Getting Whites White (and keeping them that way)
How Whitening Shampoos Work

What are Stains?

What are stains?

Certain things that come into contact with dog hair easily turn it colors. Things like grass, mud, clay, Kool-aid, tears, urine and saliva all stain hair for different reasons but in the same way.

To understand how most stains occur you have to understand how hair dyes work, because basically, stains are dyes, but we call them stains because they are both unwanted and unintended changes in the color of the hair, whereas dyes would indicate a deliberate application of a substance to change the original color. If you think of stains in this way they are actually much easier to understand and to remove, but you must have a basic knowledge of hair dyes and their application and removal to apply this thought process.

Most cultures have had hair dying practices for thousands of years. In fact, clays and muds have been used for millennium to change the color of hair for reasons as vast as the cultures which used them. War paint, beautification practices, royalty, vanity and even punishments have all been reasons given for the use of hair dyes.

Hair dyes work by opening up the cuticles on the hair shaft and allowing larger molecules of colored pigment into the cortex. When the cuticle closes again the molecules are trapped and that color shows as the color of the hair instead of the original color.  

Opening of the hair cuticle by modern dyes is done with strong chemicals like ammonia or peroxide. Natural dyes, like Henna, clay, mud and other dyes made from plants or other items found in nature will take longer to enter the hair shaft because they rely on the natural properties of these materials to open the shaft so color can be deposited.

The penetration of pigment through the cuticle can be achieved in several different ways.

·        Heat is said to open the cuticle

·        Higher PH will open the cuticle

·        Damaged coat accepts color faster due to the open cuticle

·        Long term contact with a substance that contains color pigment

·        Contact with protein based liquids, like saliva and urine

When we are talking about stains versus dyes, the cuticle does not actually have to open fully, as continued contact with the material in question allows only a small amount of pigment from the offending material to enter in the cuticle. Also, some things, like clay or urine, have small molecules that can penetrate the cuticle easier. The smaller the color molecule, the easier it is to remove. The larger molecules tend to get “stuck” in the cortex, and have to be removed with strong chemicals that open the cuticles further and a strong cleaner to remove the particles of color once the cuticle is opened.

The “prolonged contact” concept is one reason why show dogs are washed so frequently. We want to make sure that they do not stain and by removing the offending substance before it can sit long enough to cause a stain, we can minimize the damage done and reduce the amount of bleaching products we will need to use.

Damaged hair has rough cuticles to begin with and as a result the stains will enter the shaft faster and then they are harder to get out. To minimize this problem it is crucial to keep hair in as good a condition as possible and to seal the cuticle after each bath. Sealing the cuticle will result in a smoother coat with less staining.

There are many products available to seal the hair shaft. Both leave in and rinse out conditioners provide protection of the hair and will help reduce staining, however it is important to note that a heavier conditioner with lanolin or other oily, waxy substances can trap dirt, so it is extremely important to wash the dog more frequently to remove buildup and prevent further damage. Most Leave-in products contain cosmetic grade silicones, which when used properly, seal the hair, block stains and repel dirt. There was a time when silicones were considered bad for hair and resulted in a lot of damage to hair, but the products available for us today are made out of better, safer ingredients and actually prevent damage rather than causing it. I have discovered that the silicones of today do such a great job that I rarely have to bleach out white dogs any more.

Tear and urine stains are totally different problems which have different solutions. These stains are caused by the proteins in the fluids staying in contact with the hair for long periods of time. Urine causes yellowing and tear stains cause brown staining to occur. Licking at the hair or skin can also lead to stained hair, because the saliva contains the same proteins and when deposited onto the coat they can turn the coat brown or yellow or red, depending on the dog’s chemistry and PH level.

There are natural ways to combat those stains as well, but keeping the dog clean is critical. If you have a dog that licks a lot, a more frequent bathing schedule will result in less staining. Tear stains can be minimized by cleaning the area daily with warm water on a cotton ball and urine which comes into contact with the hair must be cleaned off as often as practical.

Tear Stains

Tear stains are ugly, but in some cases they can cause severe discomfort to the pet. The area stays wet an as a result sores can develop under the eyes making the pet uncomfortable. Many pets with this problem have very sore faces or eyes and itchiness is present. It is not simply a cosmetic issue for most dogs. It is an actual medical condition requiring treatment to make the dog more comfortable and healthy.

As with any staining, keeping the area clean is terribly important. A plain cotton ball wet with hot water used twice a day will help reduce the staining and keep the face cleaner. Do not waster your money buying eye cleaners or pads, because water works great.

To reduce tear stains, it is important to know that there are numerous reasons for it to occur.

·        Ph level

·        Tear duct or eye infection

·        Tear Duct blockage

·        Allergies to corn, pollen and many more things

·        Entropian eyelashes or lids

·        Ear infection

·        Tooth decay or gum disease

·        Excessive minerals in the drinking water

Of course you want your vet to clear the pet of any medical condition, but many times the stains stay and unless you ask questions and push for answers the vet many times will just tell you it is normal for white dogs to have them.

While I agree that most white dogs do stain to a degree there is always a reason for it and once found and corrected the problem goes away as well.

If the dog has a blocked tear duct, an infection or entropian lids or lashes, it is imperative to treat the problem. Your vet can assist you in that treatment, and it is vital to your pet’s health as well as the appearance to get these problems solved. Ear infections and mouth problems are also treatable and important, yet a lot of people do not realize they can lead to eye drainage and staining.

Allergies are not always so easy to solve, but always begin by removing corn and wheat from your pet’s diet. In many cases, a switch to a grain free food will eliminate the drainage and stains will disappear.

Many people swear by distilled water for removing the stains. Others say to add a bit of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to their water to reduce the staining. In many cases these work, but not in all.

Some dogs have an issue with yeast growing on the skin in the moist area around the mouth and eyes. As it gets worse the staining gets worse and the itching gets more intense, so the eyes drain more. You get the picture. The yeast is there feeding off of bacteria that lives in the moist area around the eye. Because it is called red yeast the waste products of this yeast cause the area to stain. There are several products designed to kill the bacteria and therefore kill the yeast, eliminating the staining. Angel’s Eyes, Angel’s Glow, the active ingredient in them Tylan powder, and even tetracycline have been proven effective in eliminating the problem of stains. There are a lot of differing opinions on how safe these medications are for long term use. The thing to remember is that they have been used for years and so far there is no clinical data to support the theory that low dose antibiotic therapy is a problem. The amount and type of antibiotics used in these products to treat this condition is minute. Prophylactic use of antibiotics in low doses is common in medicine. It is important however to tell your doctor your pet is taking one of these drugs and how much you are giving them in the event your pet becomes ill and needs antibiotic therapy. A different medication may be needed and dosage levels may need to be adjusted.

Urine stains

Urine stains can be hard to remove and even harder to prevent. Keeping a dog in coat clean is extremely hard but is critical to reducing the problems that urine can cause on a coat.

If the urine is too high in PH it will cause strong staining to occur. To minimize that problem it is suggested that 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar per bowl of water be given daily. Because it reduces the urine PH it will also reduce the staining.

Many people think that a shaved sanitary area will also keep urine off the coat, but on the contrary, when there is no hair on the sanitary area there is nowhere for the urine to go except onto the hair. A sanitary left untrimmed will result in the hair working like a wick or a guide to direct urine ONLY onto a small amount of hair, minimizing the staining.

On females you will find staining between and down the legs and on the back feet. On adult males who hike their legs, you will find that some dogs get it all over their front legs, while others get it all over the leg that is not hiked. Also, the belly and the back feet are prone to getting covered in urine and as a result staining. Urine staining is worse if the dogs use the bathroom on concrete rather than grass, as the urine will roll forward onto the front feet and in long haired dogs the skirt hair, but even on grass staining can occur. This is why many show dogs with long coats are kept in wire crates with wire bottoms. This prevents them from standing in the fluids and then the hair becoming dirtier and more stained.

As you might expect the more frequent the dog is bathed the less likely the dog is to be stained. A dog left with urine on their coat will also suffer from possible coat breakage due to the dirt getting trapped in the urine, skin burns and smelly hair.

If the staining problem is really severe it may be necessary to bleach the hair to get out the yellow stains. I will discuss how to do that later.


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