There is more to tear staining than people think. It isn’t because you don’t keep the face clean and dry. Though that will help in the long run. It isn’t because you are feeding a dog food that has beet pulp in it or has dyes in it. It isn’t just because you might have drinking water higher in some minerals than others. There are many, many reasons why a dog might be tearing more which contributes to the tear staining. Let’s discuss the scientific reason why the tears of dogs stain their faces.

Porphyrins are a group of organic compounds of which many occur in nature. One of the best-known porphyrins is heme, the pigment in red blood cells. Heme is a cofactor of the protein hemoglobin. They are heterocyclic macrocycles composed of four modified pyrrole subunits interconnected at their carbon atoms via methine bridges (=CH-). Porphyrins are aromatic. That is, they obey Hückel's rule for aromaticity, possessing 4n+2 = π electrons (n=4 for the shortest cyclic path) that are delocalized over the macrocycle. The macrocycles, therefore, are highly-conjugated systems. As a consequence, they typically have very intense absorption bands in the visible region and may be deeply colored; the name porphyrin comes from a Greek word for purple. The macrocycle has 26 pi electrons in total. The parent porphyrin is porphine, and substituted porphines are called porphyrins.

A heme (American English) or haem (British English) is a prosthetic group that consists of an iron atom contained in the center of a large heterocyclic organic ring called a porphyrin. Not all porphyrins contain iron, but a substantial fraction of porphyrin-containing metalloproteins have heme as their prosthetic group; these are known as hemoproteins. Hemes are most commonly recognized in their presence as components of hemoglobin but they are also components of a number of other hemoproteins.

When red blood cells are naturally broken down by the body, a chemical substance known as porphyrin is left in the bloodstream. Porphyrins are excreted primarily through bile and the intestinal tract, but in dogs a significant amount of porphyrin is excreted through tears, saliva and also urine. Porphyrin is an iron-containing substance, and those stains are nearly impossible to remove! All dogs have this iron-staining problem caused by their tears, saliva and urine, but of course it is most noticeable on light colored dogs. If you have ever noticed a white dog that has been licking or chewing on his leg, the hair in that area will turn iron-brown in color as well. The actual cause of stains is the porphyrin in the tears and saliva themselves.


It is important to realize that white is not a color in itself, but the absence of color. White hair occurs when no melanin is formed in the papilla, and thus no color pigment is present in the cortex of the hair. White hair is actually translucent. Light passes through the hair shaft


White dog hair tends to be thinner than hair with color and often has fewer cuticle layers than dark hair. It also can be more porous. Because of the more porosity, the white coat holds dirt and because of the thinner nature of the hair cuticle, staining of the cortex is more likely to occur. White hair is somewhat more fragile than colored hair and can be easily damaged or broken. Damaged hair will tangle more easily. Maintaining optimum whiteness in Maltese coats requires finding the balance between cleaning and overworking the coat.


Staining occurs when pigmentation from a substance penetrates the hair cuticle and is deposited within the cortex of the hair shaft(s). Since the detergent surfactant in a shampoo works on the surface of the hair cuticle, the stain is not removed by shampooing. The hair has in fact been dyed. Urine, coal tar from pavement, ground in grasses, food coloring, and dyes from toys are among the substances that can cause staining. The chemistry of some dogs' saliva can cause staining, especially if they lick themselves.

Dealing with staining is a challenge, often requiring trying various approaches. Prevention is the most effective approach, but does not always work. Daily removal of offending substances such as tears, saliva or urine is recommended. Sometimes changing the diet or the water can help control staining from saliva or tear stains. It is helpful to have realistic expectations. Stain removal is rarely accomplished in a single effort.

Young puppies will tend to produce more tears when they are teething. The gums become swollen and block the tear ducts so that the tears spill over and their faces stay wet. When the dog reaches maturity, tear staining should lessen. However, some dogs may produce more tears than others.

Many animals have a third eyelid to protect their eyes from debris. What is the third eyelid in dogs? What does it do? The third eyelid, or nictitating (winking) membrane is a protective extra eyelid at the inner corner of each eye, next to the nose. When needed the third eyelid can sweep across the eyeball, like a windshield wiper, to help remove debris. That third eyelid also contains a secretory gland that helps lubricate the eye. Usually the gland is hidden beneath your dog's lower eyelid. It seems more animals (rats, rabbits, cats etc) with third eyelids tend to produce more porphyrins. They seem to have more tearing and staining of the face than other animals.

Some veterinarians may not be familiar with the actual cause of these stains; or may consider this problem purely a cosmetic concern. Medical reasons for excess tearing should be ruled out by your veterinarian. But remember the bottom line is . . . you must understand tear staining and have it under control or removing it won't do any good; it will only come back and may be worse!


Most veterinary eye specialists believe the actual cause of tear staining is excess tearing. When the face hair is wet from excess tearing it is the breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. One of the most common yeast infections is Ptyrosporin or Red Yeast which causes a deep reddish-brown stain. Low grade bacterial infections in the tear ducts are also common and may cause excess tearing and staining.


It is not unusual to find that your Maltese may have completely clogged tear ducts which need to be irrigated by your veterinarian. A veterinary ophthalmology specialist indicated that as many as 20% of small dogs, such as Maltese, may be born with lower tear ducts that are physically closed. These may need to be surgically open.


Many times a rampant ear infection can be the cause of excessive tearing and staining. Care needs to be taken that when you bath your Maltese the ears are dried after the bath. Make sure to use a good cleansing product that will leave the ears dry after it is used. Scraggly hairs in the ears should also be removed by plucking or using a forceps to gently pull the hair out. Frequent cleaning with a product such as Nolvasan Otic can go a long way to insuring clean ears and a white face. There are several good products to use for ear infections.


Genetics can play a significant role in excessive tearing and staining. The head structure of different Maltese can be very different. Many veterinary eye specialists believe that the actual structure around the eye area plays a significant role in excessive tearing. The rounder the eye the more apt that the tears will spill down the face then flow into the corner of the eye and drain off in the tear duct. There is research going on all the time to decide factors in genetics.


Eliminating excess tearing is one of the best ways to stop staining. Pay attention to the hair around the face and prevent hair from falling into the eyes causing irritation and infection. Hair poking into the eye can cause excess tearing. Maltese can be susceptible to allergies so watch the environment your Maltese is in. Maltese who previously had beautiful white faces and overnight developed tear stains when exposed to air irritants. Sprays or cleaners can cause irritation to their eyes. It also is important to be extra careful when bathing your Maltese. Shampoo and other chemicals in the eyes can cause irritation and excess tearing. Try using a little DuoLube; basically sterile mineral oil; to protect your Maltese dogs' eyes when bathing them. You can find this human product in the eye care section of most drug stores. Some veterinarians believes that many times an allergy to something as simple as a type of food can cause an allergy which is an inflammatory reaction. The inflammatory reaction can change the pH fluid in your dogs systems causing excessive tearing and potential allergies.


Another potential source of tear staining is fleas. If you read the directions on most flea shampoos they suggest starting the shampoo with the head. Why -- because fleas need moisture to survive and get this from the dogs' tears/eyes. Naturally, this can cause an irritation in addition to red stain from the fleas' left behind feces (which contains digested blood). Another problem that comes with fleas is ear mites. These are carried by the fleas. Ear mites can cause severe ear infections and as a result tear staining. Fleas require a pro-active approach to keep under control.

Before attempting to remove the tear staining from a dog's face, it is most important to have eliminated the source of the staining. Otherwise it will just come back and many times it will be worse than before. Once the source of excessive tearing and staining is found a pro-active program to remove the staining can begin. After insuring that health, irritation, environment, water and diet issues have been eliminated as a source of excessive tearing you can begin to think about removing the tear staining.



TYLAN is the brand name for Tylosin, a veterinary antibiotic that is FDA approved for fowl (chickens/turkeys) and swine (pigs). This is used primarily to treat respiratory disease caused by Mycoplasma Gallisepticum. Many Maltese people have found that this product can also have some beneficial effect in controlling tear staining in Maltese.



There has been success in eliminating tear staining by putting Maltese on a ten day course of low dose chlortetracycline or tetracycline. Occasionally this may need to be repeated. However, do not use this in puppies that have not yet cut their adult teeth. Tetracycline has been shown to cause teeth which have not erupted to permanently stain yellow.

Since the 1950s, drugs from the tetracycline family have been associated with intrinsic tooth discoloration. Once in the bloodstream, tetracycline can be incorporated into the calcification process of developing teeth, in which it affects either primary or secondary dentition after maternal or childhood ingestion, respectively.
Tetracycline’s diffuse through dentin to the enamel interface, chelating calcium ions and incorporating into hydroxyapatite as a stable orthophosphate complex. The amount of drug incorporation is ultimately determined by the distribution of tooth discoloration and is equivalent to serum blood levels and the duration of exposure. When the affected teeth first erupt, they have a bright-yellow band like appearance that fluoresces under ultraviolet light, although upon exposure to sunlight, the color gradually changes to gray or red-brown. Tetracycline use does not lead to discoloration once tooth formation is complete.


Clindamycin Antibiotic Drops

Clindamycin Oral Liquid Antibiotic is an antibiotic used to treat soft tissue infections, dental infections, and bone infections caused by susceptible strains of bacteria.

Delta AlbaPlex

An antibiotic of the tetracycline class, Delta AlbaPlex also contains a low level of steroid (not enough to cause Cushing's Syndrome). A veterinary specialist in Opthomology recommended this product for tear staining as the steroid will help eliminate inflammation that goes along with excessive tearing, thus allowing the antibiotic a chance to work.



Maltese not responding to tetracycline may respond well to Lincocin. The typical dose of this for a Maltese is 50 mg twice a day.



Flagyl (Metronidazole) is an anti-diarrhea medicine commonly used in dogs to treat yeast or Giardia infections causing irritable or inflammatory bowel syndrome. This can also be very effective in the treatment of tear stains, particularly when the staining is the result of red yeast. This is given for 2 weeks. You will need to see your vet to have this prescribed.


Otomax or Gentamycin Sulfate

Yeast infections in the ears may also be a frequent culprit of tear stain; this generally responds well to OTOMAX (gentamycin sulfate) or liquid drops.


Gentian Violet Flush

One of the best products found to deal with "gunky ears" is Gentian Violet Flush. Yes, this is purple but it does not stain the coat. Using this over about 2 weeks will clear up most ear problems and many times solve a tear staining problem. Buy isoprol alcohol, remove 30cc of it and add 30cc of Boric Acid and 7 drops of Gentian Violet and shake. Remember to shake with every use.


Colloidal Silver

This is a product that is again placed in the eyes and works much like an antibiotic. This isn't used very much anymore.



If you wish to attempt to remove tear staining from the facial hair there are a several things that can done.
There are three solutions that can be suggested to remove tear staining. Care must be taken in using these products or any other chemical solutions to not get anything into the dog's eyes. It is also important to remember that when attempting to removing tear staining you may be damaging the hair. Before bleaching make sure to condition the hair well first. What works best is Wella Cholesterol. Pack the face furnishings with this for several days before bleaching. Make sure you neutralize the effects of the chemicals you have used and condition the facial hair after any attempts to remove staining.


(1) Milk of Magnesia, (MOM) corn starch and peroxide (20to 40 volume) make a good paste of this and put it on the stained area and let dry overnight. Wash out, CONDITION WELL. Keep doing this for several days until tear staining is gone, it is recommended skipping a day or two between applications if possible.


2) Crowne Royale makes a product called "WHTENER' mix this with peroxide (20 to 40 volume) into a paste and leave on overnight. The Crowne Royale Whitener works a lot like MOM, it works faster but it is much harsher on the coat, CONDITION WELL.

(3) Human hair bleach -- there are any number of brands of this. When I started in Maltese I was told ONLY to use Wella Wellite (this is the one in the light blue/turquoise package). Many of the human hair bleaches are very harsh and they all work, but care needs to be used in selecting the bleach to use. This can be purchased at any Sally's Beauty Store. I've never played with dying my own hair or using bleaching products until I started showing Maltese. I just followed my mentor's advice on what products to use.


And finally, don't be impatient. If you have a face that is badly stained, it may take several bleachings to bring the color back up to white. Do it several days apart and in between CONDITION CONDITION CONDITION.