|by the late Marjorie Martin of Columbus, OH|
Again and again, I've seen Maltese face hair ruined by drastic attempts to remove stains. Strong solutions can irritate skin and pose a danger to eyes. I wonder how many Maltese have suffered beyond repair for the white-face cause.
Folks who fixate on face stains and risk quick fixes are generally newcomers to the breed. Face-stain phobics should probably just shave their Maltese's faces or switch to brown Chihuahuas. Most long-term Maltesers become more practical about staining, the hard way or otherwise.
Eventually, a little peach tint on the cheek hairs does not seem terribly unattractive. Indeed, it looks somewhat like the dog is wearing rouge-similar to the blush put on stuffed bears by arts-and-crafters. But very much or very dark stain certainly ruins the irresistible, pure, sweet Maltese appearance.
Face staining is a simple process. First it must be appreciated that tears are absolutely necessary to maintain the eyes. However, when a dog's eyes make more tears than its drains can properly accomodate, there is necessarily an undesirable overflow onto the face. This keeps the face hair wet and wet hair soon becomes discolored.
Most tearing problems are due to the "Four H's": heredity, health, hygiene and happiness. Any one or all might or might not be important in a particular dog. Heredity may be more or less responsible. A dog could inherit very small tear ducts or overly watery eyes, particularly as a response to various products. Definitely inherited are large eyes and short muzzles, which tend to allow more eye irritation and less drainage. When the stain is very red or dark, the dog might be reacting adversely to something in its food, perhaps a supplement/additive or a grooming product. This could involve heredity. There can be inherited or developmental structural defects which result in eye stains. Such flaws may be frequent in other breeds, but I've seen hundreds of Maltese eye stainers and not one that I think needs a surgical solution.
Simple health concerns are often the major cause of staining. When puppies cut their first teeth, and again when they cut their permanents, they frequently have periods of face staining. This seems logical. Their little gums are all swollen with the growing teeth, and the drains are squeezed. To make matters worse, at the same time, puppy hair is growing just long enough to stick into their eyes and causes excessive tearing. Maltese of any age that have teeth or gum problems are likely to have extra tear staining. Ear problems or any health problem-especially those in the head, neck and chest areas-may also contribute one way or another to unacceptable tear staining. Hygiene is a most obvious factor concerning off-colored Maltese faces. Matter in the eye tends to collect at the inner corner. This works wonderfully to keep eyes clean of foreign particles. If the dog's eyes are exposed to dust, wind, grooming products, stray hairs and other. irritants, there will be more matter at the corners. Any gob of "eye garbage" at the inner corners becomes an irritant, causes more tearing and fouls the face hairs. Left to accumulate, it can infect the face, and hair can be lost.
Happiness may directly or indirectly affect tearing. After living with many Maltese, it seems very apparent that any miserable, uncomfortable, stressed-out dog is prone to all kinds of problems, including or leading to excess tear ing, less eye drainage and more staining. Parasites, a bully litter mate, boredom, insufficient rest and many, many other things may contribute to eye staining. When normally dry-faced Maltese is in a upsetting situation, he may cry tears until his face is soaked. Repeated weeping, like a nervous new entry may do on a show circuit, can quickly discolor the face hair.
Considering these usual cause of face stain puts the condition better into perspective. The stain, it self, is basically a cosmetic, relative concern. Depending upon health and care, any Maltese-even those claiming "to not have the inherited tearing factor"-can experience periods of discouraging face staining.
A seriously stained face does not indicate a poor-quality nor poorly bred dog. It is not proof that the dog is neglected, mistreated or unhealthy. It just means the dog has more tears and less drainage than he needs for some reason that is probably somehow related to any one or any combination of very minor "heredity, health, hygiene, and happiness" concerns. Hopefully, it is apparent that any one case may be quite a puzzle even for a dedicated, experienced Malteser. Possibly, all the various reasons claimed for stain could be true at least for certain dogs.
More causes may be learned. Surprisingly, my Maltese puppies this year have much less staining than last year's puppies did. There has been much more rain-maybe the weather affects tear stain.
Recently, I had four young Maltese boys in their first ring, trying to determine their show futures. Three had definitely stained faces, and the judge promptly gave the first puppy-place to the white-faced one, telling me, "If you're going to show Maltese, you must take care of the tear stain." I assumed she was new to the breed.
With enough time, money and appropriate effort on the four "H's"-heredity, health, hygiene and happiness-possibly every Maltese with tear stain could have lovely white face furnishings within a matter of weeks. Perhaps the following will encourage Maltese groomers to persist more on the cause and less on the stain itself. Some breeders put a lot of importance on tear stain when selecting stock but surely heredity is an iffy solution. With a choice of two Maltese studs or broods equal in every way but tear stain, probably all Maltesers would choose the one with the whitest moustache. But I would never prefer smaller eyes, longer muzzle, less hair or any other qualities I don't want for less staining.
That leaves the remaining three "H's" to manage for less tear staining. It is like a game with three bases; ideally, they can all be covered at once. With routine show-hopeful puppy care, eye-stain generally eases after the permanent teeth are in place. By this time, his hair can be secured in a topknot out of his eyes.
About this time, I may try him once in the ring and, if I decide he's my next show dog, I get serious about details including eye stains. I make sure that his teeth and ears are A-OK, that he has no parasites, skin problems or other unhealthy irritations. Then, for 10 days, I give him an antibiotic like tetracycline or whatever the veterinarian prescribes. During the same period, I put a drop of eye solution, such as Visine for watery eyes, in each eye every morning and a tiny dab of eye ointment such as Terramycin every evening. The veterinarian may prescribe better products, but I avoid any with color. A little solution or ointment may help, and a larger amount may increase the staining. Eye care twice daily is more successful than less often. If stain is no better or actually worse in three days, a change in eye products may be needed.
Also during these 10 days I clean his face twice daily and keep the dog happy. Being very careful not to irritate his eyes and assuring the dog that he is the greatest, I touch a cotton swab to the inner corner of each eye and roll up and remove any hair or matter collected there. With a syringe, I put warm water just on the tear-stained hair and gently dry with a tissue and cornstarch. Then, with the top hair in a knot, I wipe stray hairs away from his eyes with a little petroleum jelly. If the water seems to be drying his face hair, I treat it also with a little petroleum jelly. This product helps hair but is not water soluble nor easily removed. If used within a few days before a show, it's too difficult to avoid a "greasy kid" look., All this positive face attention can lift the dog's spirits and make him feel good about himself He is also getting everything to bring out his best.
With this effort, eye stain usually becomes history within 10 days. From then on, I do what seems necessary to continue the progress and maintain the success. Some stain problems disappear faster than others but usually the face is quite presentable in three weeks. Thus, to go from stained to white conveniently takes about as long as from entering to showing. Once the stain is gone, it's usually easy to avoid if the dog is an adult and all goes well. This is certainly quicker than regrowing hair lost to bleaching which is a futile project anyhow if the cause of the staining is not solved.
I've cleared up many Maltese faces and have had just one facestainer, PJ, that did not respond at all to TLC plus antibiotics, twicedaily eye drops/ointments, and face hair care-everything my regular veterinarian, his veterinarian son and another veterinarian in their clinic suggested. Perhaps my experience with this dog will help some other stainer.
In 1987, I bought PJ while I was in London for the Cruft's Dog Show. I was impressed by the lovely face furnishings on the English Maltese and PJ at 10 months was no exception. Six months later, her whole face, front and feet were deep, brick red.
During the next year, I showed her-stain and all-several times done out to my best. We had numerous show-site tear-stain conversations. At one show, I was waiting with PJ in line for facilities and several ladies started discussing Pi's stains. They finally decided it was due to a low thyroid and color in her food. I thought, "Sure." But my attention was focused, and I took Pi to a local veterinary eye specialist. He went at her with expensive-looking eye examination machinery including a special eye camera to save the view for future reference and proclaimed that Pi had defective, hairy eyes, should never be bred, could never be finished, was in misery and needed immediate surgery. "I see this all the time in Maltese," he said. I hurried PJ out of his office before he could grab his scalpel. Next, I took PJ to Ohio State University and an appointment with the professor veterinarian who had been the specialist's teacher. This man said that all animal eyes have hairs in them and maybe PJ had more than most, surgery might remove the problem but would probably change the looks of her eyes and that if I'd forget it, she'd probably never notice. So now what?
I recalled the waiting ladies talking about thyroid and color in foodcausing stains. I thought about the homemade tripe/oatmeal concoction I'd gotten with PJ. I remembered the English eye drops I'd bought at the suggestion of PJ's breeder.
Soon I had PJ on a "white diet"chicken, rice, oatmeal, tripe, cottage cheese-no commercial food, no additives, vitamins or minerals. The only product I used for her eyes was the eye drops I'd gotten in London. Every day, I rinsed her red hair with water and dried it with a tissue-no cornstarch, powder, sprays, nor shampoo near her eyes. I checked her eyes with a jeweler's loupe, plucked suspect hairs and plastered the rest out of her eyes morning and night with petroleum jelly. I gave her a little thyroid daily and set her up with a cozy sleepbox and towel in an eye-level cage where I could conveniently check her eyes throughout the day and encourage her to "think white." With more outs and walks, I kept her too tired to fret. In no time the stain was fading.
On December 18, 1988, at the Christmas Classic, PJ finished with lustrous snow white face hair. I had made so many changes in PJ's routine it's impossible to know what stopped the staining. I suspected it was something in canned or commercial food because at one point I tried feeding her chicken and rice in a can and the stain started a comeback. It quickly faded when I returned to cooking her chicken and rice. Maybe she would have kept a white face eating homemade anything, even red meat and kidney beans. Now I have a four-month-old PJ daughter, Princess. Since weaning, she has been eating commercial Bil-Jac, dry and frozen, plus canned Langs puppy food, the same as I feed other puppies, and Princess has about the least tear stain of all. Tear stain may not be quite the b@te noire that some Maltesers seem to think. Tearstain can be eliminated or avoided by breeding only stock with no eye stain and/or determining how best to keep each Maltese healthy, clean and happy. This cure is a little more complicated than bleach. But there is much less risk and many benefits, including gorgeous white face furnishings.