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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Crying out for a solution to tear stains!

Dear Dogs Today,
I have a 12 year old female Westie who has had tear staining around the eyes for about two years now. Our vet has told us that this is just age, she is healthy and I know that some breeds are prone to this. We are clearing the 'gunk' from her eyes almost twice a day now and I wash the stains away with warm water at least once a week. The hair around her eyes is trimmed inbetween grooms as well. This is not a chore to us, we do it because we don't want her to have any infections etc but I think she'd prefer it if we didn't keep pestering her!
There are many products on the market specifically for this but I don't like the idea of applying cream to the area (especially not the kind you leave on over night) and ideally I'd like to give her a natural supplement that will also keep her joints healthy as she is getting on. My question is can Omega 3 eg flax seed oil be used to treat the tear stains from internally? I have read that Omega 3 can be good for this as well as for joint care - where can I buy it from and how can it be given? I have found a few things online but would like the opinions of professionals and owners with this problem. I have also read that food can be a cause of this but she is on a good brand of food. It seems like a very common problem that is not discussed enough and when it is, 'old age' is never a listed cause. I feel that a lot of issues facing older dogs - that are not life threatening - are not discussed enough, such as 'crusty' noses.

Emma, Manchester

(p.s. Please pass on my delight and best wishes to Manda Scott & new pup Abigail! I have really enjoyed following Manda's journey and found the information she has shared invaluable.)

Nick Thompson, holistic vet, advises:
You're absolutely right. I find that if there is not a specific drug, procedure or food to help a problem, it is often not talked about enough. Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine and natural nutrition can help broaden the range of conditions we vets are able to treat. Many vets are now sympathetic to these forms of medicine, so it's always worth asking your vet to refer you to a specialist.
Tear staining, or ephiphora, as we vets call it, can be due to a number of causes. Conditions causing increased tear production can give rise to it, as can problems that affect drainage of normal tears (that keep the eye ball moist) from the eye.
In a 12-year-old Westie who has had both eyes affected for two years, my first thought goes to blocked drainage of the eye. The naso-lachrymal ducts are small holes on the lower eyelid closest to the nose. They connect to a really fine tube, as fine as cotton, that drains into the nasal passage. This is why you have to blow your nose when you cry - excess tears land up in the nose and need to be cleared.
Vets can easily check if this duct is blocked or not by putting a simple dye, called fluoresceine, into the eye. You may have seen this before - they are the orange drops that they put into the eye that immediately turn green. They're used to find small scratches on the surface, the cornea, of the eye, too. Dye placed in the eyes should drain to the nose in about a minute and be seen as a green dribble from the nostril. If it takes more than two minutes it suggests there is a bit of a blockage or narrowing of the duct. If it doesn't appear at all, then it shows a complete block.
Nasolachrymal ducts can become blocked with matter from the eyes, can be squeezed by tissue growth nearby or can narrow if they've been inflamed in the past. If they just have a bit of matter in them, they can be flushed gently while the patient is anaesthetised. While they are under, your vet can investigate other causes of blockage if they are don't flush through, too.
Dogs who frequently get blocked ducts can benefit from a combination of homeopathic Pulsatilla and Silica 30c in combination. Weekly dosing can reduce the need for flushing. This can also be increased when they look like they are blocking.
You mention Omega 3 fatty acids and crusty noses. Omega 3 is very useful to promote the body's anti-inflammatory capability. This then can help with inflammation in the skin or the joints. I put most of my patients on these supplements. Even conventional vets use these supplements, so it's worth talking to your vet for the best fatty acid supplement for your Westie.
Crusty noses can be a real problem. Fatty acid supplements can help, as can human, edible Brewer's Yeast. I dose about a teaspoon per 10 kg bodyweight per day. It's full of B vitamins and this helps liver function, energy levels as well as sorting some crusty noses and boosting older dogs. Give it a go!
I could talk all day about niggly problems we see in older dogs, but we'll have to leave this to another question. Good luck!


  1. Christine Bailey9 July 2009 at 08:57

    Omega 3s are certainly often used to help elderly dogs'joints, as are other supplements such as glucosamine. You can buy salmon oil for pets from many sources - try a google search, I found my last bottle cheapest on ebay. Or you can use fish oil capsules as sold for humans - zipvit is good for all sorts of supplements.

    I would assume dogs assimilate oils from animal sources better than those from vegetable sources since they are of course carnivores!

  2. Ooo interesting question because my dog is the same - she's nearly 10 now but always has tear stains.

  3. I don't want to get into the debate but the domestic dog is actually an omnivore.