Tear Staining


The Cause: 


Tear-staining is a common problem with Maltese.   Most tearing problems are due to the famous "Four H's" spoken of by Margarie Martin:  heredity, health, hygiene and happiness.  A seriously stained face does not indicate a poor-quality, nor poorly bred dog.  It is not proof that the dog is neglected, mistreated or unhealthy.  It just means the dog has more tears and less drainage than he needs for some reason that is probably somehow related to any one or any combination of very minor "heredity, health, hygiene, and happiness" concerns.


Heredity:  A dog could inherit very small tear ducts or overly watery eyes, particularly as a response to various products.  Definitely inherited are large eyes and short muzzles, which tend to allow more eye irritation and less drainage.  There can be inherited or developmental structural defects that result in eye stains.


Health:  Simple health concerns are often the major cause of tear-staining.  Some of these are natural and unavoidable such as when puppies cut their first teeth, and again when they cut their permanent teeth.  To make matters worse, at the same time, puppy hair is growing, just long enough to stick into their eyes and cause excessive tearing.  Maltese of any age with teeth or gum problems are likely to have extra tear staining.  Ear mites and ear infections, or any health problem - especially those in the head, neck, and chest areas - may also contribute to tear-staining.  Allergies to certain dyes or ingredients in food could cause excessive tearing.


Hygiene:  Hygiene is an obvious factor in tear-staining.  Matter in the eye tends to collect at the inner corner.  This works wonderfully to keep eyes clean of foreign particles.  If the dog's eyes are exposed to dust, wind, grooming products, stray or ingrown hairs and other irritants, there will be more matter at the corners.  This matter becomes an irritant and causes more tearing and therefore more staining. 


Happiness:  Happiness may directly or indirectly affect tearing.  It seems very apparent that any miserable, uncomfortable, stressed-out dog is prone to all kinds of problems, including and leading to excess tearing, less eye drainage and more staining.  When a Maltese is upset or unhappy more tearing occurs which will rapidly stain the face.


Other:  Other causes of tear and other staining in Maltese could be their diet.  Foods with dyes or water with high mineral content can cause staining.  Also the dog could be getting his face or feet in his food which could cause staining.


Coping with Tear Staining


Since nothing can be done about your puppy's heredity, we must first look to the causes due to health.  Obviously nothing can be don to prevent cutting teeth.  If you suspect your dog might have ear mites, ear or bacterial or yeast infection or clogged tear ducts, you may need to visit your vet.  He can prescribe medication or procedures to take care of these problems.  Many people recommend Tetracyclin, an antibiotic, for helping with tear-staining.  There is a bad side to this however - it can cause stomach upsets which will contribute to more staining and will also cause staining of the teeth.  Give it only for a short period if you must use it.  If a food allergy is determined to be the cause, better quality foods, such as Eukanuba, Innova and Sensible Choice, just to name a few, produce a food for dogs with food allergies.  I also recommend using a stainless steel feeding dish as it is bacteriostatic and will not breed bacteria as some plastic dishes can.


After health problems have been considered you must look to hygiene.  Always be certain to dry your dog's ears thoroughly after bathing.  Also, any hairs inside the ears should also be removed.  This is something you can do yourself quite easily, but if you're unsure how to do it, have your vet show you the procedure.  This will help prevent ear infections.  Matter should be gently cleaned from the eyes twice daily with a cotton swab.  A dab of eye ointment (such as Terramycin) or a drop of Visine should be used twice daily.  Do not use excessive amounts as this may contribute to the tearing problem.  Be sure that any eye ointment you use is clear.  Hair should be put up in a top knot as soon as it is long enough.  The eyes should then be examined for any stray or ingrown hairs.  Wipe tear-stained hair with warm water and dry with cornstarch and a tissue.  If there are stray hairs around the eye, a dab of petroleum jelly or Desitin will help keep them out of eyes and help prevent further staining.  This procedure should usually correct the problem within 10-21 days and is highly preferable to bleaching, which can cause breakage of the hair on which it is used and also possible skin irritations or eye damage if extreme care is not taken.   One method, (without bleaching) recommended by a breeder, is mixing concentrated Magic Touch #1 and hydrogen peroxide (2% or 3% from the pharmacy -- not the beauty shop variety) equal parts.  Only mix enough for a week at a time so the peroxide doesn't lose it potency. (Mix 1/8 cup Magic Touch with 1/8 cup peroxide.)  Apply it once or twice a day to the stained area with a cotton ball after combing out the hair.  Using the Magic Touch concentrate helps prevent the hair from drying out too much from the peroxide.  And as an added benefit, it might only take a couple of weeks to clean it up completely.  Magic Touch is a Crown Royale product and the toll-free number is 1-800-992-5400.


I believe the happiness issue speaks for itself.  Do your best to be constantly reassuring to you dog and avoid situations which may be stressful when possible.  If you are aware of a stressful situation that is forthcoming (such as the dog's first show), do your best to prepare yourself and your dog in advance.  If you are nervous and upset, this will convey itself to your dog, making it nervous and upset also.  This will lead to excessive tearing.  Be sure your dog is accustomed to doing all that will be expected of it in the ring.


Avoid feeding your dog any product which contains dyes.  Quality dog foods such as Iams, Eukanuba, Innova and Sensible Choice, to name a few, do not contain dyes.  Also if you give your dog snacks, be certain they contain no colorings.  Since high mineral content in water can also cause staining, I recommend using purified water.  Some owners have had success in teaching their dog to drink from a water bottle to keep their face dry.