This page contains 2 great articles about a common problem among Maltese owners- Tear Staining.
I hope you find these articles helpful.

Tear and Saliva Staining

written by Vickie Halstead RN, CCRN, CEN, CVNS, CLNC
for the Bishon Frise Club of America.
Although this article was written for The Bichon Frise Club of America, I believe it applies to the Maltese Breed as well. This article has been copied with the author's written permission.

Tear and/or saliva staining is a bone of contention for many Bichon owners, although the incidence has decreased in the last 15 years. Is tear/saliva staining a health issue, or is it a cosmetic issue? The answer is BOTH.

Often Bichons that have a pink or reddish-brown discoloration in the hair below the eyes will also have discolored hair near the mouth or areas that are licked, such as the feet. Saliva and tears normally are clear, so discolored body fluids indicates that the internal body chemistry is altered. In addition, if an area of the body is constantly moist yeast (fungus) and bacteria can grow, which can also discolor the hair and cause the skin in the area under they eyes to be reddened and produce an odor.

Excessive tearing may be hereditary. The cause may be eye irritation secondary to allergies, eyelid disorders, blocked tear ducts, or eye diseases. A canine ophthalmologist may need to be consulted to treat the underlying disorder.Moreover, excess untrimmed hair around the eyes can contribute to tearing by irritating the eyes.

Several theories exist as to the treatment of tear staining. In this author's opinion, one intervention will not resolve the staining. Instead, a combination of therapies is needed.The first goal is to rule out any eye disorders or allergies that may need to be treated by obtaining an exam by a canine ophthalmologist.

The second goal is to keep the area clean under the eyes.   Bichons tend to have 3 levels of condition of the skin and hair under the eyes:  dry with crusty eye matter, moist with mucous eye matter, and wet with persistent eye drainage. At the very least the eye matter or mucus must be cleared daily from the inner corner of the eyes.  Wet drainage must be cleaned at least daily with an eye cleaning product, cotton pad, or baby shampoo applied and then wiped away with a wet washcloth. Be advised that even baby shampoo contacting the eyes can burn the eye tissue without adequate rinsing of the eye with water.

The third goal is to improve the dog?s body chemistry by improving the quality of what is ingested, and antibiotics may contribute. Step 1 is to provide fresh water that is either distilled or filtered via reverse osmosis.Some well water contains high quantities of iron and minerals that may alter the color of tears and saliva, plus may stain the beard. Step 2 is to improve the nutritional status of the dog. Provide a top quality dog food that does not contain food dyes, tomato pomace, or beet pulp that can contribute to staining. Read this article on optimizing canine diets http://www.bichonhealth.org/HealthInfo/HealthyDiet.asp to help you chose a diet and treats that are less likely to contain ingredients that may cause allergic reactions such as grains, poor quality proteins, food dyes, and preservatives.

Other methods to improve or alter the body chemistry include adding a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to each gallon of distilled water that is supplied to your Bichon, or adding a tablespoon of cream cheese or ? teaspoon of buttermilk powder daily to the food.

The fourth goal is to treat the potential yeast or bacterial infection that may have developed below the eyes from persistent moisture.  Antibiotics can be utilized, and may also assist in stabilizing the body chemistry.  However, consult your veterinarian before giving medications to your Bichon Frise.  Antibiotics that may be useful are Tetracycline (Terramycin), Lincomycin (Lincocin), or Tylosin (Tylan). Tylan is available for purchase as a powder from pet supply catalogs and some feed stores, or as an ingredient in a product for tear staining, but is more effective if given full strength.  These antibiotics are bitter to taste in the powdered form, so camouflage it in wet or canned food daily in very small doses (a pinch for an adult Bichon) for 1-2 weeks.

Boric Acid powder fights yeast, which can be purchased at drug stores.Clean and dry the wet area below the eyes and then apply the powder with an old toothbrush 1-2 times per day. Boric Acid, often one of the ingredients in eye drops, is not harmful to the eyes; however avoiding contact with the eyes is safer.

As a case study, I would like to present a 3 month-old male Bichon that I received as a puppy-back from a co-owned litter.  His breeder ran out of the high quality food shortly before I acquired him, so she changed to a convenient food that she was able to quickly purchase from a pet store.  His tear staining was severe, with constant tearing and staining above and below the eyes.   I suspected he was allergic to some ingredient in the food.  In about 3 weeks his tearing and staining resolved to the point that the only drainage from his eyes was dry matter.  I utilized a combination of these therapies:  changed his diet to a high quality food and supplements, gave him only distilled water to drink, cleaned the area under the eyes daily with a cleaning product, applied Boric Acid powder daily to the area below the eyes, and added a pinch of Tylan to his daily meal for about 10 days.

In summary, to resolve tear/saliva staining a combination of these therapies is required:

  1. Rule out any eye disorder or allergy that may cause excessive tearing.
  2. Keep the hair trimmed around the eyes.
  3. Maintain cleanliness of the area under the eyes.
  4. Provide an optimally nutritious diet.
  5. Provide fresh water, either distilled or filtered via reverse osmosis.
  6. Apply Boric Acid powder to the moist area under the eyes.
  7. Consider giving an antibiotic after consultation with your veterinarian.

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How to have and keep a super white face (and remove existing stain) on your Maltese

Written by Chris Jones

First be sure your food and treats have no added color. Stick to white or pale colored "cookies" and treats. Examples would be Old Mother Hubbard's puppy training biscuits, or IAMs biscuits or Nature's Recipe Lamb and Rice Bones. Better quality foods usually don't have color added. If the stools have a red tinge or if you use canned as a supplement check for a pinkish tinge. If it's there, chances are the food has been colored.

In many areas of the country, water is very hard, has a high iron content or has chemicals that aren't good for you or your little dog. Use bottled water or have a reverse osmosis water purification system installed in your home. (In some areas the water is so hard it is known to contribute to kidney and bladder stone formation in both people and pets. That's the first thing we were told by a local water company when we moved here.) Be sure to use a quart glass water bottle. (Oasis brand is the best.) This way your dog's face will stay dry. He will always have fresh water, free of crumbs and debris. His face will stay cleaner, too, since he won't get into his food when his face is wet and start to look "muddy."

A stainless steel bowl is best. Stainless steel is bacteriostatic, it doesn't chip or crack and is easy to keep clean. Some plastics are known to discolor faces. Plastic absorbs odors. Food or water left in plastic containers may have an unpleasant odor, undetected by humans but quiet obvious to dogs who have a much more developed sense of smell. Some folks like to add a little cider vinegar to the water or even lemon juice. We found that our dogs didn't seem to drink as well. Adding about 100-200 mg. a day of vitamin C daily won't hurt, if you'd like to do that. Some vets say it works, others say it doesn't. A naturopathic vet recommended that I try a zinc supplement for face stain.

If tear ducts are blocked, often tears will spill over and possibly stain the face. Take your thumb and forefinger and gently massage the bridge of the puppy's nose up on the sides under his eyes. Most dogs like this. At first do it once or twice daily for a week or two then just once or twice a week. You may be surprised after a while when the hair starts to grow back in white.

Sometimes an eye inflammation contributes to the eye stain. It is probably "conjunctivitis." You can have your vet check to be sure. You can order or ask your vet for Tetracycline ointment, commonly called "Terramycin." Some folks like to use oral tetracycline. I am afraid we don't recommend it. Ask your vet. We would only recommend this as a last resort. Tetracycline can cause seriously upset stomachs and has to be eliminated through the kidneys. It is best to save an antibiotic for when it is really needed. And then always use enzymes and friendly bacteria to reseed the intestinal tract.

The final thing to do is make a dilution of 1:1 part distilled water and 3% hydrogen peroxide. (This is the weak antiseptic strength.) We use a spray bottle, gently spray under the eyes (avoid getting into the eye). We also use to spray on cotton balls for cleaning the eye and mouth area as needed. Some people use powders or corn starch under the eyes and on the moustache. Corn starch is fine, talc is not advised. Some dogs will tear and react to powders of any sort coming near their eyes. So use your own judgment here. When we use powder, we use a cosmetic "blusher applicator" brush. Some people use a baby toothbrush or use their fingers to work the cornstarch in. A plastic bottle with a pointed snipped tip is okay, too. You may add 1-2 Tbsps to 1/2 cup of boric acid powder to your cornstarch. Do not use boric acid if there is a chance of another dog chewing on the face hair. Don't get into the mouth. It is caustic to the stomach. The boric acid will help dry, whiten and kill germs on the face hair.

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