Ask a Vet: Why is the fur on my dog’s face or body stained brown?


By Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD

Have you ever seen a white dog who looks like he’s crying all the time, or a white dog with a dark, stained beard? These pooches often seem to have a pink to brown beard. This can happen to any part of your dog’s body that he likes to lick or chew, such as the fur on your dog’s feet or the fur around the eyes. While it’s harmless for the most part, there are some medical conditions that could cause excessive staining in your dog’s fur.


"It’s quite common for light-haired canines to have color changes in the fur around the muzzle or face."

“It’s quite common for light-haired canines to have color changes in the fur around the muzzle or face.”

Why Are These Areas a Different Color?

Saliva and tears contain substances called porphyrins, which stain light fur pink, red or brown.

Porphyrins are organic, aromatic compounds that make up many important structures in the body. The term porphyrin comes from the Greek word πορφύρα (porphura), which translates as ‘purple.’ Although I have never seen a pet with a purple beard, feet or tear tracts, the staining often starts out as a dark pink-purple hue that gradually becomes brown as time goes on and more porphyrins are applied.

Is It Normal for These Areas to Undergo Color Change from Porphyrin Staining?

Yes and no, as there are certain locations that will be invariably stained by the presence of porphyrins. It’s quite natural for the beard to undergo color change, as saliva originates in the mouth and some of it is bound to end up on the lip and mouth.

A normally functioning eye produces tears to lubricate the eyeball so that the eyelids don’t stick to it. A small amount of staining from natural tear production can be expected, but a prominent tear-tract from the inner or outer edge of the eyelids is abnormal.

The skin and fur on the feet, knees and other body parts are also not locations where tears or saliva would naturally appear. Have you noticed your dog constantly licking the same spot? There may be a primary health problem causing staining in these areas.

What Underlying Health Problems Contribute to Porphyrin Staining?

Yes, there are a variety of health problems, some mild and others severe, that can contribute to excessive accumulation of porphyrins on bodily surfaces.

Mouth Stains:

  • Periodontal disease- Pets with periodontal disease have higher levels of bacteria in their mouths. As a result, more saliva is produced in attempt to rid the bacteria from being absorbed through the gums into the bloodstream. Periodontal infections such as tooth abscesses can also create the sensation of nausea and cause drooling.
  • Conformational abnormalities- If your pet can’t properly close his mouth or if he has unnecessary skin folds in his lips, saliva can exit the mouth and accumulate on the hair around your dog’s mouth.
  • Difficulty chewing food- Problems chewing food can cause saliva to be unevenly distributed in the mouth and trickle down the sides of the mouth. Chewing difficulties are commonly associated with periodontal disease, fractured teeth, and oral tumors.

Eye Stains:

  • Inflammation- Environmental irritation from seasonal or non-seasonal allergies can cause inflammation of the various eye structures and lead to excessive tear production.
  • Conformational abnormalities- Abnormally placed eyelashes (ectopic cilia and distichaisis), rolling in of the eyelids (entropion), tear duct obstructions, and other conditions can cause soft or rigid hairs lining the eyelids to touch the eyeball and create inflammation and extra eye discharge.
  • Infection- Bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses all have the ability to infect the eye and lead to the production of excess tears as the body tries to flush them out.
  • Cancer- Cancer that affects the eye can cause abnormal positioning of the eyeball within the socket, enlargement of the globe (buphthalmia), or other changes that can affect the normal tear drainage from the eye.
  • Trauma- Injuries from an object or abrasion from a pet’s paw can damage the surface of the eye (corneal ulcer) and lead to increased tear production.

Skin/Coat Stains:

  • Inflammation- Seasonal and non-seasonal environmental and food allergies can cause a pet to lick or chew on the feet, knees, or other body parts. Inflammation can also be caused by items embedded in the skin, painful joints, flea bites, etc.
  • Infection- Bacterial, fungal, or even parasitic infection of the skin can motivate our pets to strive to resolve the issue themselves by licking or chewing.

What Should You Do If You Note Brown Staining to Your Dog’s Beard, Eyes or Other Body Parts?

It’s best that dogs showing excessively stained body parts have an examination by a veterinarian to look for potential underlying health problems. As there are so many potential causes of porphyrin staining, each option and the pet’s whole-body health must be carefully considered when determining the appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment.

Pending the veterinarian’s evaluation and ability to manage the issue, an affected pet may need to be evaluated by a veterinary specialist, such as an ophthalmologist, dermatologist, dentist or internal medicine specialist.

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14 Responses to Ask a Vet: Why is the fur on my dog’s face or body stained brown?

  1. Pingback: Why Is the Fur On My Dog’s Face or Body Stained Brown? — Dr. Patrick Mahaney

  2. Patrice says:

    So what if it’s nothing serious? There is a product called Angel Eyes. Is that recommended? Or is there a natural way to clean the fur?

  3. Laura says:

    I use angel eyes on my dog and also an organic face wash neither is helping. I don’t know what to do. I even give him bottled water. My dog is a Bichon and even though he gets groomed and bathed he looks dirty is there anyone out there with any suggestions.

    • Rebecca says:

      I have a Bichon, and I buy distilled water by the gallon for him. It works PERFECTLY. No more tears and stains at all. It takes a little bit of time, but after a week or two, you’ll notice it. Cut away the stained areas, and they won’t come back.

      • Teddie says:

        Be sure the food and treats you give your dog don’t have any type of red coloring, like beet pulp, which a lot of brands include in their products to make the food look appetizing….

  4. BR says:

    Saw it on a discussion about staining of white furred dogs, and now I proved it. Most likely cause of the discoloration is because of high levels of IRON IN YOUR TAP/WELL WATER. It makes all the dog’s secretions – eye moisture, around mouth/saliva, and in my dog’s case, the white hair of his private parts brown or pinkish. Provide only bottled water (purified water at home like Brita does not work) for drinking and the pup’s natural white fur parts will shine!

  5. Denise says:

    My silver mini schnauzer, who Had a white beard until a recent dental cleaning, is now stained red-brown around mouth and light pink on his front paws. He has always licked his front paws, but they were not stained until after this procedure. ? It has been nearly 4weeks since the procedure with no clearing of mouth and feet stains. Everywhere he licks is now a pinkish color.
    I have taken him to the Vet who performed the dental procedure with a baffled, ” I don’t know” and recommendation to see a dog dermatologist. We are doing that in a few weeks. Any idea why a dental cleaning may exacerbate or cause the staining????

    • Sarah Wilks says:

      Hi Denise, I too have a schnauzer who had a beautiful pure white beard. She also had a dental with 3 incisors removed, and about a month after her beard turned brown. She also has brownish paws and patch above her bum in the crease of her tail. I am going though every possible cause and with trial and error trying to solve the problem.
      I thought it was the dental at one point, and the course of antibiotics she had after but now I am not so sure.
      My current theory is the change of food 4 or 5 months prior to the beard staining.
      It’s very frustrating!


  6. Cindy says:

    My poodle had dental cleaning and also had the red=brown stains on paws and from eyes down to mouth after. Been since July. I wonder what causes the change after the dental cleaning.

  7. Nancy says:

    I have a white foster dog, maltipoo, we think. His beard being discolored doesn’t bother me so much as his feet and around his butt. I am going to try the distilled water trick…although I have 3 dogs, so that’s going to be a lot of water. I hope it works. He’s much cuter when he’s all white…and he needs to find a furever home!

    • Jessica Medlin says:

      Thanks for reading, Nancy. And thank you even more for being such a great foster mom to that pup and taking such great care of him. Best wishes to the little guy…we sure hope he finds his fur-ever home very soon!

  8. Evelyn dumont says:

    I have 3 maltese. The boy has beard staining and one of the girls has bad eye staining. She had surgery for it, no better. The little girl , which we just got , had no staining. Now she is starting to. Eyes and beard slightly. They eat prarie lamb moist and dry dog food. They also eat 6fish and salmon, per the breeders recommendation. The water is all filtered. If it’s the dog food, how do I stop the staining. The pup was eating it , when I got her. All dog food is USA made…lost my last girl to kidney failure, from the china chicken strips! She only weighed 4lbs. It’s Carey what to feed your pets today. I’m leaning towards it being the moist dog food. Looking for input, thank you.

  9. C says:

    What about feeding them boiled chicken with veggies? I boiled 2 whole chicken for a couple of hours, deboned them then put the meat back in the water with frozen green beans and peas, carrots a zucchini for a couple of hours. It turned out to be a kind of chicken veggie porrage. They like it. Because they’re small it lasts a long time and is relatively cheap. It seems like a good diet for them. What do you think?

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