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Maltese Tear Stains: Vet Reviewed Causes & Tips on Prevention


May 23, 2023
Maltese Dog Puppy with tear stains


Maltese Dog Puppy with tear stains
Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

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The Maltese is a playful, gentle dog with beautiful, pure white fur… that is, until those strange reddish-brown streaks appear around the eyes. If you notice rust-colored lines around your dog’s eyes, your Maltese probably has tear stains. The stains can also show up in other colors, such as tan or even black. This is a fairly common issue in Maltese dogs. In this article, we’ll discuss the Maltese tear stains and the signs and causes of this condition.


What Are Tear Stains?

Tear stains are the residue left behind from your dog’s ocular discharge.1 Normally, canine tears empty into the nose (via the nasolacrimal duct) and travel down the throat. However, if your Maltese has an irregular eyelid structure or is experiencing an obstruction in the nasolacrimal ducts, their tears may not drain as usual. Instead, the tears will streak out onto their fur, right in line with the nose.

Their long, white fur traps the moisture when these tears stream down your Maltese’s face. This contained moisture can accelerate the growth of bacteria, which can cause rusty-looking tear stains. These stains can progress toward skin irritation and foul odors without proper care.

Tear stains are easily noticed in white dogs, but in Maltese with darker fur colors, they can be more difficult to spot. When tear stains are noticed, it is important to keep an eye on your dog as they can be a sign of other underlying medical conditions.

maltese poodle puppy sad laying on couch with tear stains
Image Credit: Rushay, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Tear Stains?

The most notable sign of tear stains is darkly colored streaks running down your Maltese’s face. If the condition progresses, you may also notice your dog’s skin is irritated, particularly around the face. If your dog has developed irritated skin as a result of the tear stains,2 you may notice the following:

  • Excessive itching
  • Rubbing or pawing at the face
  • Redness or inflammation of the skin

In severe instances, other signs may include:

  • Skin infection
  • Scabs
  • Hair loss
  • Lesions

Likewise, pay attention to how your dog smells. If you notice a foul odor emanating from their face, that could be an indication that he has tear stains that you cannot see.

What Are the Causes of Tear Stains?

Sometimes, there is no reason behind your Maltese’s tear stains other than their tears draining down the face rather than the nose.3 Other times, it may be an indication that something is amiss.

Some reasons that your dog’s tears may be draining improperly include:

  • Your dog’s eyes sockets are shallow
  • Your dog has excessive hair growth around their eyes
  • Your dog’s eyelids have turned inward

Sometimes, the presence of tear stains suggests that something is irritating your dog’s eyes and causing an overproduction of tears. There are many reasons that your dog may have an overflow of tears, such as:

  • Trauma to the facial bones
  • Foreign objects inside of the eye
  • Tumors in ocular, nasal, or other facial structures
  • Obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct
  • Inflammation of the eyelids
  • Corneal scratches or ulcers
  • Glaucoma

For the most part, Maltese dogs are prone to tear stains, and they are rarely a sign of a greater medical issue. However, if you are ever concerned for your dog’s health, do not hesitate to contact your vet. Your dog’s tear stains appear reddish in color due to porphyrin, a dye molecule filled with iron. This molecule is regularly released in your dog’s tears, bile, saliva, and urine.

maltese dog in meadow
Image Credit: TaniaVdB, Pixabay

How Do I Care for a Maltese with Tear Stains?

Treatment for your Maltese’s tear stains will vary depending on the cause. If your Maltese has tear stains because the breed is predisposed to them, the best you can do is be vigilant about cleaning their face so that the trapped moisture does not lead to skin irritation or infections. You can purchase canine eye wipes or eye washes to keep their face clean. When using these items, always wipe them away from your dog’s eyes so you do not accidentally push the product into their eye. Talk to your vet to determine which product is best for you and your dog.

After cleaning your dog’s face, dry it as well. Leaving your Maltese’s facial fur wet may cause moisture to be trapped, leading to infection. You may also need to trim your dog’s facial fur regularly. This won’t stop the tear stains from forming, but it can prevent infections from taking place as a result.

However, if an underlying medical condition is causing your Maltese’s tear stains, the treatment will look different depending on the complication. The only way to determine proper treatment in this instance is to receive a diagnosis and care plan from your vet. Your vet may prescribe an ointment to minimize the chances of your dog developing an infection, while some conditions may require surgery to fix. If surgery is needed, you may be referred to a specialist who can provide quality care for your dog.

If your vet gives you a treatment plan, stick to it rigorously. If you stray from the plan, the issue may reappear and cause your Maltese to need more treatment. This could cost you time and money, so be sure to follow your vet’s instructions carefully.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can Tear Stains Be Prevented?

Tear stains are not always preventable, especially in breeds like the Maltese. However, it is possible to manage the presence of tear stains through regular face cleaning and trimming the fur around their eyes. By trimming the hair around your Maltese’s face, you can combat the development of tear stains. Likewise, wiping around your dog’s eyes twice daily can prevent debris from accumulating.

brushing maltese dog
Image Credit: Ekaterina_Goncharova, Shutterstock

2. Which Breeds Are Predisposed to Tear Stains?

Other than the Maltese, several breeds are prone to developing tear stains.

Some of these breeds include:



Tear stains on your Maltese’s beautiful white fur may be unsightly, but they are usually not indicative of a significant health concern. However, there is always a chance that a medical issue is the cause of your dog’s excessive eye watering, so never hesitate to visit the vet if you are concerned. By keeping up with your dog’s grooming, you can minimize the presence of tear stains so that your Maltese feels clean and looks their best.

Featured Image Credit: Savicic, Shutterstock

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