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Dear Daisy Dog

My bichon’s white hair has turned red-brown under the inner corners of her eyes. What causes this, and how can I get rid of it?

Daisy Responds

Your bichon’s problem is called tear staining.

I am a white standard poodle, so I easily could have the same trouble. But I don’t, perhaps because Mom wipes the gook from my eyes frequently.

Tear staining occurs when tears overflow the eyes and deposit pigments, called porphyrins, on hair near the eyes.

Tears don’t normally overflow, unless the dog is producing excessive tears or has an abnormal drainage system.

Overproduction of tears occurs when something irritates the eye, like a turned-in eyelash.

And if the plumbing isn’t perfect, the tears won’t drain properly. If the shape of the lower eyelid is slightly abnormal, tears won’t funnel into the tiny drain hole. If a membrane blocks the hole, or the tear ducts are clogged, tears will overflow onto the hair.

So have your veterinarian determine whether your dog has overproduction of tears or abnormal tear drainage. Once the underlying problem is corrected, the staining will go away.

Some treatments prevent the staining but don’t address the cause of the overflowing tears. These include trimming the affected hair and applying petroleum jelly to prevent the tears from soaking into the hair, and wiping the eyes frequently.

If you try a store-bought tear stain product or hydrogen peroxide, be sure to keep those chemicals out of the eyes.
Some antibiotics, such as tetracycline, bind porphyrins so they don’t stain the hair. However, antibiotics are not a good solution because they do not correct tear overflow, and the risks of daily, long-term antibiotic use outweigh any cosmetic benefit.

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