Dogs, they are our hearts and they are everything good that we want to see in ourselves. For dog owners around the world, dogs are often seen as not only a companion but also the best part of ourselves, which we see in their goofy smiles, their playfulness and even in the tears that slide down their muzzles.
Let’s face it, anyone who has spent less than five minutes with a dog understands that dogs do feel emotions and are actually quite expressive. We know that dogs can be happy, or sad or even frustrated and these are demonstrated by the ways they vocalize: whines and whimpers, how they use their body language and even their behavior. It is, however, important to remember that emotions for dogs are slightly different than they are for humans. For instance, where humans will use words such as remorse or depression, dogs feel sadness as stress or uneasiness.
And while we know that dogs feel emotions, will a dog cry tears when they are sad? The answer to that question is simply no.
Can Dogs Cry?
When we look at the structure of the canine eye, we can say, unequivocally, that yes, dogs can cry. Like all mammals, the canine eye contains the lens, cornea, conjunctiva and retina. It functions in a similar manner to human eyes and must be kept moist so the eye, and eyelids, can function properly. For this reason, dogs have lacrimal glands, better known as tear glands, in their eyes, which help remove debris from the eyes and also allows for better vision.
This is the reason why dogs can shed tears, however, the why is for very different reasons than why humans cry.
Why Do Dogs Cry?
In some ways, this question has been discussed above but it is important to note that crying tears and normal fluid in the eyes are two separate things. When we look at why dogs cry, it is important to note that dog tears are distinctly different than ours.
First, dog tears are actually due to a more complicated lubrication system than humans have. This is commonly due to the third eyelid that dogs have, known as the nictitating membrane, which is a clear membrane that moves across the cornea to moisten it.
Second, canines have two different types of glands in their eyes. These are:
- The Lacrimal Gland: As I already mentioned, the lacrimal gland is ones that are found in most mammals, including humans. This gland creates a watery tear that helps flush dirt and debris out of the eye.
- The Mucus Gland: This gland is found in the conjunctival sac and produces a thicker tear that does not evaporate quickly; providing a protective layer of tear over the dog’s eye.
When a dog blinks, the fluids from both glands mix together and spread out over the eye, creating the canine tear. For dogs, the tear mixture is drained off the eye from two ducts found on the upper and lower eyelids called the nasolcrimal ducts. Often, when these ducts become clogged, the tears will spill out over the muzzle and down the face, which is known as epiphora: a common condition in breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs.
In essence, dogs crying tears is part of the normal function of the dog’s eye. However, it is important to watch your dog for signs that their ducts are blocked or there is another reason for an overabundance of tears.
In addition to normal function, dogs can cry due to various reasons including:
- Allergies: Like humans, dogs can be susceptible to some allergies and their eyes may water more frequently when they are near an allergen, such as dust, smoke or even pollen.
- Conjunctiva Infections: Also known as eye infections, can be easy to spot as you can often see a swollen or irritated eye along with a yellow, mucusy discharge from their tear glands.
- Sinusitis: Commonly known as a sinus infection, tears are often produced due to blocked tear ducts from the infection.
- Tear Duct Obstructions: As mentioned above, a blocked tear duct is also known as epiphora and will result in the tears draining onto the skin instead of down the duct. This leads to some skin irritation as well as leaves a brown stain around the dog’s eyes, which is known as a tearstain.
- Immune Related Illnesses: There are a number of immune related illnesses that create an over abundance of tears in a dog’s eyes, which can be one of the earlier symptoms of a problem.
- Scratched Cornea: Since dogs are active, scratched corneas are not uncommon. Symptoms usually include an inflamed eye area and the dog pawing at his face a lot.
- Dirt and Debris: Again, dirt and debris are quite common for dogs and their tear ducts will produce more tears to flush the eye. It should be short-term tears and if it is prolonged, it is important to have the dog checked for other problems.
- Congenital Epiphora: This refers to any congenital disorder or defect that the dog is born with such as eyelids that are turned inward or bulging eyes as seen in breeds such as mastiffs.
When to worry about a dog’s tears?
For the most part, owners shouldn’t worry about the occasional puppy dog tear since it could be something as simple as the eye flushing dirt or debris out of it. In addition, dogs with more pronounced eyes will often have watery eyes and owners will need to simply clean tearstains and monitor the moisture in their puppy’s eyes.
But there are times when puppy dog tears can mean a big problem for your dog and it is important to seek medical help if the dog has other symptoms or tears for a prolonged period of time.
Some things that you should look for that may signal that your dog’s tears are not functioning normally are:
- Crusting of the tears around the eye.
- Excess, mucusy discharge
- Inflamed skin around the eyes
- Swelling of the eye and the area around the eye
- Sores on or near the eyelid
- Ulcers, again, on or near the eyelid
- Loose skin around the eyelids; unless a breed trait
- Protruding eyelids; again, unless a breed trait
If you see any of these symptoms, please consult with your veterinarian. Dogs cry tears due to the normal function of the eye. For the most part, dog tears are nothing to worry about; however, they can also be an indication that something isn’t right with your pooch.
Take the time to monitor your dog’s tears on a regular basis and if anything seems off, seek the help of his veterinarian. By doing so, your dog and his eyes will thank you.