Most people who love the look of a fluffy white dog also hate the stains that come with the territory – particularly tear stains on the face, around the eyes. These are unsightly and can make the dog look dirty and sickly, despite all your efforts at grooming. It is not just fluffy white dogs that are affected – other breeds suffering from tear stains include the Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, Sharpei and even some of the larger breeds, such as the St Bernard.
In all these dogs, tear stains are usually due to an excess of bacteria or yeast growth, particularly an organism called “red yeast” which leaves reddish-brown facial stains and possibly even an unpleasant odour. The bacteria and yeast thrive in moisture and so are particularly attracted to the tear ducts in the eye. In some cases, tear staining can be due to allergies to food or the environment, particularly if the occurrence is seasonal. It can also be aggravated by the pH of the dog’s drinking water or the mineral content within it.
Finally, there is a genetic component as well, with some dogs suffering excessive tearing due to the shape and structure of their eyes or physical deformities of their face or tear ducts. Whatever the likely cause, it is best to always take your dog to the vet for a general examination first if you notice excessive tearing and tear stains, so that any serious problems – such as tear duct infection or blockage – can be evaluated.
Determining the cause of staining is very important as no matter how effectively it is removed, it will just return if you do not discover the reason for it and tackle the source of the problem.
However, whatever the cause, it always helps to keep the dog’s face clean all the time, particularly the hair underneath the eye. Wipe this and other areas of the face several times a day by dabbing with some warm water or dilute lemon juice or salt water, taking extreme care not to get anything into the actual eye. Also keep the hair around the eye trimmed.
Professional pet groomers and pet stores now carry specialist commercial products for dealing with tear stains but these often only lighten the colour, never completely removing the stain. Unless your dog is a show dog, this is not really a serious issue. However, you can also try some home remedies which can be just as effective. The most common one is a mixture of equal volume milk of magnesia, and peroxide, plus cornstarch, made into a paste and very carefully and gently rubbed into the area of the stain, around the eye. Leave to dry and then rinse thoroughly, taking extreme care not to splash anything into the dog’s eye or allow any solution to wick through the facial hair and into the eye area. You may need to repeat this application over several days if the stain is stubborn. Another option is to use a mild solution of bleach designed for human hair (usually hydrogen peroxide) – however, this is a very harsh treatment and best left to the experienced groomers or breeders.
As most tear stains are due to an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, your best bet to eliminating them completely is to control and eradicate these organisms. One way is to add a teaspoon of white vinegar to your dog’s drinking water, thus changing the pH and preventing the yeast and bacteria from growing. Another option – which can be discussed with your vet – is to put your dog on a very low dose course of antibiotics which will eliminate bacterial overgrowth. However, this is very much a last resort and should not be used for continued treatment. It should also not be considered for puppies that have not got their adult teeth yet, as the antibiotics can cause the new teeth to stain yellow.
Always go with the least invasive treatment first and give it some time to work before moving on to the next option – never use multiple treatments at the same time.