The owners of white-faced dogs and cats are often frustrated by the reddish-brown discoloration that commonly develops around the corners of their eyes and mouths. The staining is caused by a pigment called porphyrin that is naturally found in saliva and tears. When porphyrin comes in contact with air, it turns a reddish-brown and can stain light-colored hair and skin.
Under normal circumstances, tears do not spill over the lids and onto the fur, but some conditions increase the likelihood that this will occur, including:
- Anatomical abnormalities often affecting pets with very short noses and prominent eyes (e.g., Bulldogs and Persian cats)
- Overproduction of tears due to eye irritation
- Blockage or abnormal development of the ducts that drain tears
- The presence of long hair around the eyes
Tear staining is usually just a cosmetic concern. If, however, the stains are associated with eye inflammation (e.g., redness and discomfort), changes in vision, or any other abnormal symptoms, the pet should be seen by a veterinarian for a thorough eye exam. Wounds, infections, ulcers, and other serious diseases can cause increased drainage from the eye and therefore, increased tear staining.
Once potentially serious eye problems have been ruled out, owners have several natural options for eliminating tear stains:
- Keep the fur around the eyes trimmed short to prevent it from touching and irritating the surface of the eye and wicking the tears onto the surrounding fur
- Wipe the affected areas clean once or twice a day with a cloth or wipe dampened with warm water or an eye cleaner
- Once a day, add and antibiotic-free nutritional supplement (e.g., Angels’ Eyes Natural) to the pet’s food or mix it with water and squirt it into the pet’s mouth.
If these natural methods of tear stain removal are not fully effective, products that contain tylosin, a type of antibiotic, will usually get the job done. The long term use of tylosin appears to be safe, but owners should discuss with a vet on a case by case basis whether or not using an antibiotic to reduce tear staining is appropriate.
Whichever method of tear stain removal is used, keep in mind that it can take several weeks or months for the results to become fully apparent. Porphyrin-stained fur will need to grow out and be shed or clipped away before the pet’s new, clean coat can be appreciated.