What Causes Dog Tear Stains & Gunky Eyes? Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

What Causes Dog Tear Stains & Gunky Eyes? Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Us pawrents love getting lost in our dogs’ puppy eyes—but it’s harder when they have tear stains or a bunch of gooey / crusty eye boogers in the way.

Much like us humans after waking up, it’s common for our furry friends—particularly smaller and brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds—to start their day with noticeable discharge in the corners of their eyes, usually tan or brown in colour and made up of a mix of debris, skin cells and tears.

While eye gunk is completely normal (it’s a sign your dog is producing tears that are necessary to keep their eyes healthy and comfortable), there are some types of gunk that can be a sign of an underlying health problem:

👀 If your dog’s eyes are producing a yellow or greenish discharge and eye redness and discomfort is evident, your dog likely has an eye infection and should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. 

👀 If your dog’s eyes are producing a thick white or grey mucus, this may be the result of dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS), a condition in which your dog has a reduced capacity to create tears, which in turn supercharges their mucus production and can lead to inflammation, ulcers and blindness if left untreated. KCS is easy for vets to diagnose, and treatment is typically successful, so don’t wait to take your pooch in if they’re having this type of goop.

Along with eye crust and goo, some dogs (especially white- and tan-coloured dogs) are prone to have tear stains, which are reddish-brown discolorations to the fur around your pooch’s eyes. This occurs because dogs’ tears contain porphyrin, a substance that becomes pigmented when exposed to air and allowed to dry. Tear stains alone pose no health threat to your pooch, though you should consult a vet immediately if your dog’s tear staining has increased or the appearance of their stains has changed.

What Can I Do To Keep My Dog’s Eyes Clean?

While tan or brown eye boogers don’t pose any health risks to your mutt, it’s important to keep their eyes clean and not filled with day-old boogies. Similarly, tear stains that have been ruled out as being the result of an underlying health problem should be cleaned if you want your pooch to be showing off their freshest face. Here are our top recommendations for cleaning the two types of gunk:

Eye Boogers

👀 Damp a washcloth or cotton pad with warm water and place it over your dog’s eye boogers (this will loosen any dry boogies that otherwise would be painful to pull from your pup’s face). After about 25-30 seconds, gently wipe those softened boogies away.

👀 Use canine eye drops (not human ones, as you’ll want to ensure the drops are non-toxic to your pooch). Doggy eye drops are a quick and easy way to not only clean your dog’s eyes, but to help keep them lubricated, flush out any irritants and debris and alleviate allergic reactions. TIP:  when applying eye drops, hold the bottle with your thumb and index finger and rest that hand on the top of your dog’s head for stability (you don’t want to be poking your pooch in the eye!).

👀 Get the hair around your pooch’s eyes trimmed regularly. Longer hair makes it easier for boogers to hang on and get crusty. Uneasy at the thought of bringing trimming scissors close to your dog’s eyes? We recommend leaving it with the professionals and asking your dog’s groomer to trim this sensitive area.

Tear Stains

Two main factors to consider with tear staining:

  1. Some breeds have a greater deposition for tear staining. The most commonly affected are small breeds with longer fur / coats. For example; Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Bichon Frise, Maltese, Toy Poodle and others.
  2. A blocked or maldeveloped nasolacrimal duct (where your pet’s tears are formed), can cause overproduction of tears that can lead to tear stains.

If you dog already has stains:

💧 Try canine wipes (though avoid those with bleaching ingredients or antibiotics). We recommend Bugalugs’ biodegradable, vegan eye wipes that naturally and comfortably remove gunk and tear stains from your pooch. These pre-soaked wipes are formulated with a soothing combination of evening primrose and passionflower.

💧Coconut oil is a great non-toxic, non-stinging tear stain remover for pups. Simply dry the area around your dog’s eyes, apply some oil to a cotton pad and rub the stained areas. You will likely have to repeat this daily before all stains are removed, depending on how dark the stains are. 

On top of being a safe and natural option to remove stains, coconut oil contains antifungal and antibacterial properties that will hinder the growth of bacteria in the applied areas. The oil also creates a natural protective shield that won’t allow tears to soak into your dog’s skin and stain in the first place. For the best results, we recommend using unrefined, organic coconut oil to be sure there aren’t any pesticides or chemicals accidentally going into your pup’s eyes.

💧 Get the hair around your pooch’s eyes trimmed. Parents of light-coloured dogs often find it hard to remove tear stains once they’re already there. Trimming the hair that’s been stained and starting a daily cleaning regimen to prevent any stains from developing in the future is an effective method to keep those rust-coloured streaks at bay.

To prevent stains:

💧 Cleaning the hair around your dog’s eyes daily and keeping that hair trimmed is the best way to prevent stains from accumulating. After cleaning with a gentle wash solution (like baby soap; never use bleach, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda or apple-cider vinegar mixes!) use a small eye comb or brush to gently loosen and remove any debris. Lastly, pat the area dry with a clean cloth, as moisture buildup is what makes stains in the first place!

Consider Protein Sources

The protein source in your dogs food can be a factor in tear staining. Red meats are high in iron and can intensify tear stains in some dogs. If your dog is prone to tear stains and currently eating a meat-based diet, then THE PACK is the pawfect way to address this issue by swapping out beef-based foods for our No-Moo Ragu! The additional iron and magnesium in red meat require extra effort for the body to break down, putting additional stress on the liver. Excess iron intake can lead to an overproduction of porphyrin, the compound responsible for the brown color in tear stains. 

We hope these tips will get you back to gazing into those sweet, puppy, gunk-free eyes!


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