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Tear Stains

Shih Tzu Tear Stains


Tear stains on a Shih Tzu refers to discolored hairs under or around the eyes. It can happen to Shih Tzu of all different colors, though it is much more noticeable on dogs with light colored coats.

There are a few different causes for this, but one thing is for sure: removing them and keeping them at bay requires concerted effort. 

The key will be to eliminate all of the possible triggers and treat the stains with an effective product. If the triggers are not resolved, the tear stains will keep reoccurring. 

Here, we'll go over exactly what tear stains are, the top causes, and how to successfully remove tear stains from a Shih Tzu puppy or dog. 

The Appearance of Tear Stains on a Shih Tzu

Tear stains can cause hairs to develop a pink, red, rust, or brown tint. The color will vary depending on the exact cause and also the base color of the dog's hair around the eyes. 

Since the Shih Tzu breed can be found in a wide range of colors and multi-colors, it can sometimes be hard to know the difference between tear stains and natural coloring.
Here are some ways to know the difference:

Not tear stains:

• If the color around the eyes closely matches color found on other parts of the coat and there are no elements below that match, it is most likely natural coloring. 

Points to tear stains:

• If the color around the eyes was not present at all when the Shih Tzu was a puppy, but developed as he reached the 6 month mark or up.

• If the color grew in intensity and/or spread out as the dog matured.

• If the hairs have a hardened or 'crispy' texture to them, that makes combing the hairs difficult. The hairs around the eyes should be just as soft and silky as the rest of the coat. 

• If you visibly see runny, watery eye discharge.

• If the hairs appear damp. 

• Sometimes, but not always, there will also be other face staining. If so, this will be discoloration around the mouth, chin, and/or beard.

What Causes a Shih Tzu to Develop Tear Stains

It is important to note that tear stains are caused by runny eyes. 

There will be varying levels of watery eye discharge. In some cases, it will be a very slow dripping that is not noticeable to owners. In other cases, it will be quite apparent.

In any case, the discoloration is caused by tears running down around the eyes, in which the hairs become wet with saline. This alone can cause staining. 

In addition to that, if the hairs remain damp, a red yeast infection can set it, which also causes further staining.

So, when we look at why a Shih Tzu gets tear stains, we are in fact looking at the reasons for runny eyes. 

Reasons for runny, watery eyes, and therefore tear stains:
These are listed by order of probability. 
  • Allergies - This may be contact, food, or environmental allergies.
  • Reaction to chemicals found in dog food - Includes artificial color dyes, flavoring, and/or preservatives.
  • Food and water bowls - This includes both reaction to plastic dishes, even those that are BPA free. And it also includes sizing issues in which the bowls are too deep, causing a Shih Tzu's face to become damp when drinking (or eating wet food). 
  • Unfiltered tap water - There are hundreds of dangerous compounds in tap water, including many carcinogens; however, it is a high mineral count that is the culprit in regard to tear stains. 
  • Eye irritants - This includes everything from second-hand smoke to cleaning products being sprayed in the house.
  • Malformations - This includes both larger than normal tear duct glands and smaller than normal tear duct openings. 
This also includes eye lash issues (trichiasis which is in-grown eyelash(es), distichiasis which is when an eyelash(es) grows from an abnormal spot, and ectopic cilia which is when one or more lashes grow from the inside of the lid). And finally, this includes entropion (inverted eyelid).
  • Eye diseases and issues - Eye infections, glaucoma, and other conditions. 
  • Reaction to medications. 
For puppies: Teething - When a puppy is teething, this can cause temporary water eyes. For the Shih Tzu breed, this typically begins between the 4 to 5 month mark and ends by the 8 to 9 month mark. If teething causes a pup to have runny eyes, the resulting tear stains may remain long after teething is done, if they are not properly removed. 

How to Fix Tear Stains on a Shih Tzu

Romeo & Redford,  
photo courtesy of Debroah Singley
If you want to permanently remove tear stains, it will be vital to first eliminate as many triggers as possible. If not, you will have very limited success or very temporary results.  

In addition, since there are many causes, you could technically remove one trigger but then have them return due to another one. This is what you want to avoid. 

So for this, there will be 3 parts:

1. Eliminating triggers

2. Using an effective remover

3. Maintenance to prevent stains

#1 Eliminating Triggers

1) The first thing that you will want to have ruled out is any sort of eyelid or eye lash issue.

With eye conditions including infections, eyelid and eyelash problems, the most common signs include:
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Very excessive watery or thick discharge
  • Discharge with a bad odor
  • Squinting
  • Blinking
  • Holding eye(s) closed
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pawing at the eye
  • Eye tics
If your Shih Tzu has any of these symptoms, you'll want the veterinarian to examine your dog. 
2) If allergies are suspected, look into this further. In some cases, you will need the vet to do testing to determine the triggers. An intradermal skin test is the most reliable method to pinpoint allergens. 

Other signs of allergies include:
  • Itchy skin
  • Skin rash
  • Poor coat health
  • Thinning of the coat
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Breathing issues including wheezing
  • Red eyes
  • Reoccurring ear infections
If it is something that is ingested, there can be upset stomach and vomiting.

If you suspect that your Shih Tzu has allergies, take steps to reduce triggers and ask for the vet to perform allergy testing. 
3) Reassess your Shih Tzu's food. 

This is one of the most common reasons behind tear stains. 

There are many possible triggers in dog food, including:
  • Chemical flavoring, coloring, and preservatives. These artificial additives can wreak havoc on a dog, causing digestive upset, skin issues, watery eyes, and much more. 
  • High corn, wheat, and other fillers can also cause the eyes to tear along with a host of other problems.
If you are not 100% confident that your Shih Tzu is eating one of the better dog foods, reevaluate his diet. 
4) Do not give your Shih Tzu unfiltered tap water. 
Zeus, photo courtesy of Alex and Troy
Both chromium-6 and NDMA are carcinogens that have been found in tap water affecting millions of Americans. There is also fluoride (toxic to dogs), pesticides, factory run-off, and hundreds of other harmful agents. 

While tear stains are the least of your Shih Tzu's problems if he/she is drinking unfiltered tap water, you'll want to take steps to stop this immediately. 

There are 3 good options. You can have a kitchen sink filter installed, offer spring water, or use a filtered water pitcher. 

The Aquagear Water Filter Pitcher is a really great choice for a free-standing water pitcher. It meets NSF standards for contaminant reduction. It filters out chromium 6, lead, fluoride, mercury, chlorine, inorganic heavy metals, and hundreds of more agents (2000% more than Brita and other filters).
Riley, photo courtesy of Christine Wyman
5) Use only appropriately sized stainless steel bowls. You will want to have the bowl be small and shallow enough that your Shih Tzu does not need to stick his head in too far to reach food and water. 

Also, steer clear of plastic bowls. Small, non-skid stainless steel are the best dishes for this breed, though thick ceramic can be a good choice as well. 

#2 Removing Stains

Now that you have eliminated as many possible triggers as you can, you will not be fighting an uphill battle any longer. 

The next step will be to use an effective remedy to make the stains disappear. 

You must be careful about which product you select. 
Some of the products out there use bleach which is not only dangerous to use near the eyes, but this also severely dries out the hairs. Other products add controversial antibiotics, which the FDA is trying to stop. 

In addition, certain home remedies for tear stains either do not work (buttermilk, vinegar), can be dangerous (boric acid, peroxide), or cause additional problems (cornstartch, tums).
What to do:

1) Wipe your Shih Tzu's eyes 2 to 3 times per day with a wipe that is formulated to fight tear stains.

You will want a canine tear stain wipe that is gentle yet effective at working on the stains each time you use it. If you want to see good results, be firm about doing this daily. Set reminders if you must. 

The wipe should also be used on the cheeks, chin, beard, or other facial areas if there are any yellow stains or other discolorations to the hairs. 

Be careful to only use a wipe that does not contain chemicals. Look for natural ingredients like juniper berry and coconut. Witch hazel and citrus blends work very well too. 
For each eye, you will want to make two swiping motions. 
And if there is any yellowing or other discoloration to other facial hairs, 
swipe over them as well. 
If you are good about sticking to the 2 to 3 time per day wiping, you should see improvement within 2 weeks, and dramatic results in 6 weeks. 
2) If the stains are a red or rust color, this indicates a red yeast infection. For this, you may want to additionally want to use a stronger tear stain product, either powder or liquid, that fights this. You will want the product to have no bleach, peroxide, or other harsh chemicals. 
Recommended eye wipes to fight tear stains and applied tear stain removers are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4 images. 

#3 Maintenance to Prevent Reoccurrence

Once you have had all possible triggers removed and have taken steps to fade away the staining, you will want to stay on point to prevent the tear stains from coming back again.

There are two parts to this:

1. Everything that you did to get rid of the triggers are also your guidelines for keeping the stains away. 

If there is a disturbance to this such as a new brand of food being fed, season allergies kicking in, a bigger bowl is being used, etc., then it will be time to go back and reevaluate things.

2. The #1 most effective method to keep stains from coming back is to use a daily facial wipe. This should be part of a Shih Tzu's normal grooming routine. 
A canine eye wipe will pick up any extra saline moisture, remove any eye crusting, nip any emergence of red yeast in the bud, take care of small food particles, and keep the hairs healthy.

A good one to try is Earthbath All Natural Specialty Eye Wipes, which is a gentle yet very effective daily wipe that does all of these things. 

Prescribed Medications

If tear staining removal methods are not working or if you did reduce or eliminate the stained hairs but they keep reappearing, it will be time to have your veterinarian take a look. 

Let him/her know what you've tried. There's a good chance that at this point, your Shih Tzu may need an antibiotic (tetracycline or other) to wipe out an underlying infection. A 10 day low-dose course is often done. 
Please take note that puppies that are still in the teething phase should not be given tetracycline as it can stain teeth that have not yet erupted. Other choices for prescribed meds to treat tear staining include Delta AlbaPlex, Lincocin, or even Flagyl (off label use).
Don't forget to become a free AllShihTzu Member, so that you may receive reminders when we add new pages of information & also be able to suggest a subject for us to discuss and write about. 
You may also like:

Chewing and Licking at the Paws - Often, when a Shih Tzu is having an issue with itchy skin, he will gnaw at his paws, since this is an easily accessible area. Learn what can cause this and how to resolve it.
Shih Tzu Tails - This cover proper tail set and such issues as injury and holding the tail in an odd way.
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