Vinegar & Dog Tear Stains

Updated November 21, 2016

If you own a white dog, chances are that your companion exhibits parenthetically-shaped, reddish-brown stains that run from the corners of his eyes partway down either side of his nose. These are tear stains and owners may or may not consider them unsightly. On the other hand, show dog owners will employ any number of tear stain removal products to restore the look of unblemished whiteness to their dog's face for the show ring. A small amount of white cider vinegar mixed into a dog's drinking water changes the water's--and the dog's--pH to eliminate some of the causes of staining.

Tear Stain Causes

Many factors contribute to the development of tear stains. Diet plays a part as many commercial dog foods contain beet pulp which stains the face and beard. Tear stain causes range from allergens to parasitic infections; a similar diversity extends to their cures and preventive measures. Genetics also predispose certain toy dog breeds to tear stains, hence the nickname "poodle eye."


Head, eye and face structure determines how excessively a dog's eyes will tear. Even though the majority of breeds predisposed to staining are the smaller toy breeds, some large breed dogs may also tear excessively. These breeds may be susceptible to tearing because the pooling space in their eyes is too small to collect their tears. Breeds most likely to develop tear stains include the Akita, American Bulldog, American Eskimo Dog, Bichon Frise, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniel, Corgi, Dachshund, French Bulldog, Golden Retriever, King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Lhasa Apso, Maltese, Maltipoos, Miniature Schnauzer, Papillion, Pekinese, Pomeranian, Saint Bernard, Sharpei, Shih Tzu, and West Highland White Terrier.


Fleas derive their moisture from the eyes of their hosts and once they settle in they deposit their faeces, which is full of digested blood. Fecal build-up turns the hair under the eye brown. Fleas also carry ear mites which infest and infect the ears. Ear infections cause excessive tearing which may also breed yeast and bacteria. Red yeast, one of the most common yeast infections, causes a deep reddish-brown stain.

Blocked Tear Ducts

Blocked tear ducts cause tear staining. When blockage develops, tears overflow onto a dog's face and stain the hair instead of draining through the nose. In the case of many toy breeds, their prominent eyes stretch the eyelids to a point at which tear ducts become blocked. Some small breeds also have lower than normal tear ducts that are blocked completely. Dust, hair, allergens and infections also block the ducts.


Heads and mouths in puppies undergo a great deal of change during development, placing a substantial amount of pressure on the tear ducts. Excessive tearing and staining from the overflow may appear during this period of growth and subside once a puppy reaches adulthood. The puppy owner must keep facial hair dry and provide pressure-relieving chew toys to prevent excess moisture build-up and the development of infections and tear stains.

Vinegar as a Curative

A teaspoon of white cider vinegar added to a dog's drinking bowl whenever the water is freshened eliminates tear stains by changing the dog's pH. The change in pH turns her tears hostile to the development of bacteria and yeast, thus eliminating some of the causes of tear stains. Understandably, she may initially refuse to drink her vinegar water. Her owner should start with smaller amounts of vinegar and gradually work up to a full teaspoon to accustom her to the new taste.

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