Why Puppies Have Tear Stains

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. June 17, 2021
Why Puppies Have Tear Stains

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Before adopting a dog, too many potential guardians think about aesthetics. Of course, there are certain dog breeds with a look we prefer, but it is not as important as the dog's character and well-being. Tear stains around a dog's eyes can be aesthetically displeasing, but are they something to worry about?

In this AnimalWised article, we explain why puppies have tear stains. We show you what causes this phenomenon, what problems they may provoke and what we can do to remove them.

You may also be interested in: Why Does My Cat Have So Many Eye Boogers?

White eye discharge in puppies

An important factor in understanding why a puppy has tear stains is the color of the discharge. It is not something we can necessarily use to understand the cause, but it can help to know the severity. When a puppy has white eye discharge and it results in tear stains, it often appears as a slightly mucus consistency.

If we see a little white discharge in our puppy from time to time, it is not likely a cause for concern. If they are otherwise in perfectly good health and don't show other symptoms of illness, we can clean it away and it won't likely return. If we find we have to clean their eye stains regularly or multiple times a day, then it does indicate a problem which needs remedied.

White discharge can imply the puppy has conjunctivitis, something which is very common in puppies between the ages of 10-12 months. Specifically, it is known as follicular conjunctivitis in puppies. This is because white blood cells (lymphocytes) accumulate on the conjunctiva, resulting in small white nodules. This causes hypersecretion of the eyes.

This type of conjunctivitis is also common in adult dogs with generalized allergies. When the dog comes in contact with an allergen, the white blood cells react and it can result in build up in the follicles. The tear stains are cleaned away regularly, but addressing the allergy is the way to prevent them occurring again. These usually require saline solution to properly clean the tear stains.

If the symptoms persist over time or worsen, it could be necessary to use corticosteroids in the form of eye drops. However, it it best to avoid this if possible as it is something which is common in many puppies.

How to know if white tear stains are normal?

If there are any complications or accompanying symptoms with follicular conjunctivitis, it is possible there is a more serious underlying cause. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Production of nasal mucus
  • Constant scratching of the eyes
  • Reddened sclera (white part of the eye)
  • Blepharospasm (inability to open the eyelids)
  • Change in color of the discharge

If our puppy regular produces white discharge and the above symptoms persist, it is important they are taken to a veterinarian for diagnosis.

For a guide to cleaning the eyes of certain breeds, take a look at our guide to cleaning tear stains on Maltese dogs.

Rust colored tear stains in puppies

Sometimes we can see tear stains around the lacrimal ducts which are of a brown or rust-colored appearance. This is especially the case with white dog breeds as the contrast in colors is stark. This staining occurs when we don't clean the area sufficiently, as the dog cannot do it themselves. This is not necessarily a problem and a healthy dog can have rust-colored tear stains.

Dogs which are prone to rusty tear stains are Poodles, the Maltese and Bolognese. These dog breeds are often white in color, but other non-white breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier and Pomeranian can also develop this issue.

The commonality of these breeds is that they can have problems with their nasolacrimal ducts. These are the ducts which release moisture necessary for the lubrication of the eyeball and cleaning of the nostrils. If the ducts become obstructed, due to inflammation or even bone structure (the latter often being the case with brachycephalic dogs), they can cause more discharge. This accumulates in this area causing rust tear stains.

Is it important to clean dog tear stains?

It is important to get our puppy used to cleaning that area daily, just as we get used to brushing. Secretions need to be removed before they harden and crust over, as this can cause a wound in the underlying skin.

With abandoned dogs which never had a guardian to look after their eyes, it is common to see serious problems. The neglect in care of these animals can result in serious injuries which can cause their eyes to scab over.

To remove the tear stains, we should use saline. This is perfect for cleaning eyes as it is effective as a cleaner and does not promote bacterial infection.

What if the discharge is a different color?

The main purpose of tears is to keep the eye lubricated and clean. If not, common eye problems can occur. They do this by eliminating any substance that can damage the cornea. If we regularly take our puppy to the beach or to a park, it is common for this discharge to acquire a light brown, black or rust color. This is because soil and related dirt in the environment can come in contact with the normal eye discharge and stain.

This is why it is ideal for us to clean a dog's eyes after they have been outside where dirt is present. If we are going to clean their tear stains anyway, we should make a habit of doing it after a walk.

Why Puppies Have Tear Stains - Rust colored tear stains in puppies

Green or yellowish eye discharge in dogs

If greenish or yellowish discharge appear, it is usually indicating that our puppy is suffering from bacterial infection. In this case, they usually show obvious obvious signs of discomfort ans pain. They may also constantly try to scratch at their nose as they are unable to reach the eye.

The green or yellow discharge is due to pus, a by-product of the bacterial infection. It is part of the dog's immune response. However, viral diseases such as canine distemper can result in serious amounts of eye discharge. This is because the virus weakens the puppy's immune system and promotes secondary bacterial infection. Canine distemper can weaken a puppy's immune system so much it can be fatal.

Fortunately, canine distemper can be avoided if the puppy is vaccinated in time. This is one of the reasons why starting a vaccination schedule with our veterinarian as soon as possible is important.

Bacterial conjunctivitis tends to occur as a frequent complication in skin problems in dogs. For example, in puppies with sarcoptic mange or generalized demodicosis, secondary bacterial infections are common. This is because the eyes cannot rid themselves of the problem. Along with the discharge being yellowish or green, it can be thicker.

Treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis in puppies

In this case, our puppy will need more than washing with saline. Our veterinarian will likely prescribe an antibiotic eye drop or ointment for a few days. In general, the application of eye drops should be done every two or three hours. Ointments will be less frequent. If the discomfort is excessive, they may need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent their tendency to rub their face from leading to a corneal ulcer.

It is difficult to know which bacteria is involved without an antibiogram, but since secondary complications usually come from the hand of Staphylococcus spp., it is usual to use a broad-spectrum antibiotic eye drops. If the problem is caused by a certain skin disease, then treatment of this underlying cause is essential.

Why Puppies Have Tear Stains - Green or yellowish eye discharge in dogs

Other causes of tear stains in dogs

There are many other causes of skin disease in dogs, but they are not specific to puppies. Some are not often found until our dog is a certain age. However, there may be circumstances, even if they are rare, where puppies will develop eye discharge and tear stains for the following reasons:

  • QCS (Keratoconjunctivitis sicca): absence of tear production, which causes secondary infections. The eyes can become dull, green discharge occurs and blindness may result. Predisposed breeds include the Cocker Spaniel, Bulldog or Pug. If our puppy is one of these breeds, we need to pay special attention to their eyes. As it is an autoimmune disorder, the age of presentation is highly variable, but it is not usually diagnosed before the first year of life. It is sometimes confused with other less serious disorders, so it is possible that it is underdiagnosed and that in the future we will see more puppies diagnosed. Treatment requires the use of immunosuppressants for life, such as tacrolimus or cyclosporine. They will also need daily eye drops to protect their eyes.

  • Foreign bodies: spikes, twigs, grains of sand and other foreign bodies can get into a dog's eye easily, especially when they are low to the ground. The dog rubbing their eye to remove them can cause serious damage and infect the eye. It is necessary to check the upper and lower eyelids and wash them out with saline solution. This is especially if the object is too small to be removed by hand. After removing the object, we should take them to a vet to carry out a fluorescein test will and determine whether or not there is a corneal ulcer.

  • Allergies: it is not common to find allergies in puppies less than 4 months old, but from then on we can see allergic eye reactions to almost any allergen. Common allergens include pollen, the plastic of their feeders, dust and others. Inflammation of the eyelids, the inability to open them in some cases and the constant tear secretion are indicative of an allergic reaction. Spring can often increase the likelihood of reaction and we may see more eye stains during this time. Treatment depends on the allergen, but corticosteroids can be used in eye drops and antibiotics are required if there is a secondary infection.

Take a look at our article on what allergy medication is safe for dogs to know more about allergy treatment.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Puppies Have Tear Stains, we recommend you visit our Eye problems category.

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