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American Maltese Association

A National Breed and Member club of the American Kennel Club

Tear Staining

Written by: 
Tonia Holibaugh

Concerns about tear staining are the most commonly asked questions of the AMA Health and Education Committees. Maltese are one of several predominantly white colored breeds that have to deal with tear staining issues. Although, genetics can play a part in tear staining, environment and stress also play a big part in the cause of Maltese tear staining.

Any dog can have an issue with tear staining. No dog is immune to this problem.

The information here is for the use of encouraging education in caring for your dogs. I am not a licensed veterinarian. All medication given to your dog should be under the consultation of a licensed veterinarian.

Tear Staining is the red/brown discoloration that can usually be found on a dog under the eyes and around the mouth. In some more progressed states you can also find it on the feet or around the genital areas. Although this is primarily an aesthetic problem, it is an issue that should be addressed as there is usually medical source. A small staining problem in the beginning can end up being the first signs of a more serious underlying health issue that could surface at a later point.

Most tear staining is due to a low grade systemic infection. This can cause the pH levels in the dog's bodily fluids to be "off". The pH level of the bodily fluids controls enzymes that if found in overabundance in the bodily fluids can cause the fluids to stain the hair. This systemic imbalance can be caused by simple stress or it can indicate an underlying health issue.

First, visit your veterinarian to have a thorough examination to look for ear infections, eye infections, blocked tear ducts, retained baby teeth and other dental issues, etc. If your dog has one of these health issues, your dog will need to be treated before addressing the tear staining issue. Most times if one of these issues is found, by treating the underlying cause of the staining you will see the staining stop.

Unfortunately, some vets do not think tear staining is an actual problem. If your vet responds this way, either change vets or talk to your breeder or someone with more experience with Maltese tear staining.

To treat mild tear staining, many vets/breeders treat tear stain with oral antibiotics. The most prevalent antibiotic used initially is Tylan Soluble Powder. Tylan powder is an antibiotic that is not commonly used with dogs. This is helpful, as most dogs will not have built up immunity to this antibiotic. It can be dissolved in their drinking water or be given orally daily. Different people use different doses. I would talk to your vet to find the correct recommended dosage. Tylan is a very mild antibiotic that has a secondary benefit of being useful in the treatment and prevention of some gastro-intestinal infections that can be picked up at dog shows or other places with many dogs present. Although safe for dogs of all ages (except nursing puppies, mothers in whelp or nursing, and dogs on other medications), I would not recommend using it continuously. One side effect that has been reported concerning continuous use of Tylan is falsely elevated liver enzyme levels. A dog would have to be taken off of Tylan for at least a month and be retested to have accurate liver enzyme levels. Some recommend that a dog should given at least a week off every 3 weeks, to be on the safe side. There are many products, like Angel Eyes and Angels Glow etc., available that use Tylan as the base of their treatment. The effectiveness of these products has been reported with varying results.

Results do not happen overnight, but if after a 3 week period of time you don't see an improvement there probably is an underlying cause for the staining. Existing stain will not disappear but the hair will start to grow out white around the staining area.

If you are having problems with tear staining and Tylan doesn't work, I suggest having a Culture and Sensitivity test run on the tearing residue. By putting them on random antibiotics at the wrong doses, you could eliminate future use of many common antibiotics by desensitizing the dog's system to them. Tylan is primarily made to battle microplasma in poultry and swine. This is not a commonly used canine antibiotic so if desensitizing occurs towards Tylan, it is not as damaging as it could be with other more commonly used canine antibiotics. Having the tearing cultured almost always is successful because the sensitivity report that tells your veterinarian what exact antibiotics the bacteria will respond to. This takes the guesswork out of the equation. In bad cases, I have found the bacteria to be resistant to most commonly used veterinary antibiotics. Tear staining can be attacked in two ways, with both oral antibiotics and with eye medication. Consult your vet for the proper dosage.

Bad tear staining can be communicable. Constant wetness under the eyes is the perfect environment to develop a secondary bacterial infection. You can have a secondary staph or yeast infection in the area that is constantly wet. Dogs licking each other, sharing water and using the same brushes can pass the bacteria.

**Using Lysol on the dog's brushes every so often, or have dedicated brushes for certain dogs can help in not cross contaminating dogs.

**Disinfecting the dog's environment with a bleach based solution and at completely other times an ammonia based solution can help also. A good detergent that can be mixed with either bleach or ammonia is Fabulouso. Many contagious health concerns (i.e. coccidia, bacterial, giardia, parvo etc) are only killed by ammonia not bleach and vice versa. For day to day cleaning of dog areas, Odo-Ban or Simple Green are safe for use.

**Regular washing with anti-bacterial dish washing liquid of all dog's water and food bowls is very important. Water and food bowls should be either ceramic, glass or stainless steel. Plastic and other materials can harbor bacteria. Once a month, the bowls can be soaked in a weak bleach solution for true sanitation and then washed in a normal fashion with soap and water.

Tear staining usually has environmental causes. In addition to antibiotics, there are holistic solutions:

**Using filtered or distilled water.

**Using ionizers in the rooms with the dogs for air purity, good ventilation for example exhaust fans, ceiling fans, open windows etc.

**Exposure to sunshine is crucial. Being outside with sunshine and clean fresh air is healthy for everyone, including dogs.

**Keeping your dogs clean with their hair out their faces is also important.

**Keeping your dog's environment clean is imperative.

**Keeping the filters in your air conditioning and heating systems clean.

Two other holistic solutions that can be used are Apple Cider Vinegar added to the dog's drinking water or 1/4 of a teaspoon of buttermilk powder given once or twice a day. The effectiveness of these holistic solutions has been reported with varying results.

Genetically, there are some bloodlines that are more prone to tearing then others. Congenital eye problems can cause tear staining. Prevalent problems with related dogs in different environments can be a good indicator of underlying genetic issues. The predisposition to having health issues that cause tear staining can be genetic in origin. Look for trends in the dogs of that particular bloodline.

The key to eliminating the existing stain is treating the cause of staining first. Once the source of the staining has been treated, many times you will find the stained color of the hair will slowly fade and be much easier to whiten. There are many ways to remove the stain once the staining has stopped. But, unless there is a crucial reason to remove the stain, always remember that staining is just a superficial thing and the ways to remove the stain are harsh to say the least.

Tear staining can be controlled by working with your vet, keeping your dog's environment clean, keeping your dog clean, careful breeding and a little hard work.

Health Catagory: 
General Health Care
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