Why Do Dogs' Noses Change Color?

Why do dogs' noses change color? Rudolph the reindeer isn't the only animal on earth whose nose changes color when winter is around the corner. Turns out, dog noses change colors too! Of course, dog noses won't turn from brown to a glowing bright red, but nonetheless, the changes can be significant enough to be noticeable by dog owners.

While Rover won't need to pull Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, why would a dog's nose change colors? We looked at some interesting dynamics and also found what vets have to say about loss of pigment in a dog's nose.

Huskies are prone to snow nose
The pink-streaked "snow nose" is acceptable according to AKC husky standard.

A Case of Snow Nose

Does your dog's nose color fade in the winter and then darkens again in the spring and summer? If so, you may be dealing with a case of snow nose.

Also known as "winter nose" snow nose is a temporary change of pigment that is commonly seen in Siberian huskies, golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs, Labrador retrievers and several other breeds, explain veterinarians Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, and James M. Giffin in the book "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook."

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The Dudley Nose

Nose color fading is not a fault in Labrador standard.
The Dudley nose is flesh colored.

In some cases, the loss of pigmentation may be due to what is known as "Dudley nose" and its causes still remain a mystery. In this case, the dog's nose color will appear lighter than it's meant to be.

A young dog may have a black nose, and then as he ages, the nose color may turn brown or even pink. This color change is often permanent. While nobody knows what exactly causes the dog's nose to become lighter, it's fortunately something that doesn't cause any problems, explains Dr. Hinson.

A Case of Vitiligo

A case of vitiligo in dog, notice white patches of hair
Rottweiler dog with familial vitiligo and poliosis photo by Caroldermoid(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sometimes, pigment changes affecting the dog's nose may stem from medical conditions affecting the skin. For this reason you want your dog to see the vet if you notice any suspicious color changes. Vitiligo causes a depigmentation of the dog's skin and can be noticed in several other areas other than the nose.

This condition is seen often in Rottweilers and it's known to cause loss of pigment in some patches of skin, leading to patches of white hair and the discoloration of darker skin, explains veterinarian Mike Richards. 

Immune System Attack

Another good reason to see the vet. A loss of pigment in the dog's nose may sometimes stem from an immune system disorder. There are two autoimmune disorders that can cause nose color changes in dogs along with other symptoms: Discoid lupus Erythematosus and pemphigus foliaceus. Let's take a look at both.

<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canine_discoid_lupus_erythematosus#/media/File:Canine_discoid_lupus_3.jpg">Canine discoid lupus</a>
Canine discoid lupus by Caroldermoid, CC BY-SA 3.0

Discoid lupus Erythematosus.

Also known as collie nose or Nasal Solar Dermatitis, in the case of discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE) the loss of pigment derives from an immune-mediated disease, meaning that the dog's immune system attacks parts of the dog's body.

In the case of DLE though, for the most part, only the leather of the dog's nose, the nasal planum, is affected, explains veterinarian Wendy C. Brooks. A dog's black nose may turn bluish-grey or even pink and the skin may scale, crack and ulcerate. Exposure to sunlight seems to aggravated this condition which is often seen in collie breeds, hence the name.

 Pemphigus foliaceus. 

Another autoimmune disorder, pemphigus foliaceus is actually the second most common immune-mediated skin disease in dogs, with a particular predisposition in chows and Akitas, explains Thomas Lewis, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in dermatology.

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This condition is known for causing loss of pigment on the nose, but also other symptoms such as pimples and scabs on the dog's face such as around the eyes, on the bridge of the nose and on the ears.

Watch the Dish

Stainless steel bowls are less likely to cause dermatitis.
Stainless steel bowls are less likely to cause dermatitis.

There are chances that plastic water bowls and plastic food bowls may contribute to depigmentation of a dog's nose and lips. There are several reports of dog owners changing from plastic to stainless steel and seeing their dog's nose color go back to norm. We investigated the issue and found a vet's statement in the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook.

The condition is called "Plastic Dish Nasal Dermatitis", and it seems to be caused by p-benzyl hydroquinone, a chemical found in plastic and rubber. When this chemical is absorbed by the skin, loss of pigment results due to the the inhibition of melanin, the substance responsible for making the skin dark.

Did you know? Some dogs have what is called a "butterfly nose." According to the American Kennel Club's glossary, a butterfly nose is a partially non-pigmented nose such as noses that are dark, spotted with flesh color.

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