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Tear Stains – Fact or Fiction

Posted in Announcements

The pesky brown streaks creeping down from their dog’s inner eye corners drive pet owners everywhere crazy – but what are they?

Tear staining refers to the browning of hairs near the inner corner of the eye. We see tear staining most often in white and light-colored dogs. Most of the time tear staining is normal and not of concern (other than perhaps making the dog appear “less cute” to his owner).
Tear staining occurs when a chemical called porphyrin, a breakdown product of blood in the tears, interacts with the light and is oxidized. This causes a brownish stain of the hair at the inner aspect of the eye.

Most often this is nothing more than a cosmetic problem. When there is a real medical problem involved, it often leads to excess tears and excessive tear staining. Medical problems that would cause excessive tearing (epiphora) include: having a foreign object in the eye, having a scratch or lesion on the eyeball itself (corneal ulceration), or having a hair growing inward towards the eye and irritating it.

You may have heard of these products or even purchased them: Angel Eyes, Tear Stain Away, Pet Spark, etc. These products contain the antibiotic tylosin.
The first issue is that the exact amount of antibiotic in the product is not specified on the label, which means your dog is ingesting an unknown amount of the drug every day. Obviously, if you’re going to use a drug, you should at the very least know how much is being used. An alternative to these is an accurately dosed capsule, which can be fulfilled by a compounding pharmacy with a prescription from your veterinarian – if it is medically warranted.

The second problem with these OTC tear-staining medications is the central issue itself: is it even appropriate to use an antibiotic daily for a cosmetic problem? Overuse of antibiotics is responsible for antibiotic resistance of bacteria in the environment and, in general, bacteria that becomes resistant to tylosin also becomes resistant to other bigger antibiotics.
With the overwhelming majority of tear-staining cases being simply a cosmetic issue, perhaps non-antibiotic treatment could be used instead, though it is admittedly less effective. The simplest treatment: gentle daily washing of this area of your pet’s fur. All you need is warm water and a paper towel, cotton ball, or washcloth.

While tear staining is typically a non-medical issue, other eye problems can have very serious causes and consequences. Here are some signs that you should keep an eye out for:
• Discharge and crust collecting at the eyes which is more than the usual
• Lack of or excessive tearing
• Red or white eyelid linings (they should be pink)
• Closed eyes or sensitivity to light
• Cloudiness or change in eye color or color of the whites of the eye
• Unequal pupil sizes
• A visible third eyelid popping out towards the bottom of the eye (called a “cherry eye”)
• Bulging of the eye