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Tear Stains on Dogs: Tips for Clearing Up the Streaks

How to prevent and cope with tear stains, a commonly chronic condition in little white dogs.

 |  Jul 3rd 2012  |   23 Contributions


Anyone who's ever lived with a white or light-colored dog (or cat) has at some point been vexed by tear stains -- those persistent, unsightly, reddish-brown streaks that appear beneath the eyes and give a sad, unkempt appearance to an angel face. Wiping and clipping the stained fur only goes so far -- this is not merely a cosmetic problem. Tear staining is actually a sign of poor health, which needs to be addressed from the inside out.

What Is Tear Staining?

First, consult your vet to make sure the problem really is tear staining, and not abnormal eye discharge resulting from, say, an infection. "The rest of the eye should not be red or bloodshot," says Diane Levitan of Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care in New York. "Make sure that what's causing the staining is just clear tears."

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Now think of those ruddy streaks as rust, because that's precisely what they are, explains holistic veterinarian Michelle Yasson of New York's HolVet. "Basically, when the iron in the tears hits the air, it oxidizes, and it looks like rust. It's a common condition, but it's not normal -- it's a sign that something is wrong, a chronic, whole-body, metabolic condition."

The situation only worsens when yeast proliferates in those moist under-eye areas, which are highly hospitable to yeast buildup. Many over-the-counter remedies for tear stains do more harm than good, as they contain an antibiotic called tylosin. And antibiotics happen to promote yeast buildup even more! That's why experts agree it's best to avoid any tear-stain remedy containing tylosin.

But don't tear up from sheer frustration! There are cost-effective ways to cope with and combat this common condition.

Proper Diet and Supplements for Happy Eyes

One very effective way to reduce stain-causing yeast is to make sure your dog eats a wholesome, anti-inflammatory diet. That means no grains (which promote inflammation) and plenty of meats and vegetables that are minimally processed and preferably raw, with no chemical preservatives.

Another excellent way to prevent yeast buildup is by adding a probiotic supplement to your dog's diet, Dr. Yasson says. Doing so will restore optimal gastrointestinal flora by ensuring that the beneficial bacteria outnumber the bad bacteria in Spot's gut. Probiotics are also excellent for maintaining overall immune-system wellness, in people as well as pets.

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Dr. Yasson recommends a probiotic supplement that contains at least three or four different strains of organisms, plus a prebiotic. She likes Dr. Mercola Complete Probiotics for humans. Here's how she advises adjusting the dosage for dogs: For small dogs up to 25 pounds, give 1/4 the dosage recommended on the package; for pups 25 to 50 pounds, 1/2 the recommended human dosage. 

If, like me, you also take a probiotic supplement every day, this is a great way to make sure you and your dog stay on the wagon together. But if the guidelines for dosage-adjustment above sound too complicated, go ahead and procure a probiotic made specifically for pets. Dr. Levitan recommends Prostora, made by IAMS (available at your vet's office).

Home Remedies to the Rescue

There are also tried-and-true home remedies to help combat and prevent this prevalent problem, says Joan Weiskopf, author of Pet Food Nation and a respected breeder of champion Bedlington terriers, a canine breed that, if not cared for properly, is highly prone to tear staining.

To keep the under-eye area clean, Weiskopf suggests using cotton balls saturated in contact lens saline solution made for sensitive eyes. Also, if appearances matter for some special occasion (say your dog has a sitting scheduled with a pet portraitist), mix together equal parts milk of magnesia and lemon juice and corn starch to form a paste. Gently but diligently apply this every day until you notice an improvement, making sure to wipe the area thoroughly clean with saline-soaked cotton balls after each application.

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Finally, don't serve Spot's food or water in ceramic or plastic bowls; this kind of dishware becomes unsanitary as bacteria collects on scratched plastic and in the cracks of glazed ceramic surfaces. The bacteria, in turn, aggravate the tear-staining. Instead, serve food and water only in stainless steel or glass (Pyrex) bowls, and wash doggie dishes with soap and hot water thoroughly and often.

Got any secret weapons for combating tear stains? Please share in the comments.

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