Tear staining is a common problem in the dogs we groom. The unsightly reddish color caused by excessive moisture can detract from the most sweetly groomed face. What is a pet groomer to do when asked to help resolve staining problems in pets? It helps if we understand what causes the issue in the first place.
Staining occurs when abnormal or excessive tear drainage occurs. Excessive tearing happens for many reasons, some of which are:
- injury to the eye
- allergies (food or inhalant)
- irritation (possibly from facial hair, including eye lashes)
- corneal abrasions or ulcers
- reaction to medications
- faulty tear drainage anatomy
The medical name for this drainage is epiphora. My veterinarian tells me that diagnosing and treating this is a very challenging problem. There is a compound called porphyrin which is present in both tears and saliva. This compound can be one thing that contributes to the staining. Also, when moisture from drainage remains in the pets fur, it creates a warm, moist environment that is a perfect place for yeast and bacteria to set up housekeeping. It is the yeast and bacteria that cause the distinctive, unpleasant odor on the faces of some dogs with staining.
When customers ask me how to remove the staining on their pets faces, I first recommend that they talk to their veterinarian about the problem. Once any medical issues have been treated, groomers can help with the cosmetic side of things by:
- keeping the hair in line of drainage clipped short
- recommending that the pet owner wipe the area daily (better yet, several times a day) with a soft, damp cloth to lift the tears off of the skin and coat
- recommend the pet come in between grooming appointments to have the under-eye area trimmed
- use a brightening shampoo designed for dogs that is safe for eyes on the face and on the affected area
- recommend that the owner do some research on over the counter food additives such as Angels Eyes or Pet Spark. These products contain antibiotics, so the owner should talk with their veterinarian before using them.
It is important that we remember that staining is most likely caused by a medical problem and that we, as pet stylists, can only address the results of the tearing, not the cause or cure. Working as a partner with the pet owner and the veterinarian can (in an ideal situation!) help to create a trilogy of care where the owner, doctor and groomer team up to help achieve the best, and brightest outcome for the pet.