How to tackle tear stains with your dog's diet

Published:
Reviewed by our experts. More info
Cindy Feng

Struggling to find a solution to your dog’s tear stains? Their food could be the culprit. Sub-optimal diets or underlying health concerns are often the cause of staining. 

Tear stains can be prevented and treated, and we've got plenty of expert tips and tricks for you to try.

What are tear stains?

Tear stains are caused by an overproduction of tears from the tear gland above your dog’s eye. The veterinary term for this is epiphora. 

Your dog’s tears contain a pigment called porphyrin: an iron-containing molecule produced by the body when it breaks down red blood cells.  

Porphyrins are excreted through the gastrointestinal tract, urine, saliva, and tears – it's this pigment that causes the rust-coloured staining. 

Although the rust-coloured stain is more noticeable in white dogs, it’s a common problem for all breeds. So, if your dog is showing signs of staining, make an appointment with your veterinarian to investigate the matter further. 

Can my dog’s diet cause tear stains?

Yes, your dog’s diet may contribute to their tear stains — with certain ingredients playing a key role in this stubborn problem.  

Your dog needs dietary iron to help the blood carry oxygen around their body via their circulatory system.  

High-quality protein, like grass-fed beef and lamb and free-range chicken, contain natural sources of iron that can be readily absorbed by the body, compared to synthetic sources.

Unfortunately, many dry food companies use low-quality meat by-products which can affect the iron content, meaning synthetic iron often needs to be added.

When the body breaks down iron, porphyrin is released. Excess iron in your dog’s diet can directly increase the amount of porphyrin in your pup’s tears causing staining.

Allergies

Food allergies and intolerances can trigger an immune response like watery eyes, a leading cause of staining in dogs.

Inflammation from allergic reactions can also block the tear ducts (nasolacrimal ducts). These are small holes in your dog’s lower eyelid that drain excess tears into the sinus and down their throat.

When these are blocked, there’s nowhere for the tears to go except down their face.

High glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates

High-GI ingredients like wheat, corn and other cereals can trigger grain flare-ups, an allergic response causing inflammation that constricts the tear ducts and sinuses.

High-GI ingredients like wheat, corn and other cereals can trigger grain flare-ups, an allergic response causing inflammation that constricts the tear ducts and sinuses. 

If your dog produces excess tears, or their tear ducts are blocked, it can make their skin and fur permanently damp – an ideal place for yeast, bacteria, and fungus to grow. Yeast infections under the eyes create brownish staining.

Before and after Bliss

What are other causes of tear stains?

Blocked tear duct (nasolacrimal) duct

Inflammation, infection, and grit can block the tear ducts or the sinuses, making them unable to drain excess tears. 

Eye infections

Conjunctivitis and other eye infections can increase tear production as the body tries to alleviate the irritation.  

Inverted eyelids (entropion) 

Entropion is usually a hereditary or developmental problem where the lower eyelid turns in on itself: causing a dog’s fur and eyelashes to rub against the eye. It’s an uncomfortable disorder that makes a dog’s eyes water and produce thick discharge and can lead to painful ulcers on the cornea. 

Ingrown eyelashes

Ingrown eyelashes or extra eyelashes that grow in the wrong location (distichiasis) can irritate the surface of the eye, triggering an increase in tears and thicker discharge to lubricate the irritated area. 

Glaucoma 

Glaucoma generates a build-up of fluid in the eye creating pressure leading to an overproduction of tears.  

Ear infections 

Like humans, a dog’s ears, eyes, nose and throat are connected by a network of ducts, cavities and tubes. Ear infections can also affect the eyes causing blocked ducts, epiphora and tear stains.  

Irregular grooming 

Long hair can irritate a dog’s eyes causing tears, it can also harbour yeast or bacteria if the area stays warm and damp. Regular grooming to keep the hair around their eyes short can improve the issue.

Stress and anxiety 

Stress hormones trigger an immune response that can create inflammation in the body. Inflammation can block the tear duct, causing tear stains.  

Puppy teething 

When a puppy is teething, they’re often feverish with swollen gums. This can increase tear production and staining.  

Breed 

Some breeds are more predisposed to tear stains than others because of their body shape. Breeds like Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Pugs have protruding eyes that can be injured, infected, or irritated easily.  

Brachycephalic dogs, like Brussels Griffons, Bulldogs, and Pekingese have shortened nasal passages that can become blocked, making it harder to drain tears away.  

Imperforate punctum is a condition where the tear duct opening hasn’t developed properly, preventing the normal drainage of tears. It’s more common in breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels.

Tear stains testimonial

Tips and tricks to prevent tear stains in dogs

The best way to stop tear stains is to address the underlying cause first, otherwise the problem is likely to persist. 

#1: Address food allergies with a hypoallergenic diet

If a food allergy or intolerance is the problem, your dog may need to go through a vet-directed elimination trial to establish the trigger ingredient.

Lyka’s hypoallergenic Chicken, Fish, and Lamb Bowls contain limited proteins – great for food sensitivities. Another great choice is the Turkey and Kangaroo meals that use novel proteins: proteins your dog has rarely or never eaten before.

#2: Avoid grain flare-ups

Grain-free dry food may not contain wheat, soy or corn, but they aren’t necessarily the healthier option. Many brands have replaced grain ingredients with a high proportion of legumes that have been linked to canine-dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Lyka meals are legume-free, and we only use the nutritious ancient grain, quinoa, in our Lamb and Turkey meals. This means you don’t have to worry about your dog experiencing watery eyes and staining — triggered by a grain flare-up.

#3: Improve their immune response to allergens 

Your dog’s immune system is mostly regulated by their gut microbiome. An over-reactive immune system can lead to excessive tear production.

Nourish your dog’s gut and support an effective immune system with a real food diet full of bioavailable ingredients and dietary fibre.

#4: Diets containing Vitamin C 

Vitamin C supports your dog’s body’s absorption of iron. Meals containing fresh fruit and vegetables provide bioavailable sources of Vitamin C — rather than synthetic forms.

#5: Reduce stress and anxiety 

Minimise stress-induced inflammation and tear stains by supporting your dog’s calm behaviour. Remove the triggers that cause anxiety or develop an action plan for anticipated stressors, like fireworks and storms.

Consider dietary supplementation to improve their feelings of wellbeing, like Lyka Calm Supplements, containing active ingredients like passionflower extract to calm the mind.

#6: Veterinary treatment

If tear stains are linked to a yeast, bacterial or fungal infection your vet may be able to provide some medication to deal with the primary problem. Once that has cleared up, you may notice a change in their staining.  

If your dog’s excess tears stem from entropion or a blocked tear duct, your vet can investigate further and advise you on the next steps. 

Glaucoma or other eye problems can be treated by your vet, or you may be referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist who specialises in animal eye care.

#7: Metal food and water bowls

Plastic bowls can harbour bacteria in scratches or cracks leading to infections. Switch to metal bowls to minimise the risk of pathogens.

#8: A clean and dry face 

Use a clean, damp cloth to remove dirt or environmental allergens like dust or pollen from your dog’s face and towel dry gently afterwards.  

Check their ears and nose health to make sure they’re free from irritants or infection that may block the sinus passageways, preventing the drainage of tears.

#9: Hydration

Keep your dog hydrated to help their liver process dietary iron. Use filtered or distilled water to avoid the excess minerals that are added to tap water.

#10: Homemade tear stain removers

You can use a small amount of coconut oil to gently rub away some of the staining.  

A mix of equal parts water and apple cider vinegar is another homemade solution. 

Another preventative remedy is to add a few drops of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water to increase the acidity, which can reduce staining.  

With any remedy, avoid any contact with their eyes. Not all dogs like the sensation of having their face touched, so proceed with caution and give plenty of praise and rewards.

Proceed with caution when touching eyes

Lyka: the holistic way to reduce tear stains

A dog’s appearance can give us clues about their health, but it’s rarely the full picture. Tear staining is a perfect example of this.  

Whole dog health begins with a real food diet that nourishes their body and mind from the inside out.  

Lyka meals are designed by board-certified veterinarian nutritionists to improve your dog’s gut health and immune response, reducing the problem of tear staining.  

See the difference for yourself!

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

Need a sniff of approval?

Join the pack today with 30% off your first box.

Give your pupper a tongue-tingling taste test of your choice of recipes before you commit to a customised, regular plan.

Get started
A picture our range of Lyka meals

Related articles