Many breeds suffer from dark brown or reddish staining beneath the eyes ("tear stains") but they are often more noticeable in lighter coats of the Blenheim and Tri-color Cavalier and the lighter colored Cavachon and Cavalier hybrids. Tear stains are formed when porphyrin, a pigment found in tears, accumulates under the eyes causing the discoloration.
For the most part, tear stains are not the result of a serious medical issue but are simply the result of excess tears accumulating in the fur under the eye. Basically, either your dog produces too many tears or can't drain them properly (or both). That being said, there are some exceptions dog owners or puppy shoppers should be aware of so they can consult with their vet.
COMMON CAUSES OF TEAR STAINS:
This list is not exhaustive but are the most common causes. Unless you can quickly determine and remedy the cause on your own (example: tear stains appear immediately after a diet change and disappear when you revert to the prior diet) then you should see your vet as soon as possible to rule out anything more serious.
If you are searching for a puppy and notice that a breeder's dogs have heavy tear stains, you are correct to be concerned. Tear stains in young puppies can sometimes be the result of excess tearing while teething but is more commonly a sign of poor diet, unhealthy living conditions or genetic predispositions (or all of the above). Unhealthy coat and excessive tear stains in photos is often the way that puppy mills are first detected by the cautious consumer. Before purchasing a puppy that already has tear stains, you should ask the breeder to take the puppy to the vet to rule out any birth defect, physical deformity, closed tear ducts or other problems. Candidly, we can't even recommend purchasing a puppy with severe stains that are already in place by 7-8 weeks old - it's a red flag.
MEDICAL TREATMENTS - You can help you vet better determine the cause of the stains by recording when they first occurred, if they appear evenly in both eyes, if your dog has had any change in diet or lifestyle or any other changes in your dogs behavior or symptoms that might help narrow the cause. Once your vet determines the underlying cause of the tear stains, they can offer an appropriate treatment. Treatments can include saline washes, antibiotics, minor surgery, medicated drops or antihistamines (or other methods to reduce allergies if that's the cause).
While getting to the bottom of the cause of tear stains, many owners also want to improve the appearance of their pups. For more information on what you can do to help prevent or remove tear stains after treatment, see our second post Reducing the Appearance of Tear Stains.
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