightening solutions: The American Kennel Club (AKC) suggests moistening a cotton gauze pad with gentle saline solution, and lightly rubbing around/underneath each eye. You can also mix one part hydrogen peroxide to four parts water. Over time, this can have a subtle brightening effect. Use a cotton swab or makeup sponge to carefully dab this diluted mixture beneath (not in) the eye area, along the sides of the nose.
- Mild cleansers: Harsh chemical additives can actually irritate the sensitive mucus membranes around the delicate eye area, intensifying the problem. So try moistening a damp washcloth with an extra-mild, non-tear baby shampoo (like Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo). Gently wipe around the face and snout area every few days.
- Barriers: I’ve had ongoing success with non-greasy, “natural barrier” products that help absorb new tears before they can saturate facial fur. These include baby powder made with cornstarch (not talc) and zinc oxide (read the VCA’s stance on zinc oxide and why zinc in small amounts is okay). Use a tiny paint/cosmetic brush to dab a very thin layer of either beneath your dog’s eyes every day, especially near the nose. Just be careful to stay outside the lids!
Still need help removing those dog tear stains? Try the Complete Cat & Dog Tear Stain Remover Solution from Healthy Solutions for Pets >>
Tell us: Have you ever battled stubborn dog tear stains? What dog tear stain removers do you suggest?
Thumbnail: Photography by Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock.
This post was originally published in 2017.
48 thoughts on “Dog Tear Stains — How to Make Natural Dog Tear Stain Remover (and More!)”
As per your elaborate discussion, I feel happy to use the Burt's Bee Baby shampoo. It helps my baby small tear stain.
Before I used Squash Wrinkle Paste Tear stain remover. Now I getting help in the piece of content on how to prevent tear stains. I think it will save my cost. Thanks for the helpful content.
I have used these for years & if done regularly they will work I dissolve half teaspoon of boric acid in boiling water or alternatively colliadal silver is even better. Cool, keep in fridge for the week & wash morning & night. Little dab of organic coconut oil if very wet tearing is happening. Most tear stain removers & human eye products contain Boric acid. Do not get in eyes, only use to wash under them.
My doggy has light colored fur so his tear stains get built up. He does not enjoy me cleaning his eye area at bath time and I’ve tried everything. He is getting better and more trusting but it is still frustrating for him. He is such a cute doggy but his eye boogers do happen. I’ll try this.
This post is very informative about Maltese tear stains. It’s very helpful for the dog owners. The owner should pay attention to the care in this matter. The problem of water falling through the eyes of the dog causes the bad condition. The owner should pay attention to the care in this matter.
i use petpost tear stain soft chews and it works great.
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I adopted a gorgeous dog 5 weeks ago. She too has tear stains. She is young, 2 or so and I can’t imagine having to deal with this for her entire life. I feed her Zignature and have tried coconut oil, organic, and various tear stain wipes. No luck. Very discouraging!
Thanks for the well written articles.
The milk of magnesium paste remedy really helps reverse the pH problem that causes it in the first place.
Again, thanks for the VERY informative article
I have a 5 pound toy poodle that is a picky eater what food would you recommend to get for her?
Thanks for reaching out! We suggest working with your vet to find the best option for your dog. You can read up on different types of dog food here: https://qa.dogster.com/topic/dog-food/
I’ll try some of these method. Thanks for posting these tips. 🙂
I’m confused. isn’t it harmful to use zinc oxide? My mom told me not to use it for dogs.
Dr Becker wouldn’t recommend white vinegar its acidic.
Organic Apple cider vinegar is not an acid its alkalizing and has many health beneifits for pets. Please edit your article. This is not safe and be 100% factual with your information before posting to the public.
Ella, I could not agree more with you!!!
I was aghast when I read the recommendation of white vinegar.
White vinegar is made from GMO corn (nearly all corn is now GMO due to cross-pollination) and I am very allergic to it – even in the smallest amounts – I would never let my dog get close to it, much less add it to his water.
Organic Apple cider vinegar on the other hand is a healthy choice in small amounts
Thanks for the helpful info! One of my dogs is all white & she gets awful staining, but it’s worse at certain times of year. I’ve used a tear stain remover that works but it’s very expensive & takes awhile to work. I’ll try some of these methods.
Cindy Willins, can you please tell me the name of the biscuits you gave to your dog? I would love to give it to my dog. My dog is a Shihpoo too, a 4 year old girl name Cici. She had horrible rusty brown stains running down her face, its gotten allot better, not as bad as it was but still not 100% cured. I’m hoping the biscuits will help the annoying stains for good. Thanks for sharing your story!
I thought zinc oxide was harmful/ toxic to dogs?
I rescued an 18 month old Poodle- Lhasa cross who had serious stains. After some leg work and patience, he is now 10 years old and has had many stain free years. I had blood work and allergy tests done, but he was fine. I tried several high end feeds and discovered that if I added just a small amount of over the counter probiotic to one meal a day, the stains went away. With each new food, I would experiment and have now found a food that he eats with no extra probiotic. I agree with the article that the stains are a warning sign that we need to review our pet’s health and find the food that works best for them. Thankfully our food of choice does not break the bank.
what is the name of the food?
Great food for skin issues and a great food period! Holistically made by a vet and in 20 years not one call back. Made in small batches, the problem is the over processing and the food in the store sits on the shelf for years. Check out the reviews ( Google) here’s my link if you have interest in trying ( pre and probiotics so that saves also) www.lifesabundance.com/GreenMTNbulls
What is your food of choice?
Blueberries were recommended to us, and they work well at keeping the tear staining at bay. We started adding blueberries (3-5 per day) to our Clumber Spaniel’s meals, and the tear staining stopped within just a few days. When we stop feeding the blueberries, the staining returns. We have been feeding the blueberries now for over a year and would highly recommend.
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This may sound strange but my 7 yr old shih poo had tear stains for ever. Also I noticed where he licked his paws they also turned pink…..so something in his system i.e saliva ?? I tried wipes……nothing worked
BY FLUKE I had some dog ginger biscuits given to me from a store owner who told me his dog ate them her whole life and his vet told him she had never seen such great blood work in a dog of 16 years. Brought the biscuits home and my dog loved them…. I started to make them at home then i noticed his eyes stopped running. Could not believe it. IF YOU WANT TO START by putting a small pinch of powdered ginger on food and see if you notice anything in a week. Start slowly. Good for his tummy too. Good luck.
Sounds Like a great idea I’m going to try it
recipe for ginger cookies please
Ginger cookie recipe please for my dogs tear stain problem. Thank you
I would like the recipe for ginger cookies for tear stain
Recipe for ginger cookies for dogs please.
Would like the recipe for ginger biscuits.
Recipe for ginger cookies please
I have an adorable Bichon Frise two and half years old
He has developed the worst case of tear stain. He has had it before but not as bad. He has a home cooked diet and grain free kibble . I have tried store bought tear stain removers but they are successful. The stain is also around his mouth and one foot he is licking. As Bichon are prone to kidney stones I would be hesitant to use ACV
Can get ginger receipt for dogs?
hey kara duncan!
i would love to know how you “picked” it out every morning.
my pup is half bichon hand Pekingese and hes the most adorable guy. he is 14 years old and this last year his eyes just dont gt better.
hes been eating the best best best food (soju, or stella and chewes) and we take realllly good care of him, holistically.
im thinking of trying it all.
3 chamomile tea bags,
zinc ointment, or cornstarch baby powder…
and would love to pick it out every morning too..
we usually try to rub it off with eye wash, and have tried hydrogen peroxide as well.. with no luck.
thank u guys
A fine tooth flea comb or old toothbrush will grab the hairs, but be sure the face is wet and soft with a warm cloth first.
I use a small gauze pad soaked in distilled water Or preservative free saline solution & gently pat the eye area, softening any dried tears, debris, mucous. Gently wipe in outwards strokes until debris is gone, changing moistened pads until debris is cleared. Use clean gauze to dry the area. Do this everyday.
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I agree that feeding your dog a higher quality food will definitely help. I used to use Angel Eyes, but it stopped working after they changed the formula. Then I used the following steps and my 5 year old Shih Tzu is finally tear stain free:
1. I changed my dog’s food to be the highest quality food I can afford and started only giving her filtered water.
2. I started giving my dog a Tear Stain Supplement daily.
3. I wipe her face every day with tear stain wipes.
I bounced around a few products, but the brand I use now is Petpost. They have the tear stain soft chews that my dog likes, and they sell tear stain wipes with coconut oil that work well. Here is the link: https://www.petpost.us/collections/tear-stain-products
I bet if you follow these steps your dog will improve alot!
What kind of food do you feed?
Hi . I find glow groom excellent but pricey. My dog gets the tear stains from allergies but unfortunately notto foodi feed him but due to cat poop he digs up in garden whenever he finds any from stray cats.this means i have no control ofcourse. I try everything to stop him but it happens regularly. I get him allclear with glow groom and then wham its back after he comes in after digging up crap. So frustrating …
I tried petpost liquid on a cotton ball daily without any success so I personally am not a fan of their tear stain solution.
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Can you please advise me on how to get my jack Russell puppy to eat his dog food
Change to a species appropriate raw or homecooked fresh diet that he likes. He can tell the kibble is not good for him and wants a better food.
I had the same problem with my toy poodle puppy. Finally found Canidae small breed puppy in salmon flavor, soak it in water till it softens, add chicken, scrambled egg, cottage cheese, or Solid Gold bone broth. Experiment with small amounts of any combination till you find one he likes. When he’s through teething he’ll eat better.
I have a Bichon that we also found at a rescue home. When we first got him he had very bad tearing and staining. We tried many concoctions and dietary options to no avail. I did notice that he always had a lump of dry matter in the corner of each eye that resembled “sleep” that we humans can get first thing in the morning. I started to “pick” this off each morning as I thought it must be annoying to him. A miracle! In only just a week if that, his eyes started to improve and stopped weeping. We brought him home when he was a year old and is now nearly 13. He has never had any tearing or staining since I started cleaning out the “gunk” from his eyes every day without fail. He objected in the beginning but now seems to welcome it. My assumption is that I am probably unblocking his tear duct by removing the solidified build up and his eyes can now drain properly. Try it and see if this simple solution helps your dog. Kara Victoria Australia
3 chamomile tea bags steeped in 1/2 cup hot water. Let cool. Then apply to tear stains. May take several applications.
Coconut oil works too.
Tap water is the main culprit
Use organic apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar in water.
you mention using zinc oxide ointment and baby powder made with cornstarch for removing eye stains on a dog. Are they to be used together or “either/or?”