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Watery Eyes (Epiphora) in Dogs

What are Watery Eyes in Dogs?

Watery eyes in dogs, medically termed as Epiphora, refer to the clear, watery substance that flows from a dog’s eyes, resembling excessive tears. Often, this moisture causes a reddish-brown discoloration of the fur around their eyes due to the presence of porphyrin, a normal pigment in tears. This staining is particularly noticeable in dogs with white fur.

Normal tear production is vital for keeping a dog’s eyes lubricated. Additional tears are stored in tear ducts situated in the corners of dogs’ eyes near their noses. When the eyes encounter irritation from dust, hair, pollen, or other irritants, the stored tears help flush out these particles from their eyes.

Watery eyes are a frequent occurrence in dogs and can stem from eye irritants and abnormal tear drainage, or they may be inherent to the dog’s breed. Pet owners should promptly seek veterinary care if the discharge turns greenish-yellow and if their dog begins squinting, as these could indicate an eye injury.


  • Excessive tearing
  • Reddish-brown staining of the fur beneath the eyes
  • Rubbing or pawing at the eyes
  • Glassy appearance of the eyes
  • Dampness under the eyes

Why Does My Dog Only Have One Watery Eye?

Epiphora can impact either one or both eyes, although it’s more typical for both to be affected. Occasionally, a dog may experience irritation, such as an ingrown hair on the eyelid, which affects only one eye. In some cases, a blockage in the nasolacrimal duct, which connects the eyes to the nose, may occur on just one side, leading to abnormal tear drainage.

If your dog displays green-yellow discharge and squints in one eye, it could indicate a corneal ulcer. If your dog exhibits drainage from only one eye that isn’t watery or clear and is accompanied by squinting or signs of discomfort, it’s crucial to seek veterinary attention immediately.


Epiphora typically arises from conditions that irritate the eyes, abnormal tear drainage, or inherent breed traits that predispose them to watery eyes.

Various factors can lead to acute or chronic eye irritation, resulting in watery eyes. Common contributors to eye irritation and subsequent epiphora include:

  • Allergies: Pollen and dust serve as common eye irritants.
  • Eyelash abnormalities: Different eyelash irregularities such as ingrown lashes (trichiasis), abnormal growth (distichiasis), or internal eyelid growth (ectopic cilia) can occur.
  • Eyelid abnormalities: Dogs may be born with rolled-in (entropion) or rolled-out (ectropion) eyelids, causing skin or hair to rub on the eye or excessive dryness leading to tearing.
  • Prolapsed third eyelid: Also known as “cherry eye,” this condition happens when the third eyelid gland protrudes from its normal position.
  • Small eyelid masses: These masses are common and can cause chronic irritation by rubbing against the eye’s surface.
  • Viruses: Certain viruses can induce eye irritation and watery eyes.
  • Glaucoma: Increased pressure within the eye can lead to excessive tearing.
  • Abnormal tear drainage: Occurs when tears cannot drain properly, causing them to accumulate and lead to watery eyes. Dogs normally possess a small duct that channels tears from the inner eye to the nose.

Conditions resulting in abnormal tear drainage and subsequent epiphora include:

  • Shallow eye sockets: Some breeds with large, bulging eyes and shallow eye sockets may experience tears overflowing due to insufficient storage space.
  • Plugged nasolacrimal duct: Debris blockage, inflammation, or infection can obstruct the duct running from the inner eye to the nose.
  • Imperforate puncta: Certain dogs are born without a typical opening from the nasolacrimal duct to the eye, termed imperforate puncta, more common in Cocker Spaniels. Without normal tear flow, tears accumulate and leak from the eyes, causing epiphora.

Watery eyes may be a normal characteristic of certain breeds due to genetic factors. Breeds like Poodles, Shih Tzu, and Pekingese may experience epiphora despite having normal nasolacrimal systems and no apparent irritants.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Watery Eyes in Dogs

Veterinarians typically diagnose epiphora through a physical examination. They may opt to assess the tear production using the Schirmer tear test, where a small absorbent strip is placed in the lower eyelid for one minute.

If there’s suspicion of an eye injury, veterinarians may examine for scratches (corneal ulcers) by applying fluorescein stain to the cornea. Additionally, they may gauge the eye pressure using tonometry, a painless procedure involving a handheld probe gently touching the eye’s surface, to screen for glaucoma.

Treatment of Watery Eyes in Dogs

Treatment for watery eyes in dogs varies depending on the underlying cause. If allergies such as pollen irritation are responsible, your veterinarian might suggest antihistamines along with artificial tear drops to cleanse the eyes. Surgical intervention may be necessary to address abnormalities like ingrown eyelashes, rolled eyelids, or eyelid masses.

In cases where excessive tearing stems from shallow eye sockets or is a breed-specific trait, no treatment may be necessary. For such dogs, regular gentle wiping of the tear tracts using soft wipes like Optixcare® Eye Cleaning Wipes can help prevent debris accumulation and secondary bacterial infections.

Recovery and Management of Watery Eyes in Dogs

Certain conditions causing watery eyes in dogs can be effectively treated, offering a positive prognosis for recovery. Chronic irritation resulting from eyelid or eyelash abnormalities can often be resolved through surgical intervention.

Allergies, on the other hand, do not have a cure and require long-term management. Whether seasonal or year-round, allergies can be addressed with various medications ranging from over-the-counter antihistamines to prescription drugs like Apoquel® or Cytopoint®.

For breeds predisposed to watery eyes due to genetic factors without nasolacrimal system abnormalities, the condition can only be managed. Although excess tear production persists, the primary goal is to prevent skin moisture from fostering bacterial growth and secondary skin infections.

Regular wiping of tear tracts using gentle dog-specific wipes is often necessary for these dogs. Angels’ Eyes® Tear Stain Wipes are commonly used for routine cleansing to minimize tear staining. In some cases, medicated products like Douxo® Antiseptic Antifungal Wipes may be employed to reduce yeast and bacterial overgrowth.

It’s crucial to ensure that these products do not come into contact with your dog’s eyes and to limit cleansing to the skin beneath the eye where tears accumulate.

Watery Eyes in Dogs FAQs

Should I be concerned if my dog's eye is watering?

If your dog’s eyes are watering but they seem comfortable and are not squinting, it’s advisable to discuss it during your next wellness appointment. However, if your dog experiences watery eyes along with squinting, reduced appetite, lethargy, or other signs of illness, immediate veterinary care is recommended.

Are watery eyes painful for dogs?

In most cases, epiphora is not a painful condition. Occasionally, dogs may experience mild discomfort or itching in the eyes due to chronic irritation.

Can allergies cause watery eyes in dogs?

Yes, allergies are a common cause of watery eyes in dogs.

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