How To Clean A Shih Tzus Eyes: Step by Step Guide


One of the first things you notice about Shih Tzu's is their large, expressive eyes.

Unfortunately, because the Shih Tzu has such big eyes, it is especially prone to dirt and debris, becoming overgrown with mucous and bacteria leading to an infection.

Regular cleaning not only keeps his eyes free from dirt and bacteria, but also helps keep you on top of any changes that may need medical attention.

Close up photo of a Liver Shih Tzu dog eyes

The first place to start cleaning is the area around your dogs eyes.

The area around a Shih Tzus eyes can get dirty pretty quickly, yet it isn't always obvious to us, so take a few seconds to clean that area daily.

Use a soft damp cloth, or eye wipes made for dogs if you prefer, and gently wipe from the top lid area near the nose towards the outer area of the eye, then do the same below the eye area.

Just doing this quick cleaning daily will cut way down on any eye gunk and infections.

And will keep those big, beautiful soulful eyes in excellent condition for years to come.

Cleaning the Crust from a Shih Tzus Eyes

I get it, we all get busy, and we just simply forget about things we need to do every so often. But, unfortunately, it happens to all of us.

So, when life gets in the way, you may not realize that you have overlooked cleaning your Shih Tzus eyes just a little too long.

Usually, it's when you see the slight eye crusts have formed in the corner of your dogs eyes and are sticking to the hair beneath them that you realize how long it's been.

And no matter how much you try to wipe them away, you just cannot get them out.

This is where you need to break out the big guns and get to work tackling this hardened mucous mass before an infection gets its roots in.

Don't worry, it really isn't going to be all that difficult.  It will just take a little more time and a couple extra items.

So, to start with, you’re going to need a few supplies.

Supplies Needed To Clean Your Dogs Eyes

  • Eye cleaning solution
  • Cotton balls or very soft cloth
  • Fine toothed comb or Flea comb
  • Q-Tips (cotton swabs)
  • Dry soft towel

1. Clean the surrounding area of the eyes as specified above.

2. The Eye cleaning solution can be made at home using warm water, or you can use eye wipes.

If you prefer to use wipes, we recommend Doggy Do Good Eye Wipes because it doesn’t contain many of the chemicals that can irritate your Shih Tzu’s eyes.

Additionally, the manufacturer uses some of the proceeds from each sale to give back to Animal Rescues and No-Kill Shelter...I love this!

Soak the cotton ball or soft rag into the solution, and wring out excess so that it still has enough liquid on it but isn’t dripping water.

You don’t want to saturate your Shih Tzus face, but you do want to make sure you can “soak” the area to loosen the crustiness.

3.  Apply the cloth over the dog's eye area (make sure the eye is closed to avoid irritating the eye.)

Hold in there for about a minute.

If your Shih Tzu squirms when you do this, woo them with gentle praise, and rub them behind their ears to relax them, they like that.

4.  After letting it soak in for about a minute, with your finger placed under the cloth, use gentle pressure to wipe the inner eye area in a downward motion or toward the nose.

You don’t want to wipe upward, as this may get the crud into his eyes, which can cause irritation.

Gently use your fingernail in the corner and on the surrounding hair to get the crusties out.

5.  Continue using the methods above until all the crusts are removed from the eye area, then clean the surrounding area to remove any remaining dirt.

6.  Thoroughly dry the area with a soft dry cloth.  Moisture creates a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to infections and tear stains.

You can use a cotton swab instead of the cloth to get closer to the inside corner.

Just be sure that you do not poke his eye with the swab.

The tip of the cotton swab is soft and rounded, making it a safe alternative to using your finger or cloth in getting eye boogers that are just inside the inner corner of your Shih Tzus eyes.

Do not jam the swab in the corner, but rather gently swipe the swap toward the nose so as not to drag it into the main eye area.

If your finding that that crud is just too thick and you can get it out with your fingernail or a cotton swab, a flea comb can be used to scrape the crud from the outside corners.

I got this method from our veterinarian, who used a flea comb to detach the crud from my dog's eye area.  (This was long before I knew what that buildup sticking to the hair in the corner of his eye area was.)

Be mindful that the pins on the comb can cause injury if you are not extremely careful.

When using a flea comb, always loosen the crud first as described above.

Once you've loosened the gunk, using a 45-degree angle, place the comb in the corner of the eye area, just below the rim of the eyelid.

Gently press the comb to the hair and run the comb in a downward motion.

Wipe the accumulated crud from the comb, and comb the area again until it is all removed.

Do not dig the comb into the face.

You should only be applying light pressure to comb and gentle scraping motion.

Be very careful not to put the comb pins into the eye, as this will cause an injury and could also create fear in your dog.

What Causes Tear Stains on Dogs?

I often get asked how I keep my Shih Tzus eyes from getting tear stains. 

My usual response is...with quality nutritional food, spring water, and a lot of eye care maintenance.

So what exactly are tear stains?

Tear stains are those streaks of discolored hairs around the Shih Tzus eyes, nose, and mouth and are usually a rusty or brown color, like in the photo below.

White Shih Tzu with tear stainsWhat are tear stains?

This happens when a dog has a lot of eye discharge, typically caused by allergies or injury.

If this discharge is not cleaned, the hairs around the eye will become wet, and if not given some attention, it will remain moist.

Keep in mind that a moist environment is basically a welcome mat for a bacterial infection and creates these long runny streaks down his face.

So if your Shih Tzu does have watery eyes, it's imperative to keep ahead of the stains by drying his face regularly.

If it seems that his eyes always have tear stains even though you are drying them daily, you need to first figure out why his eyes are watering so much.

Why Dogs Have Excessive Tearing

Some dogs just seem to naturally have watery eyes due to hereditary.

But in a Shih Tzu, that isn't very likely. So there is usually a reason behind all those tears.


Allergies are a big culprit when it comes to a dog's eyes watering.

It could be from the food they eat, seasonal, or something in the environment like dust, pollen, mold, or flea bites.

Finding out what they may be allergic to will take some time.

But if you notice they tear more after certain things like being outdoors when pollen is high, flea bites, or eating certain foods, or someone smoking, you can take steps to eliminating those triggers in the future.

Low-Quality Diet

Fillers like corn and wheat or preservatives can cause an allergic reaction in some dogs.

This may result in excessive tearing and the eventual staining you are seeing on your dog's face.

A high-quality diet may help to eliminate these allergies.

If you can swing it, try gradually switching them to a quality dog food specifically for allergies.

Use a glass bowl for their food and water, and be sure to wipe their face after they eat and drink.

Plastic Food Bowls

You wouldn't think that a plastic food bowl would be a big deal, but unfortunately, many of these plastic bowls often develop small cracks in them.

These cracks make for a  magnet for bacteria, which can accumulate rapidly and cause irritation to your dogs' eyes and face, creating excessive tearing and staining.

This is why it's recommended to use glass, porcelain, or even maybe stainless steel bowls instead of plastic ones.

Tap Water

Some tap water can be high in minerals or iron (often called "hard water.")

Hard water is usually noticeable by the orange or rusty stains left in your tub or sinks and even on your dishes and silverware.

Of course, not only is this unhealthy for you, but it's unhealthy for your dog too, and clean leave them with those dreaded rusty colored stains.

If you have hard water coming out of your faucets, consider using a filter for cleaner water or give your dog bottled water instead.

Eye malformations, diseases, or injuries

Eye malformations, diseases, or injuries require medical treatment.

Things like ingrown eyelashes and ear infections can be cleared away and relieve your dog from those irritations that cause excessive tearing.

If you suspect this may be the culprit, talk to your vet.

Your vet can also give you some great recommendations on controlling the staining.

Once you understand what’s causing your Shih Tzus eyes to water so much, the next step is clearing it up.

Cleaning the Tear Stains

Shih Tzu dog with slight tear stainingSigns of tear stains

To clean the tear stains, you can use the steps above, but if that doesn’t do the trick, you’ll have to find a product specifically for this task.

Try looking for products that don’t contain chemicals like bleach or contain anti-biotics unless approved by your vet first.

To me, a natural product is far superior for the health of a Shih Tzu, but even home remedies like vinegar can cause injury when used in their eyes.

Instead, save the vinegar for his water bowl if you must use it.

In most circumstances, simply cleaning the eye area several times a day will be all that is needed.

But keep in mind it will take a couple weeks of doing this before you begin to see improvements.

And may take several more weeks before the stains are gone completely.

During this time, it is vital to keep the eye area dry, or bacterial will take over, and staining will be the result.

When To See The Vet For Your Dogs Eyes

When doing the daily cleaning of your Shih Tzus eyes, be sure you check for any indications of any eye issues.

Catching these issues early can make all the difference in the health of your dogs' eyes.

Symptoms of Shih Tzu eye issues that need immediate attention are:

  • Cloudiness in the eye
  • Excessive or greenish colored discharge
  • Sensitivity to bright lights (squinting)
  • Swelling around the eyes
  • Pawing at the eyes and shaking the head
  • Spots on the eye that wasn't there before

In most cases, the treatment for eye problems is far more effective when the condition is caught early.

Final Thoughts

tan and white Shih Tzu wearing a black and white polka-dotted handkerchief tie

Just by doing these 4 quick steps daily, your Shih Tzu's eyes will stay in great shape for many years.

  • Examine the eye
  • Clean the area around his eyes
  • Remove the gunk in and around the corner of the eyes
  • Dry his eyes

Keep a vigilant watch for any abnormalities in his eyes.  This is especially true if they played with other dogs, swimming, or walking in the woods.

Shih Tzu's eyes are naturally sensitive to the environment and can get dirty fairly easily.

As mentioned above, daily cleaning will undoubtedly be the best option in keeping your Shih Tzus eye clear and will cut down on any tear stains or infections.

Shih Tzus have large eyes which are set in shallow sockets and are especially prone to proptosis.

It is imperative that you monitor their playtime with other dogs, where ruff housing can cause this severe eye injury.

Daily cleaning allows you to see if any changes are going on in your Shih Tzus eyes.

If you notice any changes when doing your daily home eye exam, you may want to consider scheduling an appointment with the vet.

Don't forget to clean Shih Tzu's ears.  To learn how, read our article "How to Clean Your Shih Tzus Ears"

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