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Tear Staining in Dogs

What is tear staining and what causes it?

John Burns BVMS MRCVS

Tear staining is usually seen in small and toy breeds with light coloured coats, such as the Bichon Frise or Westie and in any cross small breed.  These dogs often have runny eyes where the tears stain the hair on the face a pinkish-brown colour. It is also common in older dogs of any breed.

Myths about tear staining:

  • It is a breed problem so it just has to be accepted.
  • It is caused by narrow tear ducts.
  • It is simply a cosmetic problem.

In my opinion, tear staining is caused by a build-up of toxic waste in the system. In my experience, tear staining, in common with numerous other health problems, can be successfully eliminated by the correct, holistic approach to health and nutrition.

Many people attempt to deal with this as a cosmetic issue, by trying creams and water repellants on the face.  We cannot be absolutely sure, but I suspect that the dog suffers discomfort from eye irritation associated with tear staining.  We humans ought to understand how uncomfortable and irritating it is to have runny eyes.

Production and elimination of waste products (toxins) is part of normal metabolism. However, if waste production is excessive, these wastes accumulate in the system and interfere with normal, healthy function.

There are several potential causes of this excess waste production:

  • Poor quality food – unsuitable ingredients; chemical additives
  • Overfeeding – even of high quality food
  • Excessive intake of protein and fat – both produce more waste than carbohydrate
  • Food allergy/intolerance – which cause inflammation, cell damage and production of toxins
  • Chemicals and additives in the diet such as colourings and other non-food ingredients

How can diet help?

All of the potential causes mentioned here need to be addressed! It is important to feed a natural, wholesome foods, based on complex carbohydrates, low in fat and protein and free from additives (other than essential vitamins and minerals). Fed sparingly this can avoid build-up of toxic waste in the system which causes tear staining.

Food allergy or intolerance may also be a cause due to an increase in inflammation so feeding a hypoallergenic diet is important. You can read more about food allergy and intolerance in my Veterinary Guide to Natural Healthcare – downloadable below (pp.9 -10).

What food is best for my dog?

I find many owners stumble from brand to brand in the hope of coming across a food which will help their dog. For more difficult cases the Burns Health & Nutrition Team has the knowledge and experience to advise you on how a methodical process can help find the right food for your dog. For example, one dog may not be suited to chicken but may do well on duck. For another, a potato or maize based food may be more effective than a rice-based one.

Can I still feed treats?

When trying to eliminate tear staining, it is important, initially, to have as little variety in the diet as possible, i.e. no treats, other pet food brands, fruit or even homemade foods containing meat and fat (vegetables are OK). Keeping it simple helps to identify what works best. Treats may be tried at a later stage once the tear staining has been resolved. Weighing the food each time is more accurate and therefore more effective than going by eye.

Remember. Production of waste is a normal part of the metabolism of the body. If that becomes excessive, this becomes toxic to the system.
Simple, wholesome food, fed in the right amount avoids the build-up of toxic waste in the system.

How much food should I give?

The Burns Health and Nutrition Team can give you individually tailored advice on finding the right food and the right feeding amounts for your dog. See Daily Feeding Amounts.

Ask your vet to check your dog’s anal glands, even if there is no sign of a problem. This is a fast-track way of removing waste from the body which could be contributing
to the tear staining. Tear staining is usually seen in small and toy breeds with light coloured coats, such as the Bichon Frise or Westie.

These dogs often have runny eyes where the tears stain the hair on the face a pinkish-brown colour. The staining is commonly thought to be caused by blocked tear ducts but I have found that tear staining can be corrected by proper feeding.

Speak to a Pet Nutritionist

Get in touch with the Burns Health and Nutrition Team for individually tailored advice on the right food type and amounts for your dog. At Burns we work to address pet health conditions brought about by unhealthy lifestyle and especially diet. Drawing on the link between health and nutrition, we developed dry pet food that offers the same benefits for your favourite furry friend as simple homecooked food.

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