Q: Cosette, my 5-year-old white toy poodle, has always had bronze staining beneath both eyes. Every year, her veterinarian examines her eyes and says they look fine, so I assume the bronze staining isn't a medical problem. What causes it, and what can I do about it?
A: Tear staining is the most common cause of bronze discoloration of the hair under the eyes of light-colored dogs. You are correct that it is not a medical problem but a cosmetic concern.
Tears contain porphyrins, substances that bind iron and darken to red-brown when exposed to light. When tears overflow the eyes, the porphyrins stain the fur.
Tears spill from the eyes for two reasons: 1) increased tear production due to eye pain, whether from hair irritating the eye, a corneal ulcer or some other problem; or 2) a blocked or malformed tear drainage system.
It sounds like Cosette's veterinarian has ruled out increased tear production, so her tear staining probably results from tears spilling over her eyelids rather than draining internally.
Normally, tears leave the eyes through the nasolacrimal duct system, draining through tiny holes at the lower inner corner of each eye and exiting through the nostrils. A conformational abnormality, from a covering over the tiny holes to a blockage of the duct as it travels to the nostrils, may be responsible for Cosette's tears spilling over her lower eyelids.
A veterinary ophthalmologist can advise you about whether flushing the nasolacrimal drainage system or corrective eye surgery will resolve the problem.
Or you can manage it by asking your groomer to keep Cosette's hair very short beneath her eyes so the hair doesn't trap her tears. Wash Cosette's face daily with a warm, damp cloth. Consider applying a bit of petroleum jelly to the hair below her eyes so her tears slide off.
Probiotics sometimes help prevent tear staining. Try an oral veterinary probiotic such as FortiFlora, Prostora Max or Proviable.
Don't give Cosette tylosin, tetracycline or any other antibiotic for her tear staining. Using antibiotics for cosmetic purposes can contribute to bacterial resistance and cause more problems in the future.
Q: I feed a friendly tomcat that hangs around my property. A few days ago, I noticed a mass on the side of his head and neck. Today the mass is much smaller but covered with thick, yellow goo that has a foul odor. What is this, and what should I do about it?
A: It sounds like your friendly tomcat fought with another animal and received a bite wound that has abscessed. An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms when oral bacteria are "injected" under the skin during a wounding bite.
An abscess, the most common feline bacterial skin infection, forms because cats have tough, elastic skin that quickly seals puncture wounds, trapping bacteria beneath the surface. As the bacteria proliferate and white blood cells flood the area to fight the invaders, the abscess swells. Eventually, it ruptures, releasing its thick, fetid goo over the skin.
If you can catch your free-roaming tomcat, take him to your veterinarian, who will thoroughly clean his wound, insert a drain if it's necessary, and administer an antibiotic.
Your vet also can vaccinate your friend for rabies, test for the feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses that can be transmitted when cats fight, and neuter him so he's less likely to fight and get bitten again.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at