Dog Tear Stains:

A Health Problem NOT a Cosmetic Problem
Everything You Know About Tear Stains is Wrong!

We are NOT promoting a tear stain product. We are offering the results of our extensive research  to clear up tear stain myths, curtail unhealthy "remedies" and offer healthy solutions. 


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Tear Staining: Research vs Internet Myths

Excessive tearing in dogs, with red and brown staining, is not merely a cosmetic nuisance. It is a symptom of disease, poor diet, allergies, genetic predisposition or physical malfunction. Many of the Internet suggested "cures" are myths passed down from one lazy researcher to another so many times they are taken as fact. Many of these myths, and the "cures" based on them, are dangerous. 

After almost 10 years of research, and countless interviews with holistic veterinarians, veterinary Opthalmologists and antibiotic experts, we are currently finishing our new e-book on tear stains.  Sign up below to be notified about our upcoming research study and book publication.

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Health Alert!  You may be using antibiotics to control ugly red tear stains without realizing it if you use a product given orally or sprinkled on food. Or maybe you're using topical products that merely keep tears from staining hair. If so, your dog's tear stains may not only return with a vengeance with discontinuance or long-term use of the product, your dog's undiagnosed health problem may also worsen. Please, please, please don't be seduced by manufacturers claims to sell out your dog's health for beauty. Help is on the way!      

Important: Yellow or greenish eye matter could be a sign of infection. Please see your vet.
Subjects Discussed Here

Tear Staining – What Causes It?

Our Tear Stain Study
Using Antibiotics for Tear Staining

What Causes Excess Tearing

Excessive tearing, called epiphora, has two causes: too many tears or insufficient tear drainage.

Epiphora may be caused by an automatic response to irritants such as dust, smoke, infection, allergens, poor diet or a health problem. Think of tearing as you would a runny nose. Both are ways our bodies rid themselves of toxins.

Epiphora can also result when normal tearing doesn't drain properly because of structural defects (genetics), blockage or inflammation of the tear ducts. The cause of the red or red-brown staining is something else. I'll discuss in detail in an e-book soon. You won't believe what I've learned.

Many dogs have excessive red tearTearut it doesn’t show (or offend) on their dark coats. The pale faces of Maltese, Bichon and some Poodles make these breeds’ tearing especially problematic as a cosmetic matter. Other affected breeds include, but aren’t limited to, Cocker Spaniels, Greyhounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Papillons, Pekingese and Pomeranians

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What Causes the Staining?

All we're going to say now is that it's not a red yeast called Ptyrosporin. If you're looking at a product that says this is cause, run, do not walk, away.  

Sudden Onset Tear Staining in Adult Dogs  

If you have recently changed your dog’s diet, either switch back then make the change to the new food more gradual or gradually change to another food. See Dog Food: What to Feed and Why for more information on feeding.

If your dog has moved to a new home (or day care) or you have new carpeting, furniture, a new pet or family member or other changes around your house or yard, suspect environment.

If you cannot pinpoint an environmental change, suspect disease or dysfunction and consult your vet. This is especially important if the dog squints, paws at his eyes or exhibits signs of pain. Eyesight could be at stake.

Puppy Tear Staining


Puppies tear as they grow and the shape of their face changes. They also tear when teething. Tear staining at these times is normal and will often go away on its own. Please do NOT give antibiotics to puppies to stop tear staining. You may set them up for a lifetime of digestive disorders, discolored teeth, yeast infections and other health problems.

My dog Jiggy, a Maltese, teared badly while teething. He and my other dog Chiclet teared moderately thereafter -- worsening when experiencing a health problem. Their tearing disappeared when I switched them from so-called premium, natural commercial food to fresh food. It returns rarely, but only during illness or allergy season. For my dogs, and many others, tears are a barometer of their health.

Dysfunction of the tear duct system

Before investing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in a lifetime of tear stain products, we recommend you have an Ophthalmologist check your dog's eyes for structural defects, infections and inflammation. This is especially important for Brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds like Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso.

I recommend seeing a eye specialist from the start, rather than your everyday vet, unless your dog is already scheduled for a check-up. Ophthalmologists know a great deal more about eyes and may detect, or rule out, conditions that a general vet may not -- in which case you'll have to pay two vets when you're subsequently referred to a specialist. This has happened to me twice. Two different vets, on different occasions, detected something troubling in my dog Jiggy's eyes. An Ophthalmologist immediately recognized the condition as normal. 

Veterinarian L. Clarke Cushing writes, “Congenital deformity of the tear ducts or failure of them to form holes (puncta) at the nasal end where tears drain into the nose will cause excess tearing. Swelling associated with inflammation and infection of the nose and sinuses may obstruct the tear ducts by compression. The tear ducts can also become clogged with mucus or pus. Foreign bodies may block tear duct openings and may also compress the ducts, as can tumors. Scar tissue, which may arise from an infection or trauma may obstruct the tear ducts also."  

Testing for closed tear ducts is done with an eye stain called Fluorescein. If the draining system is working, the dye will confirm it. UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine recommends that your vet use prepackaged sterile strips as Fluorescein solutions can become contaminated and cause infections. If flushing is required, know that it requires anesthesia. 

Tiny hairs irritating eyes poking at eyes (called Distichiasis) can cause excess tearing. Removing these hairs requires anesthesia and may or may not improve the condition. My Chiclet has several of these tiny hairs but they don't seem to bother her at all and don't cause tearing.

If surgery is required, you must see a board certified Ophalmalogist. Click this link for a referral list.


Do you have photos of your dog showing bad tear staining you would be willing to share with the world? If so, please send your photos here.  Click this link if you have a tear stain.story you'd like to share.

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Jan Rasmusen is the national award-winning author of:

Scared Poopless:
The Straight Scoop on
Dog Care

 WINNER, Ben Franklin Award Best Health Book
of any

WINNER, USABookNews Best Animal/Pet Health Book  

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2007 Dogs4DogsTear Stain Study (Note: this was a questionnaire, not a scientific study.)  More than 300 people with dogs with a current or former tear stain problem completed my survey. They also completed surveys on other dogs in their household who did not have a tearing problem but ate the same food and lived in the same environment. Because certain breeds tend to tear (and show staining) more than others, a disproportionately large number of Maltese, Bichon Frise and Poodles were represented.

51.4% of participants said that tear staining began before one year of age and continues to present.


More than 90% had tears that were brown, reddish or almost black. A few had yellow or green tearing (generally indicating infection). A few had clear tears. 55% said the staining was moderate to very unsightly.

Among treatments,
antacids (like Tums) and eye drops were the least affective. (If your vet prescribed antibiotic drops, please continue them through the full course.)

Almost twice as many people (41.4%) said that
a change of water did NOT help
as said it DID help (24%). Whether it helps tears or not, it is still better in some areas to give purified or spring (not distilled) water. Distilled water is fine for short term detoxing but not for continued use as it may cause health problems. 

71% said commercial products applied externally did NOT clear up the problem; 31.4% said they DID work. Obviously, these products must be continued indefinitely and do not address underlying causes. 

42% did not know if the products they used to clean floors were safe for dogs. (Dogs eat off floors and lick paws that trot across floors. Please check products for CHILD SAFETY and get rid of ones that don't qualify. It may not help tear stains, but it will definitely help your dog.)

58% had NOT had their
vet check their dog's eyes. Of the dogs that were checked, most were given only a cursory look by non-specialists during annual exams. A few were told that very tiny hairs around the eyes caused the tearing. (I was told this about my dog Chiclet, but most of the time she doesn't tear so I've done nothing about them.) Removal requires anesthesia and may or may not fix the tearing problem. Obviously, longer stray hairs that can be trimmed away during normal grooming should be removed. Just don't point scissor points at your dog's eyes or body. Some vets said tear ducts were "small" or "blocked." Other vets said: "White dogs just do this." Not very helpful. Also untrue. Non-white dogs also tear; you just don't notice it. And white dogs with proper care often no longer tear.

I'll be posting more about holistic health care on my blogs, and (all about vaccination.)  Sign up to have blog posts delivered to you by e-mail or RSS feed.  Or follow everything we do on Twitter: K9Author
Yvonne, one of the readers of this page, wrote to tell me that alkaline water helped her dog's tear staining.  (The dog drank bottled spring water previously.)  After the alkaline water, she said his tears were clear rather than brown after 4 weeks, then they stopped excess watering altogether an additional 8 weeks later.

No one else has ever mentioned success with this, and the cause of staining varies, so the fix will as well. But it may be worth a try.

You can purchase alkaline water at health food stores and on-line, or you can buy an ionizer. One caveat: if your dog has health problems check with a vet first. Good luck!  If it works for you, let me know.


Are you using a product that contains an antibiotic? You may not realize it if you are.  

Commercial vendors selling antibiotics "off-label" do not advertise that their products contain antibiotics. You have to dig into the fine print. Surely they fear it would scare you away -- as in our opinion it should! Our advice: before administering any drug to your dog (or yourself) do a "Google Search" of the top two or three ingredients -- especially the ones you don't recognize. Ignore words like "natural" and "pure" and "safe" as are used to make you feel good and may keep you from actually investigating the ingredients.

If your vet gave you pills or a powder, check Veterinary Treatment List to see if the drug is an antibiotic and, if so, to learn about the side effects and precautions. Note: Too often vets prescribe antibiotics, knowing the dangers of doing so, just to please their clients (or shut them up!). They do what's easy rather than what's healthful. If your dog suffers the consequences of unnecessary antibiotic use, so what? You can pay them to work on that problem, too.

Tylosin tartrate (also called Tylan) is made in China. It is found in commercial products like Angel Eyes, Angel's Glow and can be dispensed by a vet or vet supplier. Tylosin is an antibiotic and is used in low doses as an anti-inflammatory to treat colitis in dogs. Other antibiotics used (and misused) include tetracycline and Lincocin, and there are others. ( warns: Lincocin should be used only to treat or prevent infections that are proven or strongly suspected to be caused by bacteria.)

Note that tetracyline should not be used in pregnant bitches or puppies as it will cause staining of the teeth and can affect bone and tooth development. Also, avoid exposure to sunlight. Don’t use with calcium, including Tums (another bad idea for treating tear stains).

Extensive research has taught us one thing: excessive tearing is a health problem, not merely a cosmetic problem. We also know that virtually all the conventional "wisdom" is based on three original errors. Thus, almost every suggested solution is based on flawed information.

If you're using antibiotics to treat tear stains, but no particular bacterial infection has been diagnosed by your veterinarian, it is our opinion, and the opinion of every vet with whom I've spoken, that you should stop (after finishing one full course of any prescribed antibiotic). Then begin taking probiotics.

Important: Indiscriminate antibiotic use has unintended consequences and may lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria (putting your dog at danger for future hard-to-cure infections). It may also alter the composition of intestinal bacteria which your dog uses to digest food properly, utilize vitamins and aid in a healthy immune system.

Antibiotics are powerful drugs. Commonly used antibiotics like tylosin and tetracycline were not developed to treat tearing, and have not been studied by veterinarians or researchers for effectiveness in treating this problem as far as I can ascertain. I suspect a dog was being treated for something else and the unexpected consequence was a clearing of tearing.

Are products safe? Who knows? Marketing claims that a product is natural or safe are just that: marketing claims. Safe may mean only that most dogs experience no immediate, noticeable health problems when it is administered. But unless long-term "double blind" studies testing the products were performed, along with a control group not using this or a similar product, claims of safety are anecdotal and probably wishful thinking. Any long-term consequences would probably not be tied to the product or even reported. For example, let's say your dog developed chronic ear infections or cancer. Would it occur to your vet or anyone else to tie the product to the illness? Would you vet ask if your dog took the product? Would you volunteer? As is the case with non-immediate damage done by vaccines, connections generally goes unnoticed.

Why indiscriminate antibiotic use for tear staining is dangerous says: "Casual use of antibiotics is responsible for antibiotic resistance of bacteria in the environment and, in general, bacteria that become resistant to tylosin also become resistant to erythromycin. Since staining is simply a cosmetic issue, perhaps non-antibiotic treatment could be used instead."  Perhaps?

Regarding antibiotics, the FDA says, "... the drug kills the defenseless bacteria, leaving behind -- or "selecting," in biological terms -- those that can resist it. These renegade bacteria then multiply, increasing their numbers a million fold in a day, becoming the predominant microorganism."

The Center for Disease Control says: "Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world's most pressing public health problems. Over the last decade, almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members ...." You may be thinking that you'll just use another antibiotic if this becomes a problem. Think again. There are fewer and fewer antibiotics that work!

From US Pharmacist.comAn Overview of Antibiotic Resistance by Max Sherman, RPh.   “Resistance increases and occurs more rapidly with bacteriostatic agents (e.g., tetracyclines, sulfonamides, macrolides) than with bactericidal drugs…. Antimicrobial resistance is also more likely to emerge when widespread usage is combined with suboptimal dosage.”  Note: Tylosin is a macrolide used for tear stains in a suboptimal dose.

From the World Health Organization: "Infections caused by resistant microbes fail to respond to treatment, resulting in prolonged illness and greater risk of death. Treatment failures also lead to longer periods of infectivity…."  

Ask yourself: why would my dog require long-term antibiotic use?  Would you take antibiotics non-stop yourself with no proof that you have an infection, and specifically the particular infection that the antibiotic treats.  Or without proof that long-term use is safe? As malevolent bacteria like to say: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The bad bacteria that survive will be stronger, and your dog's chance of fighting the bacteria are reduced!

Read what renowned veterinarian Stan Marks told me about the use of
low-dose antibiotics for treating tear stains.

DISCONTINUING ANTIBIOTICS or Repairing Antibiotic Damage

If you're using an antibiotic ... or are discontinuing an antibiotic ... or just to improve your dog's health if you've ever given antibiotics, give your dog probiotics. Probiotics alone can reduce tear stains in some dogs.  

Administer the
probiotics (good intestinal bacteria) at a different time of day than you are giving antibiotics. For example, if you give the antibiotic with meals, give the probiotic midday and at bedtime. This will help promote growth of good bacteria to combat the every-stronger bad strains.

Buy probiotics at your health food store or on-line. Every vet I know has a favorite product. I currently use Cycles-of-Life Geneflora (Google it)because it can be kept at room temp (rather than be refrigerated).  It can also be given with meals, whereas most probiotics don't survive stomach acid. These two advantages make it more likely that I'll use it regularly. In fact, I keep it with my dogs' brushes and toothbrushes so I'll see it daily.

My vet has recently suggested I try Jarrow's Petdophilus. Or you can use your own favorite product. If using products for humans, know that dosing for most products for adult humans is based on the person weighing 150 pounds. So, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, give 1/3 the amount. Use a product with multiple strains of bacteria.


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Disclaimer: Jan Rasmusen is a consumer advocate, not a veterinarian. The information contained on this web site is provided for general information purposes. Any information provided is not veterinary advice and should not be substituted for a regular consultation with a veterinary professional. If you have any concerns about your dog's health, please contact your veterinarian's office immediately.
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