What Causes a Bad Odor Around Eyes in Dogs?

Shih Tzu
Shih Tzu. Joe McBride/Stockbyte/Getty

This question was in response to the stinky pet articles.

A reader asks: "My Shih Tzu has a bad odor around his eyes. What causes that?"

This is a common problem and one that needs daily attention to help keep odors and skin inflammation under control.

Dogs that have excessive tearing (called epiphora) and drainage around the eyes may have a foul odor from the discharge as it collects on the hair and skin.

The normal bacteria that live on the surface proliferate, and this results in the bad odor.

Breeds such as the Shih Tzu, Cocker Spaniel, Maltese and Poodle (toy) often have excess tearing and fine hair around the eyes and face. Dogs with short noses (brachycephalic breeds) such as the Pug, may also be prone to this. The facial and nasal skin folds of these breeds collect the moisture, wick it along the hair, and provide a favorable environment for bacterial overgrowth.

Dogs that rub and paw at their faces introduce additional bacteria, fungi, and dirt, and may damage the skin or eye surfaces.

Fixing the Problem

A veterinary examination is the first step. Excessive tears may be caused by overproduction of tears or a blockage of the tear ducts that normally drain tears away.

Your veterinarian will examine the eye and likely use a painless harmless dye called fluorescein to check the condition of the cornea (rule out ulcers) and watch the flow of this dye to see if the tear ducts are functioning and draining as they should.

Dogs with reduced or blocked tear flow may require additional workup to determine the cause of the blockage. Inflammation, hair, tumors, congenital malformation, injury, and scarring are all potential causes of tear duct impairment or blockage.

Finding the originating cause is the first step. If the condition is treatable, the tearing and odor problems usually resolve on their own.

Dogs that have eyelashes that grow in toward the eye (called distachiasis) and other eyelash disorders experience excessive tearing from irritation of the eye. Eyelid surgery is often indicated for these cases. Once the irritation is removed, the tearing problem resolves on its own.

If the Problem is Not Fixable

Some dogs have absent, small, or malformed tear ducts or facial folds that interfere with tear drainage. Some cases can be repaired surgically, some are difficult to repair.

Because this problem involves the eyes, extra care must be taken to not damage or introduce any foreign material (wash, ointments, or other topicals) to the eyes.

Steps to Keep the Eyes Clean and Odor Free

  • First step: Visit the veterinarian. (see above)
  • Home maintenance:
  • Keep the hair around the eyes trimmed as short as possible.
  • Daily washing of the area, 1 to 2 times a day. Over the counter, optical (eye-safe) wipes and cleansers are safe to use to keep the eye area clean and odor free. Example: Optixcare Eye Cleaner (compare prices.)
  • Veterinary ophthalmic antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian may be used both in the eye and on the surrounding skin.
  • For cases of inflamed surrounding skin, a warm compress (damp cloth) may help soothe.
  • E-collars may be needed to reduce rubbing and scratching until the eye and skin areas calm down with treatment.
  • For severe cases of tear duct and/or surrounding skin infection, oral antibiotics may be prescribed by your veterinarian.

There are over the counter products for this problem and the tear staining (hair discoloration) that can result from excessive tearing. The most commonly mentioned is a product called Angel EyesTM. This product contains an antibiotic, tylosin tartrate, and is not recommended for long term use as this may create bacterial resistance.

Products that bleach the tear-stained hair are also not recommended due to the potential harm to the eyes.

Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.