Did you know there was a period of time where people thought animals didn’t have feelings? They also mistakenly thought animals didn’t feel pain, but thankfully we’ve moved far beyond that line of thinking. If you’ve spent any time around dogs, it’s obvious they’re capable of feeling immense joy, freedom, and empathy. It’s not hard to tell when your dog is sad if you’re familiar with their personality, but it raises a good question: do dogs cry?
Do Dogs Cry?
Humans are one of the only species that produce tears as a result of our emotions. Animals, on the other hand, express their emotions through body language and vocalizations. Sad animals will make vocal noises (whining, whimpering), move slowly, stop eating, or sleep all the time. There’s undeniable proof that all animals, including dogs, have the capability to feel sadness, but there’s a difference between crying and being sad.
Dogs produce tears, but they don’t produce them because of emotions. Instead of producing tears when they’re sad or upset, dogs whine or whimper. Thousands of years ago, dogs best-expressed distress by whining, so the process of natural selection made this their main form of communicating sadness and anxiety.
To summarize, no, dogs don’t cry tears when they’re sad. They’re more likely to “cry” by whining, stopping eating, or discontinuing socializing with their family or canine companions.
What Do Tears Mean?
It’s been shown humans produce two different kinds of tears. We shed tears when we’re feeling emotional, but there are tears produced to flush our eyes of debris and moisturize the eyeball. Since we’re one of the very few species that produce two types of tears, it’s assumed by experts that if a dog produces tears, it’s for a physical reason. If you notice your dog’s eyes producing excessive tears, it means there’s probably something wrong.
It Could Be Epiphora
Dogs naturally produce tears to keep the eyeballs moisturized. However, dogs producing excessive tears/moisture have something irritating their eyes or they’re experiencing allergies. Excessive tear production is known as epiphora. Despite the concerning name, epiphora isn’t a disease or medical condition in itself but a symptom of something else.
When the eyes are functioning normally, the lubricating tears drain into the tear ducts before emptying into the back of the nose and throat. There’s a variety of reasons why the tears don’t drain, but the most common cause is when the tear ducts are blocked. Signs associated with epiphora are wetness under the eyes, brown staining around the eyes, an odd odor, and chronic skin irritation and/or infections.
Diagnosing Epiphora in Your Dog
Your vet will need to ensure there isn’t a cause for the excessive tearing, looking for signs of conjunctivitis, allergies, an injury to the eye, infections, entropion (lashes curling into the eyelid), or glaucoma. Once things like this have been ruled out, the tear ducts need to be thoroughly examined for inflammation or abnormalities.
Dogs with “smushed-in” faces (i.e. brachiocephalic dogs like bulldogs, pugs, Shih Tzus, etc) are more prone to epiphora because their facial structure prevents the tear ducts from draining effectively. Their flat face makes the tears roll over the tear ducts and down their face. Shaggy, long-haired dogs can develop epiphora because their hair blocks the tear ducts.
To test the ducts, your vet puts a bright green liquid called fluorescein stain into the eye. If the ducts are draining normally, there will be a bright green discharge from the dog’s nose. If this doesn’t appear, that means there’s some kind of obstruction in the ducts.
Treating Epiphora in Dogs
When epiphora is caused by a tear duct obstruction, your dog will need to be sedated or anesthetized so a delicate instrument can physically open the duct. Other causes (infections, allergies, etc) need to be treated appropriately with medications or further testing.
Dogs are infinitely capable of feeling a full range of emotions, including sadness. Just because your dog doesn’t leak tears when they’re upset doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling sadness! Remember that whining and whimpering are the unique ways in which your dog shows their sadness, and if they trust you, they’re more likely to show their sadness in a myriad of ways.