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Let's Talk Tear Stains

Many of your puppies, particularly the light coloured puppies (because you can see it moreso) are going to have tear stains. In young puppies this is not cause for concern or a trip to the vet. A normal, healthy puppy's eyes are going tear for the first month or two that you take them home, it is the sign of a healthy eye, flushing and doing it's job. As your puppy grows, this will almost always just go away.

The other side to this is a puppy over the age of 5 months who is still experiencing tear staining and a constantly wet area under their eyes. This is what I want to talk about today.

This condition is called Epiphora and it occurs whenever there is an overflow of tears onto the face. It can be caused by either excessive tear production, insufficient tear drainage, or a combination of both.

Epiphora can be acute or chronic, most likely everyone has experienced at some point the tearing and irritation that results whenever something gets into our eyes. Tears are the eye’s natural response to an irritant and are an attempt to flush away whatever is causing that irritation.

When Epiphora becomes chronic, the constant moisture around the eyes results in skin irritation and creates a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and yeast which is may be causing your pup rub his eyes. Over time we see red staining around the eyes that is due to accumulation of a pigment called porphyrin which is found in tears.

See your vet

Your first step should be to see your regular veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist. They will examine the eye to make sure there is no foreign body present. They will look for distichiasis or ectopic cilium which is when an eyelash grows abnormally in such a way it ends up facing the cornea instead of facing away. This is common in some breeds including poodles.

They will check for other causes of excess tear production such as conjunctivitis, uveitis and glaucoma. Sometimes Epiphora is not a result of excessive tear production, but is a problem with tear drainage.

Normally tears exit the eye through small holes called puncta, which leads to a duct called the nasolacrimal duct, which empties out into the nose. This is why we have to blow our noses whenever we have a good cry.

Sometimes this duct can be blocked with debris such as grass awns, rhinitis or sinusitis, which results in soft tissue swelling around the duct leading to occlusion.

Some breeds such as poodles are predisposed to imperforate puncta which is when the nasolacrimal duct does not develop right resulting in chronic epiphora due to lack of drainage. Your veterinarian may use a fluoresecein stain to check for corneal ulcerations and to check the patency of the nasolacrimal duct. In a normal dog, fluorescein stain will appear around the nose a few minutes after applying the stain to the eye.


Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause of Epiphora. Sometimes simply flushing out the eyes will do the trick if there is a foreign body present causing the irritation or blocking the nasolacrimal duct. If an abnormal eyelash is causing the problem then it can be removed by cryosurgery or electrolysis. If the nasolacrimal duct is blocked by swelling from glaucoma, sinusitis or rhinitis then treatment is focused on getting the primary condition under control and usually when the swelling resolves, patency of the nasolacrimal duct is restored. In the case of imperforate puncta, surgery may be necessary to open the puncta or to create an opening into the nasal cavity for tears to drain via dacryocystorhinotomy.

Help your dog’s comfort level

In the meantime you can increase your dog’s comfort level by keeping the fur around the eyes trimmed and gently cleaning the corners of the eyes with a paper towel moistened with warm water. You can use a dog eye wash regularly to keep your dog eyes clean and hydrated. If he is pawing at the eyes use an Elizabethan collar to prevent any self-inflicted damage to the eyes until you can get him to your veterinarian. There are a variety of tear staining products available, but I do not recommend using them until you check with your veterinarian first since they tend to mask disease and do not address the underlying cause of whatever may be causing your dog’s Epiphora.


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