How to Clean Dog Tear Stains in 5 Simple Steps

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

Information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinary research.

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Tear stains are the reddish-brown spots that may appear on a dog’s face below their eyes. These spots are most noticeable on dogs with light coats, but dogs with dark coats can also get them. Although tear stains are not life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable for your dog. There are many reasons why tear stains occur, but removing them can take time.

In some cases, it is not enough to clean the stains once. They will keep coming back. There is no quick and easy way to get rid of stains. Keeping them out of your dog’s face is a process, and maintenance must be done every day for it to be effective. In this article, we look at ways to clean stains and how to keep them from coming back.

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Methods for deep cleaning tear stains

There are several ways to clean tear stains from your dog’s face. However, depending on the severity of the stain, not all methods will work for all dogs. You may need to try a few before you find the one that works best. If the stain is thick, dry and set in, you may need to loosen the debris first by applying warm compresses. Once the gunk is loose enough, you can gently pick it up with your fingers and move on to one of these cleaning methods.

1. Corn Starch, Hydrogen Peroxide, and Milk of Magnesia

Hydrogen peroxide
Image Credit: pedphoto36pm, Shutterstock

In a small bowl, mix one part hydrogen peroxide, one part milk of magnesia, and cornstarch in a bowl until a paste forms. Being careful not to get the paste near or in your dog’s eyes, apply the paste to the tear stains on your dog’s face. This paste will need to take 3-4 hours to be effective, so you may need to put a cone on your dog during this time.

Once the paste has dried, rinse it off, again being careful to avoid contact with the eyes. This process can be repeated once a day until the spots disappear.

Be aware that hydrogen peroxide is very oxidizing and can damage the dog’s eyes. If you go for this DYI method, you have to be extra careful to avoid the eyes and make sure your dog doesn’t rub them.


2. Saline solution

How to Clean Dog Tear Stains in 5 Simple Steps

Wash the area with saline solution for dogs. This is safe for their eyes and can be used to remove dirt and debris. It will soften and remove any crust on the tear stains. The solution can be applied straight from the bottle or used on a cotton ball or soft cloth to break up stains.


3. tear stain remover

Angels' Eyes Tear Stain Solution Rinse for Dogs

The safest way to do this is to use a product designed to remove these stains. Tear removers contain ingredients that remove mucus and secretions without irritating the eyes. They can be used on fresh or dry stains.


4. Boric acid

Boric acid
Image credit: sulit.photos, Shutterstock

For a homemade tear stain remover, mix 1 tablespoon of boric acid in 1 cup of boiling distilled water. Allow it to cool and apply it carefully to the stained areas using a soft cloth. This solution should be kept refrigerated and redone weekly for maximum effectiveness.

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5 simple steps to remove tear stains for good

Once you’ve decided on a method to clean your dog’s tear stains, you’ll need to combine that with other maintenance steps to keep them from coming back.

1. Do a deep clean

A Welsh Corgi Pembroke dog taking a bath with shampoo
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

Before beginning any maintenance routine, your dog’s tear stains should be thoroughly cleaned. Depending on the severity of the spots, this may involve having your facial hair shaved off by a professional groomer and starting over.

If the tear stains are minimal, you can clean them yourself using your preferred method. Once the stains are clean, you can keep them from coming back quickly and getting out of hand.


2. Keep facial hair trimmed

If you notice your dog’s facial hair growing longer and thus catching and retaining more tears, trim it. Long hair can also irritate the eyes if left untended. This results in even more tears and more stains. It’s best to use clippers instead of scissors to do this. Do not use scissors around a dog’s eyes. You can leave this job to a professional groomer if you are not comfortable trying it yourself.


3. Clean the eyes daily

Miracle Care Eye Clear Cleaning Pads for Dogs and Cats

Start a routine of cleaning your dog’s eyes every day. Make it a time you will remember, like in the morning, after a walk, or after a meal. Use a soft cloth dampened with lukewarm water or, for added convenience, use a smudge-proof cleaning pad. Wipe the corners of your dog’s eyes, removing any debris that has run down the face. Regular cleaning will prevent stains from forming.


4. Change routines that may cause stains

A healthy diet can reduce tear stains in dogs. Make sure your dog eats the healthiest food you can get him. Digestive issues can cause more waste byproducts to be eliminated through tears, causing more spotting.

If you give your dog tap water, consider switching to filtered (but not bottled) water. Minerals in tap water can cause tear stains. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this action, some dog owners add a spoonful of apple cider vinegar water or their dog’s food to kill bacteria.

Make sure your dog’s food and water bowls are always clean.

Bacteria can grow on unsanitary dishes and pollute or infect your dog. Tears are a defensive mechanism of the eye to eliminate bacteria. Tears are a defensive mechanism of the eye to eliminate bacteria.


5. Visit a veterinarian

female vet checking a dog
Image Credit: Zivica Kerkez, Shutterstock

If you’ve tried everything and nothing works, see your vet to rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing the tear stains. They may be due to an eye infection or another easily treatable condition.

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What is a tear stain?

Tear stains are caused by excessive production of tears in the eyes. This can have many different causes. The watery residue drains from the eyes and settles in the facial hair, where it dries along with any other gunk. Since tear spots are reddish brown in color, they are easier to notice on breeds with light coats.

The rust color of the spots is caused by porphyrin. Porphyrin is produced when a dog’s body breaks down iron molecules. Iron consumed in the diet or as a result of red blood cell breakdown is excreted through the gastrointestinal tract, urine, saliva, and eye tears; the hair around these areas can become stained.

What causes tear stains?

Tear stains can have many causes, which can be difficult to determine. If you notice your dog pawing or scratching his eyes or if you notice that his eyes are red and irritated, take the dog to the vet for an evaluation.

Here are the common causes of tear stains:

  • allergies
  • A poor diet
  • Hard tap water
  • Teething (during youth)
  • Clogged tear ducts
  • Dusty or smoky environments

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Final Thoughts

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to get rid of your dog’s tear stains for good. Hopefully, however, that by using the methods we have suggested, you can reduce them and prevent them from happening again. By reducing buildup each day, you can keep stains from becoming hard, crusty, and difficult to remove.

If you notice your dog’s eyes bothering him, get him seen by a veterinarian. The eyes could be watery due to an easily treatable underlying health condition. Once you know what’s causing the spots, you’ll be better able to prevent them from appearing.


Featured Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

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