Archived Message

Tetracycline for Tearstain ? (long)
by Jay Bianco
I was forwarded this message this morning and thought it was well written and therefore am passing it along. I hope this is alright with the author, I didn't ask her permission to publish it so I left her name off.

I'm really concerned that a lot of people are turning to antibiotics for tearstaining as I think that quite a few aren't aware of the possible consequences. I've even seen posts suggesting to new pet owners that they buy fish tetracycline from pet shops and use that! As you and Jay pointed out in your recent posts, tetracycline causes permanent tooth discolouration in young puppies and can cause digestive upsets. I think more people are aware of this now but many still think it's perfectly safe to give to their maltese once the adult teeth are in and, even worse, without veterinary advice! I've responded on a couple of ocasions to this but I'm reluctant to do so again - I don't want to be too boring and repetitive! Do you think it would be possible to put something up on the main MO menu which outlines the risks involved with antibiotics? That way if people read that first and still decide to go ahead with it, at least they've made an informed choice. Does Jay have a piece he could put up? Maybe the PetDoc would write something for you, people are more likely to take notice of a vet than me or even Jay and I'm sure she wouldn't condone the willy-nilly use of antibiotics without veterinary advice. I'm tacking on a slighly amended part of a reply I made before - if you want to use any of that feel free to do so, but remember I'm not an expert (although I do have a science degree with a major in microbiology and have worked in medical laboratory science and research for 10 years - including a couple of years in immunology.) Bobbie Linden is not only a breeder but also a microbiologist and I'm pretty sure she would give you something that would carry more weight with readers than anything I have to say.

I know that the pressure is really on the breeders for show purposes so that "cosmetic reasons" for them are not the same as for pet owners, also they keep in close contact with their vets and are generally pretty knowledgable about antibiotics and administering medications. It's the pet owners like me that I'm more concerned about, after all if a breeder recommends a course of action we usually rely on their experience and take it, unless we have a little knowledge on the subject ourselves which conflicts with that. A breeder that I have the utmost respect for recommended antibiotics for tear staining to me. I don't think any less of her for that, especially as she thought that she was being helpful but I was aware of the down side of antibiotics and so was able to make an informed and unbiased decision - this is what I hope others will be able to do if the "pros and cons of antibiotics for tear staining" could be included somewhere, regardless of what that decision is. We all love our precious babies and NONE of us would give them ANYTHING which we thought might be harmful, so you know that I'm not implying that people who give their maltese antibiotics for tear staining think more about their looks than their health, far from it - gee, I know that people probably think I'M a bad mum because I give the Beasties raw chicken wings- I just want people to know that antibiotics are powerful drugs which shouldn't be given without veterinary advice unless you really know what you're doing. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now! is a personal choice so just be aware of the possible consequences before you take the decision. Every time you (or your dog) take a course of antibiotics you are selecting out resistant strains. This has 2 main consequences: Firstly you decimate the all the susceptible bacteria - including beneficial ones - this can allow resistant strains to take a hold (which can come back to haunt you or your dog in old age in the form of constant urinary tract infections which no longer respond to antibiotic treatment). Secondly, you are contributing to the global pool of resistant bacteria, which increases chances of re-infection (especially if you have no natural immunity because antibiotics have been doing all the infection fighting). Antibiotics, used sensibly and when necessary, check the spread of bacterial disease and save lives. If one of the Beasties had a nasty bacterial infection I would be the first one asking the vet for antibiotics. But please think carefully about possible repercussions if the use is purely for cosmetic reasons, and discuss it with your vet before you go ahead - there is a chance that the staining may not be bacteria-related and could be prevented by changes to food, water or eating and drinking utensils. I know that most people who are thinking of trying the antibiotics only plan to give one course, just to see if it works. Many people say that tearstaining clears after a single course, in which case it is pretty unlikely there will be a long-term harmful effect. But repeated courses of antibiotics, which may be necessary to achieve that white face, just don't make sense. I wonder what effect all the antibiotics which are currently given to poultry and other livestock to make them grow are going to have on us meateaters years down the track. Makes you want to be a vegetarian (almost!).


I did more research this morning after reading the above message and in a very short time came across the following from very good responsible sources with regards to humans taking Tetracycline that I hope that anyone considering giving Tetracycline to help control tearstaining on your Maltese will read this first before making that decision. ~Jay

Tetracycline makes you more sensitive to sunlight. In other words, it's easier to get a sunburn while taking Tetracycline. Ten percent of female patients will develop a yeast infection while taking antibiotics. The onset of genital itching and vaginal discharge suggests the beginning of a yeast infection. Tetracycline should be discontinued if you become pregnant because it is incorporated into the baby's bones and teeth. Tetracycline often causes temporary nausea and abdominal cramps.

Do not take tetracycline when taking iron, calcium or antacids. (there have been suggestions of giving your Maltese Tums to help eliminate tearstain. a Tum is an antacid and does contain calcium) Do not take tetracycline if you are nursing an infant or if you are under 8 years old. Anemia, blood disorders, blurred vision and headache (in adults), bulging soft spot on the head (in infants), diarrhea, difficult or painful swallowing, dizziness, extreme allergic reactions, genital or anal sores or rash, hives, inflammation of large bowel, inflammation of the tongue, inflammation of the upper digestive tract, loss of appetite, ringing in the ears, swelling due to fluid accumulation, vision disturbance, vomiting. May cause rare problems in liver, kidney or bone marrow.

Less common or rare side effects may include:

Inflamed skin, inflammation of the penis, liver poisoning, muscle weakness, peeling, skin eruptions, throat sores and inflammation. Tetracycline can cause yellow, tan, creamy or grey discoloration of the teeth.

Tetracyclines are generally regarded as relatively non-toxic, but they produce a fairly large number of adverse effects, some of which can be life threatening under the right circumstances. Therefore, they should not be used casually.

Tetracyline given at higher doses can result in bone deformation.


Thanks for the info, Jay. I would never give tetracycline for tearstaining. I remember my sister-in-law's vet recommending it to her for her white toy poodle. Fortunately, after I told her what could happen, she decided not to do it.
April B

Thanks for this post Jay. Before we relocated to our present home, our Vet in our old home town prescribed Tetracycline for our two maltese, Sugar Bear and Mandi-Rose Bear. (This was of course for tear staining problems.) We were to give it every two to three days. As long as we did this there was no staining. As soon as we stopped the medication, within a few days the tear staining would return. After we moved, I continued to use it to finish out the presctiption. One morning I noticed red blotches on Mandy-Rose's belly. I thought nothing more about it, although the appearance of these blotches seemed familiar to me (from something I had seen while working in a physicians office.) Later that morning I gave her her bath, which I had planned to do anyway. After the warm bath and while drying her, I noticed the blotches were getting redder and bigger. I rushed her to our Vet. here. He confirmed what my suspicions were. She indeed had petechial hemorrhages or purpura. If left unnoticed she could have hemorrhaged from the internal organs and bled to death. Most certainly another dose of Tetracycline would have done her in. So, in addition to all the above mentioned, this can occur. I would advise everyone to use caution. Our Vet here said that he does not approve of the use of Tetracycline or any other antibiotic for cosmetic purposes. That these antibiotic drugs should be used for their intended purpose to treat and prevent illness and disease. Thanks again for bringing this to everyones attention.
This issue came up not too long ago. I am pleased that you have added even more detail for people to consider. I agree with the person whose letter you quoted (and I think I know who she is since she was involved in the last posting on this issue) that you should accumulate as much information from reliable sources as a separate topic on your home page. I believe that our little malteses are very sensitive creatures, so we need to be particularly cautious regarding the food we feed, the medications we give them, etc. I would love to finally get rid of my Lucca's tearstaining once and for all (it comes and goes), but it would take whole lot of convincing for me to use any antibiotic as the solution.
Jay, I forgot to include the fact that Mandi-Rose also had a low platlet count the day I took her into the Vet. A retun visit three or four days later revealed that the platlets were still low. This is further evidence that this drug should be used with the utmost caution.
Jay, this is very important information and as always I wanted to Thank You for supplying it to those of use who don't know all the facts. I personally, was considering using this for Bailey but since I don't really like the idea and my Vet doesn't highly recommend it either now its for certain - I won't. Again, thanks for always caring so much about all these little ones.
Robin D.
Jay, I also purchased tetracylcin from my vet, he said it might work but he was not overly ready to prescribe it. After reading some posts I discontinued it after 3 days. It did help but came right back. I checked the fish tetra this past weekend and it is the same strength (250mg. per capsule). I have been using the tums for 4 weeks now and it seems to be helping, not gone but a whole lot better, so I will keep doing this method as I don't want to hurt my baby in any way. I certainly learned a lot from this forum and so glad to have it back. Thank you for all this information.
Betty and Tiffini
Thank you Jay for printing this information! There seems to be so much undue pressure on the pet owner to keep their baby pure white - yes, it looks wonderful and I like the look as well as anyone. These are beautiful dogs. However there is a strong tendency to 'do whatever it takes' to maintain physical appearances at any and all costs. The reminder that things are not as they seem and that this is a risky course to take is one that needs to be made known. Maybe a bad analogy - but I wouldn't swallow ink to get rid of the gray hair...
Leslie R
Leslie, I totally agree with you. Some people do so much for the appearance and not the animals health. Buster has some staining but I do what I can. I don't really worry about it as it is not a health problem for him and I don't show him. He's still a very handsome little guy.
Libby & Buster
Yes, thank you for posting this. When I first heard of antiobiotics for tearstaining, I thought it was crazy. Everything in this post makes a whole lot of sense. People do tend to go to extremes when it comes to making their babies faces white without thinking about health risks. It's just not that important. Thanks again.
Jay, thank you for posting this about tetracycline. I was just going to post when I read down and saw your article. Today I ran into our vet and casually mentioned tearstaining to him. Here is what he told me about tearstaining and tetracycline. Where you can get tearstaining is from the amount of calcium in the tears. (Maybe this is why tearstaining can be bad around teething time)? Tetracycline bonds to calcium therefore reducing the amount of calcium in the body (or something like that, cannot remember his exact words). A growing puppy needs all the calcium to have strong healthy bones and teeth (I guess that is why some vets will not prescribe to under 6 months of age). I am glad my vet is opposed to administering tetracycline. And boy am I glad I ran into him today! Is it worth it to rob your little one (any age) of calcium for the sake of a white face? Tetracycline is a strong antiobiotic to be playing around with for beauty sake. If we don't like taking antibiotics ourselves from all the side effects, why should we subject our littles ones to all these side effects - and their systems are so much smaller than ours! I am going to settle for washing Digby's face daily, and occassionally dabbing a little baby powder over the stain. I have tried some of the pet store brands to remove stains, but none seem to work so may even order a professional brand from my groomer. This seems to be a much safer method for me follow.
Marilyn & Digby
Thanks Jay for all the good info and advice. I think this is a very good topic. I know I would not use Tetracycline as my vet brought up how some breeders use it but she is against it. My vet breeds and shows horses, so she cks into everything. I like her and I trust her. Lets hope now people will think about it and go from there. Judy---Ju-dee MALTESE
Judy----Ju-dee Maltese
"Libby, Thanks for sending me Deanna's letter. I agree with everything she has to say about the wanton use of antibiotics. If it's considered poor medicine for a Vet to prescribe antibiotics without documented proof of need, then it is pure negligence for a breeder to advise the same. Breeders may be knowledgeable about husbandry, but they are not legally, ethically or scientifically able to make that kind of recommendation.

The possible causes of this condition are as follows:
caruncle hairs acting as wicks
congenital absence of the lower canaliculus (drainage system)
excessive tear production from irritation
localized inflammations
lower punctum closure (the lower drainage hole)
medial lower entropion
nasolacrimal duct obstruction
prominent eye with shallow lacrimal lake

Epiphora in the Maltese and other related breeds seems to be more prominent because of the anatomy of the eyelids and orbit. This anatomy compromises the normal tear drainage system. Miniature breeds usually have more shallow orbits and more prominent eyes than other dogs. Their eyelids are tighter so the tears can pool as they would in other dogs.As a result of this tension, the inner lower lid can fold out slightly, blocking off the normal drainage apparatus. Combine all thins with the long fine hairs of the breed and you get epiphora and tear staining.

Inflammation does NOT appear to play an important role in the development of epiphora in miniature breeds. But if inflammation does develop, it can enhance the poor drainage already present. Treatment involves correcting any underlying anatomic problem. Tetracyclines have been uses but with varying success. The mode of action for this drug is unknown. Metrondiazole has also been tried-also with variable success.(Source: Gelatt KN: Canine Lacrimal and Nasolacrimal Diseases. In: Veterinary Ophthalmology 2nd Edition. Gelatt Kn, ed. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia 1991 277-289)

Even though this source mentions the use of tetracycline in no way does it mention fish tetracyaline-which is a totally different preparation than either the forms approved for human and pet use. It is also never a good idea for breeders to encourage self medicating of dogs by owners. It is also VERY illegal under the new Federal Veterinary Drug Acts passed recently by the US government prohibiting the off label use of ANY in an animal drug without demonstrated need AND a valid veterinarian-client-pet relationship. I would imagine that similar laws are in existence elsewhere.

Personally, I would not use a systemic antibiotic to treat what is basically a local condition anyway. It leaves the dog wide open to systemic side effects and enhances the development of resistant bacteria in the environment. The number one reason we have there super bugs now is because of indiscriminate antibiotic use by both Physicians and Veterinarians. The wonder drugs we had just a few years ago are basically no better than sugar pills because of widespread abuse. Do breeders and owners want to contribute to the problem? I sure hope not. Hope this helps,"

Margaret Muns D.V.M.
Staff Veterinarian
Best Friends Forum
Dr. Muns responds...

Jay, thank you so much for posting this information. I will deal with the eye staining, by just washing the area, or just live with it, it's not that bad. Thanx again.
Dottie & Tasha
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