One of the most frequent questions about Bichons is how to deal with excess tearing and tear stains on the face. There is no simple answer to these questions. Tearing can be from many causes and you will need to work with your veterinarian to find the reason for the excess tearing. Staining may vary from dog to dog and may be light pink or a rusty brown in color. The stain may also be caused by several factors.
Bichons can have a number of eye diseases. (Some of the more serious diseases can cause blindness but may not be responsible for excess tearing!) Bichons are sometimes found to have very small tear ducts or to have tear ducts that are blocked. To determine this problem, your vet will put a stain in the eye to color the tears. He will then look for drainage to the nose and if the yellow stain does not show up there, he will know the duct is blocked. Sometimes Bichons can have an extra row of eyelashes or have eye lids that turn inward. In these conditions, the lashes irritate the eye, causing the tears. Obviously infection in the eye can be a problem and can be treated by prescription ointment or drops. NEVER put any drops or ointment into the eye without a veterinary prescription!
Bichons with allergies may also tear and this will probably be a seasonal problem. In fact, sometimes the tear staining clears up on its own without any kind of special treatment. Dogs that have never teared before may start to have a problem in later life. Oddly enough, the older Bichon may have a problem with dry eye and this dog may also have some eye staining. Puppies will often tear when they are teething, which then clears up without treatment.
The description of the perfect Bichon calls for the eye to be round. A round eye will spill tears over the rim rather than always flowing to the corner and down the tear duct. Some Bichons with proper round eyes, however, may never have eye stain. Some kinds of infections are caused by bacteria that cause the redness. Also excessive amounts of iron in the dog’s diet or water can cause the staining, since iron turns reddish when exposed to air.
As you can see, there is no one answer to eye stain and no one solution to the problem. The first action should be a veterinary examination and he may recommend a visit to a veterinary ophthalmologist, especially if he suspects a serious problem. If there is no serious problem or if the tearing is seasonal, as with allergies, your simplest solution may be to treat the staining cosmetically.
Regardless of the cause, keeping the face clean is part of the solution. This means cleaning the HAIR under the eye several times a day . Remember you are never to put any drops or ointment into the eye without a veterinary prescription. However you can wash the hair itself and should do so several times a day. A mild shampoo, dilute lemon juice or salt water can be used. Or you can look at your pet store for a product that cleans the hair (which will probably be a salt solution). There are products available to place on the hair under the eye that will allow the tears to flow over the area without soaking in. These look like a white cream. You can do the same thing with Vaseline. Keep the hair trimmed around the eye.
Several solutions are suggested that may help to avoid staining if there seems to be no inherited physical problem or disease present in the eye. One solution may be to allow your dog to drink only distilled water. Iron in the water will cause any secretions to stain pink or reddish color. This is because iron in his or her secretions turns red (as in the color of rust when iron oxidizes) once saliva is exposed to air. You will notice that spots where your dog licks will also have that pink or reddish stain, also from iron in the saliva. Some breeders add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon to the distilled water for drinking.
Another suggestion is to try a better quality of dog food. These foods cost more but can be a healthier food for the dog and worth the extra cost. Lower priced dog foods often have poorer quality of meats and have additives that add bulk and color but not valuable nutrition. You may not find these better foods at the grocery store or pet markets. Look for these better foods to have added nutritional supplements such as probiotics and to avoid filler products and dyes. A dog publication called Whole Dog Journal rates dog foods each year so you may find a list of quality dog foods by checking this publication’s web site or at the library. The magazine accepts no advertising and has no income from the companies selling dog foods. Note that some treats may consist of poor quality ingredients that will also contribute to staining.
Remember that your first effort should be put into finding a cause (see your vet!) and then you can work at cleaning the stain. If the eye is healthy, then the stain is just a cosmetic problem that can be solved. He will still be your beloved Bichon even if his face is a bit stained!