Why Do Cats and Dogs Have Tear Stains?

Tear stains in both cats and dogs are a common problem. Most pet owners often wonder how these reddish-brown markings came about, and it can be quite frustrating to pinpoint their cause. Especially for pets with white or light-coloured fur, tear stains underneath their eyes and around their muzzles are even more obvious.

What are the causes of tear stains?


There are numerous causes for tear stains in cats and dogs. One of the most common reasons is Epiphora — the excessive production of tears either from too many tears being produced or the tears not draining away properly.


Tear stains can also form due to porphyrins, a type of molecule that contains iron and is a result of a pet’s body breaking down red blood cells. Porphyrins are typically excreted through faeces, but in the case of cats and dogs, they can also be excreted through other bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, and tears. Since these molecules contain iron, which is responsible for the red colouration, when our pets expel them through tears, it stains the fur around their eyes a dark reddish-brown.

Shallow eye sockets/inward-facing eyelids

Short-nosed dog breeds like the Shih-Tzus, Pekingese, and pugs are more prone to tear stains because of their shallow eye sockets whereas for cats, Persians, Himalayans, and other cat breeds with flat faces are more likely to have tear stains. Pets that have blocked tear drainage holes due to a previous eye infection or have excessive hair growth around their eyes also tend to get tear stains.

Yeast infection

If tear stains are left on their own for a long time and not cleaned away, your pet could develop a yeast infection! As tear stains form and yeast and bacteria accumulate under the eye on the fur it results in a brown stain instead of the usual reddish-brown stains.

Other possible causes of tear stains

  • Ear infection

  • Entropion

  • Ingrown eyelashes

  • Poor diet

  • Glaucoma

  • Exposure to smoke

  • Teething in young dogs

  • Plastic food bowls

  • Medications

  • Stress

  • Eye Infections

How to treat tear stains

A quick Google search calls up millions of search results and thousands of remedies to help remove tear stains. Likewise, some over-the-counter medications have been indicated as treatment, yet, there is no single proven treatment that is 100% effective and successful. In fact, some of the remedies (especially those you’ve found online!) can actually do more harm than good to your pet’s eyes and fur! A thing to note: Never, ever use hydrogen peroxide to clean tear stains because this chemical is very hazardous and can cause severe damage if even a single drop gets into your pet’s eyes.

It is always best to consult your veterinarian for the treatment of tear stains. Some vets used to recommend low doses of antibiotics to treat tear stains, but now this occurs very rarely due to the risk of antibiotic resistance.

As always, prevention is still much more effective than cure, so one of the best things you can do for your furry companion is to gently clean the area around their eyes and muzzle at least two to three times a day with a soft cloth and warm water.

Tear stains should not be taken too lightly or brushed aside as trivial because there might be a more serious underlying medical condition. If cleaning your pet’s eyes regularly doesn’t seem to do much in keeping tear stains at bay, take your pet to your vet immediately for early diagnosis and proper treatment.

Recent Posts

See All