Pet tear-stain removers still widely available despite FDA warnings

The extreme cold gripping the country is likely causing a lot of watery eyes, not just in people, but in dogs, too. In some breeds, excess tearing can result in brownish stains under the eye--a common condition that has prompted several companies to market products meant to erase those marks.

Some of those products contain antibiotics, much to the chagrin of the FDA. Last year, the agency sent warnings to three companies that make products including Angels' Eyes and Angels' Glow, made by a Florida company called Blanc du Blanc, and Pets' Spark, made by Florida-based Petaware. All contain the antibiotic tylosin tartrate, the FDA contends. Another Florida company named I'm a Little Teacup also received a warning. The products may be subject to enforcement actions such as seizures, the FDA said in a statement.

As of today, the FDA's complaints against the three companies are still open, according to the agency's website. The companies' responses to the warning letters have not yet been posted. Yet a quick Google search by FierceAnimalHealth shows that some of the products can still be easily purchased online. Online retailer PetMed Express ($PETS), for example, sells Angels' Eyes, which is a food additive, for both dogs and cats.

Many veterinarians say using such products is a bad idea, largely because tear stains are completely harmless, medically speaking. They occur when naturally produced tears don't drain normally into the nose and throat and instead spill over onto the fur around the eyes. Even though products meant to erase the stains have been on the market for years, many veterinarians say the risks outweigh the benefits.

"Concerns about staining are a common problem we deal with at the ophthalmology department, and it's truly almost always a cosmetic issue," said Jessica Meekins, an ophthalmologist at the Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, in a statement issued by the school after the FDA's warnings were released. "Tear stains are not significant enough to risk giving antibiotics to your pet."

John Angus

Some veterinarians surmise the FDA might have taken action against this class of product because of rising concerns over antibiotic resistance. Veterinary dermatologist John Angus of Pasadena, CA, told the Chicago Tribune last year that "there's a general concern for pets, as there is with people, about over-usage of antibiotics. Also, the long-term effects of the sub-therapeutic (antibiotic) doses in these products has never been appropriately tested."

When it comes to protecting dog, cat, and horse owners from questionable products, the FDA was on quite a rampage in 2014. The agency also sent warning letters to several companies marketing ulcer drugs for horses, alleging that those drugs were never approved by the FDA and therefore were "adulterated" and "unsafe." It went after companies such as New York-based Little City Dogs for mass marketing cheap compounded versions of legitimate drugs to control fleas and ticks.

As for the quest to remove tear stains, the animal health industry continues to look for safe alternatives to antibiotics. Angus reports that some veterinarians have tried products made with probiotics, the "beneficial bacteria" commonly found in yogurt. Anecdotally, he told the Tribune, "the results are pretty good."

- access the FDA's statement here
- here's the Kansas State University release
- read more at the Chicago Tribune