Causes of Dog Tear Stain Problems

Dog tear stains are a common cosmetic problem, especially for dogs with white or light colored coats. However, resolving the issue may be more complicated than simply buying a tear remover. Causes can range from allergies to genetic predisposition.

Excess Tearing

The most common cause of tear stains in dogs is excess tearing or epiphora, which makes the hair and skin around the eyes damp. This can lead to the growth of bacteria and yeast. Red yeast, which produces a reddish brown discoloration of the face, is a common cause of tear stain problems.

Excess tearing is also your dog's response to irritation. Dust or other allergens can irritate your dog's eyes and cause them to water. Long hair that brushes and tickles his eyes can draw moisture out of his eyes like a wick. Bacterial infections of the tear ducts or ear infections may also cause excess tear production. A serious condition where all or part of the eyelid is rolled backward, called entropion, can also cause excess tearing.

Blocked Tear Ducts

When your dog's tear ducts are blocked, tears can not drain through his nose as they normally do. Instead they overflow onto his cheeks where they can stain his face

Your dog's tear ducts can become blocked for several reasons. The structure of the eye itself can make your dog more susceptible to tear duct blockage. For example, breeds with more prominent eyes like many toy breeds have eyes so large that they stretch the eyelid and block the tear ducts. Small breed puppies like the Maltese may be born with lower than normal tear ducts which are completely blocked.

Other causes of tear duct blockage include hair, dust or other debris in the tear ducts and inflammation caused by infection.


When your puppy cuts his teeth, his mouth and head structure are undergoing changes that may put pressure on his tear ducts. Tears overflow onto his cheeks and cause staining. This problem usually goes away when his adult teeth come in.


Fleas get their moisture from your dog's tears. Their presence causes irritation and their feces builds up around his eyes, causing a brown discoloration of his hair. Ear mites, another common parasite, infest your dog's ears and can cause infection. This, in turn, can lead to excess tearing which stains your dog's face.


Heredity also plays a role in determining if your dog has tear stain problems. It determines face and head structure, which means puppies will differ from individual to individual. Your dog may simply be more prone to staining than others.

These breeds commonly have staining problems: Akita, American Bulldog, American Eskimo Dog, Bichon Frise, Brussels Griffon, Cairn Terrier, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, Cocker Spaniel, Corgi, Dachshund, English Toy Spaniel, French Bulldog, Golden Retriever, Havanese, Japanese Chin, King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Lhasa Apso, Lion Dog, Maltese, Maltipoos, Miniature Schnauzer, Papillion, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Saint Bernard, Sharpei, Shih Tzu and West Highland White Terrier.

Your dog's tear stains may be merely a symptom of a health problem. Hygiene and heredity may also play a part. Finding the cause will allow you make sure the stains stay gone after they've been removed.