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Maltese Tear Stains: Vet Reviewed Causes, Prevention & Cleaning

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By Nicole Cosgrove


Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Tear stains on Maltese dogs are reddish-brown, light brown, or yellow stains that appear below the breed’s eyes. The stains are usually caused by tear accumulation and may lead to yeast and bacterial growth that can progress deeper into your pet’s skin.

That’s why it’s important to know the causes and prevention of Maltese tear stains. The breed is more susceptible to these tear stains due to its eyelid anatomy, narrow and tortuous tear ducts, and short muzzle, all of which result in lack of normal drainage, not to mention the white fur prone to discoloration.

Below, we explain what causes this and how you can care for your tear-stained Maltese.

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What Are Maltese Tear Stains?

Maltese tear stains are discolorations under a Maltese dog’s eyes caused by tear overflow. Tears on your dog’s skin lead to bacterial growth, which stains the dog’s fur.

The stains might be created by porphyrins,1 which are iron-containing molecules. In dogs, porphyrins are thought to be of bacterial origin,2 but in some species like rats, pigs, cows and rabbits porphyrins are secreted by the Harderian gland, located within the eye socket. Since Maltese dogs have light-colored fur, porphyrins can stain their fur easily.

The breed’s facial anatomy and poor tear drainage make it susceptible to tear stains. In most cases, tear stains are only a cosmetic problem and do not cause health issues in your pet. But a Maltese with this issue might need regular grooming since tear stains can be unsightly.

What Are the Signs of Maltese Tear Stains?

Maltese dog with tear stain standing on the floor
Image Credit: Augustcindy, Shutterstock

The most obvious sign of Maltese tear stains is reddish-brown discoloration under your pet’s eyes. It’s often hard to remove these stains, and they can make your dog’s pet look unkempt and dirty.

The skin around the dog’s eyes might also become inflamed and irritated due to bacterial growth and constant moisture exposure, which causes swelling, redness, and discomfort.

In some cases, the under-eye skin might also become infected, causing swelling, redness, and discomfort.

What Are the Causes of Maltese Tear Stains?

The overflow of tears from a dog’s eyes is called epiphora. Normally, a dog’s body produces a thin film of tears to lubricate its eyes. The excess tear fluid drains into the tear ducts, also called the nasolacrimal ducts, that are located in the corner of the eye.

The nasolacrimal duct has two small openings near the nose in the eyelids. When there is insufficient tear drainage in these ducts, the dog experiences epiphora.

Some causes of insufficient tear overflow include:
  • Poor eyelid function
  • Deformity-induced eyelid malfunction
  • Nasolacrimal duct blockage
  • Excessive tear production

Excessive tear production usually occurs due to conditions that irritate the eye, such as eyelid problems, eye infections, corneal ulcers, eyelash issues, glaucoma, and uveitis. If your dog constantly scratches its eyes due to irritation, its eyes will increase tear production, leading to epiphora.

Eye damage and infections can also cause scar tissue formation in and around the eyes, which may block tear drainage holes and can contribute to tear staining.

While these are general causes of excessive tear production resulting in tear stains, Maltese dogs are also more susceptible to this condition due to their physical appearance. Here’s how:

Shallow Eye Sockets

Since Maltese dogs have shallow eye sockets, their eyelid position might be abnormal, making normal tear drainage difficult. That is why tears spill onto the fur around the eyes, causing staining.

Hair Growth

If your dog has a lot of hair growth around its eyes, the hair will wick tears from the eyes onto the dog’s face. The longer these tears stay on your pet’s fur, the more they can stain the area.

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How Do I Care for a Maltese With Tear Stains?

Maltese dog with tear stains lying on the floor
Image Credit: Rushay, Shutterstock

The most important step in dealing with Maltese tear stains is visiting your vet for a full eye examination. If you have confirmed that your dog is otherwise healthy and has no underlying health issues, prevention is the best option.

Preventing Tear Stains in Maltese Dogs

Maltese facial anatomy is partly responsible for tear stains, so you can help your dog by keeping good eye hair hygiene. Regular face grooming can help prevent this by removing hair that wicks tears to your pet’s skin. You should not trim this since it can regrow short and spiky in the direction of your dog’s eyes. You can clean your dog’s eyes with Vetericyn ophthalmic, which is available over the counter without a vet’s prescription, but we still advise consulting a vet to stay safe.

Maltese health
Image Credit: PxHere

Removing Maltese Tear Stains

You should only clean your dog’s eyes with products that have been formulated specifically for that purpose. You can find these products in form of cleaning wipes and in liquid form.

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How Does a Vet Diagnose Epiphora?

a young vet checking a maltese dog
Image Credit: Creativa Images, Shutterstock

Some serious causes of increased tear production are abnormal eyelashes, conjunctivitis, eye infections, corneal ulcers, and allergies. The vet will perform an ocular examination to look for signs of abnormalities and inflammation. They may also do a fluorescein stain test in which fluorescein is placed inside the eye. If there’s no nasolacrimal disruption, the stain will be visible in the nose in a few minutes. Failure of the stain to enter the nose may indicate a blockage.

How Is Epiphora Treated?

Depending on the cause, your vet may perform surgery to remove the extra eyelashes or correct the eyelid position. If there’s a nasolacrimal blockage, the vet will anesthetize your dog before treatment. They will try to unblock by inserting a cannula through the tear duct openings to flush out the obstruction. If there’s no nasolacrimal blockage, the vet may prescribe medications and eye drops to treat the underlying cause.

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Infections, allergies, and the breed’s facial anatomy cause tear stains in Maltese dogs. Start by visiting your vet for a full eye examination to understand your dog’s tear stains and help them accordingly.

If the problem persists, take your dog to a vet. Besides prescribing antibiotics and topical treatments, the vet may also suggest nasolacrimal flushing for blockage removal.

Featured Image Credit: Jeanine_S, Pixabay

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