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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."

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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[…] Very commonly, dogs and cats having light-colored fur end up with pink or brown staining around their eyes, mouth, paws, or other places on their bodies.  Do you know why these areas undergo such color changes?  Check out my answer via the following article for PetSafe: Why Is the Fur On My Dog’s Face or Body Stained Brown? […]

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?

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.

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.

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!

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????

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!

Sarah

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….

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.

That would be a great question to ask your poodle’s veterinarian, Cindy!

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!

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!

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.

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?

I have read all the comments and still not sure what to do. I have two bishons they are rescue dogs and the male had ear ,feet,and a bladder infection when we got him. He has always had brown on his feet and bum area. The female was used for breeding many many litters. She has had 10 teeth removed, her skin turns pink and she digs all the time the vet put her on Vanectyl, but we are being told that’s not good for her for a long period of time.We have tried different food and nothing seems to help and now she has brown on her face feet stomach and bum as well. We have spent close to $3000.00 trying to get these two dogs healthy but no luck. Can anyone maybe help on what we should try I am lost as what to do.They have brought a lot of joy to our home and our grandsons just love them and they love our grandsons.

I noticed my dogs beard turning red (platinum shnauzer) after our recent move to WA, and also that his water bowl was stained pink the last few times I refilled it. Anyway after researching, decided there may be a bacteria problem causing it. Bleaching his bowl weekly, only using filtered drinking water, and adding a few drops of ACV to his water once in awhile- the beard is back to normal color.  Hope that helps someone.

Wow good information !!

Actually, this works:  We rescued a white Schnauzer.  Stained beard always.  Vet thought allergic to chicken or meat, switched her to Royal Canin Select Protein Adult PR—RABBIT.  Beard has been white ever since.  No yucky enzymes, methinks.

Why is my male Toy poodle is chewing and eating the fur of my female toy poodle. How do I make him stop?

Hi, I have 2 schnauzers, female and an all white male. The female gets bladder infections easily and has a history of bladder stones. She has been on antibiotics several times for bladder infections, etc.  She will get a brown stain in her mustache after antibiotic treatment. I made the connection with the stains and antibiotics when the male was a puppy. He was on antibiotics for a bad infection and he immediately developed tear stains, beard stains, red feet, etc. he had 3 white litter mates with no stains anywhere. I read somewhere that tear stains were caused by “red yeast” in the dogs system that makes the secretions stain red. I knew antibiotic use could cause yeast infections so it made sense to me. I used Angel eyes for about a week, stopped treats and kept him on his usual puppy food, Halo Spots Stew, and the stains all cleared up. After that, I kept them on Spots Stew and rarely give treats. I use small dental chews for treats and they get them only about 2 times per month. That sounds very boring, I know.  At one time I was feeling guilty about the boring diet and I changed them, slowly of course, to Blue Buffalo dry dog food. It had much more protein, which sounded healthier to me, but within a week they started having problems. The white one got eye stains, they both got schnauzer “bumps” on their skin and within a week the female had a UTI. So back to Halo it was and they’re fine. I don’t know if it’s the best food, it may be that it’s just what they’re bodies are used to, but I know if I don’t change anything or add anything they stay pretty healthy and no stains. Angel eyes does work, but you have to use it every day and it has antibiotics in it, which sounds like a contradiction to my theory I know, but i think it must counter whatever causes the overgrowth of yeast in dogs that aren’t fed a strict, unvaried diet which probably has more carbs, which will also encourage yeast growth (ergo the diet theory :)). So while Angel eyes works, I don’t like the idea of giving my dogs a low dose of antibiotic to keep staining at bay, can’t be good for them I figure, and so the strict diet.
I have to add, my vet pooh pooh’s the whole theory. Says one food is as good as another generally, and doesn’t have anything to do with stains.

Hi, I have a 10 yr old white Bishon and have had him on Blue Buffalo adult small breed dry food. He has always had tear stains but no beard stains. He recently had crystals in his urine and vet changed his food to Royal Canin SO Urinary small dog dry food. He now has Brown stains on his beard and some stains on feet and genital area. Any idea why this change.in diet would cause this? Thanks.

Hi Nancy,

If you’ve found a dog food that works for your dogs, stick with it! You can try changing up treats with healthy snacks like carrots, broccoli, and celery if your dogs like vegetables.

Thanks for reading!

Hi Gay,

It sounds like your dog may be licking his feet and genitals. This may mean your dog is allergic or sensitive to the new food. Protein like chicken or beef is often the culprit for dogs. Did the main protein source change from his Blue Buffalo to Royal Canin food? Talk to your vet about other urinary specialty food options.

Thanks for reading and good luck finding the right food!

When the stains are of a normal nature, is there a way to reduce the porphyrin in the tears or to remove the stains.

Why is my pug skin pink on his chin and under his eyes?

My red healer has been licking or chewing on rear paw for several months and now the hair of his skin is turning dark brown. I have not noticed any injury to his paw and he appears ok. This little guy had so many heath issues and several surgeries in the past.  He his currently on vetprofen, cyclosporine and glycoflex. I am wondering if any of these medications may be the cause of his paw issues?  I appreciate any feed back.
Thank you so much for your valuable time!
Sonia

Hi Sonia,

Your dog may be reacting to medication or a food allergy, or he may be licking out of habit. Some dogs start licking when they’re feeling anxious and it calms them down. You might need to change your dog’s medication, food, or treats. It may be as simple as preventing him from licking by making him wear a cone for a while and hoping that breaks the habit. You should talk to your vet to figure out the real cause.

Good luck with your dog! Thanks for reading!

Hi Michael,

It sounds like your pug doesn’t have any of the issues described above, but he could have a different skin disorder. You should talk to your vet if it’s causing any discomfort for your dog.

Thanks for reading!

Hi Varda,

Yes, there are pet products like Angels’ Eyes that can help remove fur stains: http://angelseyesonline.com/ Make .sure you check the ingredients of any product you use to make sure it’s safe for pets.

Thanks for reading! Let us know if it works!

Hi Rachel,

That’s an interesting issue. It could be a mild case of pica, where he just likes the texture of her fur, or maybe he’s trying to groom her. If it’s bothering your girl poodle and the boy’s not getting the hint, you can teach your boy poodle Leave It. I would talk to your vet if the behavior is becoming disruptive.

Thanks for reading!

Hi my westie Snoopy has pink tinged hair between his eyes since around 1 year old, not under eyes as seen in some. His eye secretions and general eye condition seem normal. Very strange case, not around mouth or beard. Very frustrated as can’t figure out reasons for this after searching the web. Do you have any idea why this is happening? Many thanks.

Hi Yvonne,

If the skin right next to his eyes is stained, it may still be caused by his tear ducts. You can try gently wiping Snoopy’s face, especially around his eyes. You can also try products like Angel Eyes.

Other pet owners have reported success with changing their pet’s water or food. You can also check with your vet to rule out infections or other medical causes.

Thanks for reading!

It started about 10 days ago.  It’s on the hair under his mouth and chin. It’s a brown/red color.  He is a 17 pound Havenese 9yrs old.  It also appears to be draining from an eye.  His other eye has dark colored hair around it so you can’t see if there is discoloration.  He is fed Canidae platinum formula.

Hi Lorraine,

Some stained brown fur around your dog’s mouth and chin is pretty normal. That’s where his saliva naturally goes.

You may need to talk to your vet about the eye staining. Think back to what changed 2 weeks ago. The problem may also be age-related for a 9-year-old dog.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Thank you for your response, and regarding your question yes, there is something new…....we just got our most recent Angel Eyes and it has a different looking label.  We understand there was or is an antibiotic change?  This one seems not to work.  Could that be an issue?  Lorraine

Hi Lorraine,

It sounds like Angel Eyes removed the antibacterial ingredient in their formula.

If it no longer works for your dog, you might need to try another option. Other pet owners have reported success with changing their pet’s water or food or trying other facial cleaners.

Thanks for reading!

My dog is very sick we just found out he is diabetic. We still haven’t gotten an answer of why his water turns orange when he drinks and he drinks all day and nite?

Hi Patsy,

Did your dog change foods because of his condition? The new food may have orange dye, and the dye leaks into the water from your dog’s mouth if he drinks after he eats.

You might have water with high mineral content. You may also need to clean your dog’s bowl more often, or try a new bowl. Stainless steel bowls and fountains

You may also want to check with your vet to make sure your dog doesn’t have any dental problems, and the orange you see isn’t really blood from his teeth or gums.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Is there a natural way to rid my dog of skin mites.I am on a fixed-income and don’t have the funds to take her to the veterinarian.

Hi Barbara,

You can try some of these natural pest control ideas: http://www.petsafe.net/learn/10-ways-to-prevent-pests-naturally

You can also talk to your vet about low-income support programs. Many vets can work with you on payment plans or offer donated or recently expired medications.

to Barbara who asked about a natural cure for mites

Orange oil is a natural cure for mites you can put about 10 drops in a spray bottle and add some water and take it and spray your dogr also you could put some in the bath water when you wash them use it after washing.  put a few drops into clean water and let your dog sit in it.  it kills the mites.

you can buy orange oil at Heath food stores.

also there is a commercial spray called orange guard.

Hi All, just figured out that thanks to the FDA, Angels Eyes does NOT have the antibiotic tylosin in it anymore, so it does not work as well as it used to. Very annoying, their objection was that it’s an off-label use for tylosin. Every vet I have ever asked told me Angels Eyes was perfectly safe. You can still get tylosin online. That’s what I did, and had my vet figure out the dosage for me. My white Pom would get such bad tear/mouth/leg stains, her skin would be raw. Now she is white and healthy again. Anecdotally, I am convinced it helps her teeth stay healthy, too.

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