My Dog's Nose is Changing Color
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A dog's nose can change color due to benign changes in skin pigmentation, but there are some pathological reasons for a dog's nose to change color. The color of a dog's body is determined similar to humans, even their nose. Melanin is a pigment which binds to amino acids to create various shades and colors. Their coloration will be is mainly due to genetics. This does not mean a dog's skin will remain the same color throughout their life. It is normal for them to develop spots, moles or even areas of depigmentation on their skin. Sometimes the root cause of this is a disease, but many other anomalies can occur which do not imply the development of a health problem.
Dog guardians often observe the coloration of their animal's nose to change over time. If you want to know why my dog's nose is changing color, AnimalWised looks at the different processes which may be behind it. More often than not, the reason is fairly benign, but it is always important to check in case a serious problem has developed.
Dudley nose in dogs
When a dog is born, it's nose color does not necessarily remain the same throughout their lives. The reasons for this change in dog nose color are not always well known, with many instances of idiopathic depigmentation or discoloration. Idiopathic simply means the cause is not yet understood. You may notice your dog has started to develop a color change slowly over time. One reason for this might be a condition known as Dudley nose.
Dudley's nose is an idiopathic syndrome whereby the color of a dog's nose changes progressively. Usually it will change from a dark black or brown to a lighter pink color. Dudely nose is the reason why your dog's nose is pink when there are no other symptoms and the condition does not appear to pose any health problems itself.
Dogs which have developed Dudley's nose should be able to live a completely normal life. There is no treatment available, but the prognosis is excellent. The only mild concern is the fact that the lighter skin on the nose may make them more susceptible to the dangers of UV rays. A dog with a pink nose is usually a completely normal condition, even when it has changed color over time. It is even possible for a dog's pink nose to turn back to a darker color.
Learn more about changes to a dog's snout with our article on why a dog's nose is dry.
My dog's nose changes color in winter
Another idiopathic condition is related to seasonal changes. Dudley nose is a condition which can permanently change the color of a dog's nose from it's birth color. However, it is possible you will observe a dog's nose will change color only during the winter months.
Snow nose is a very similar condition to Dudley nose, usually turning from dark to light colors as the weather grows colder. When temperatures rise again, the dog's nose may change back to its original pigmentation. Snow nose is both transitory and seasonal.
Another aspect which is related to both Dudley nose and snow nose is the fact that the transition of the color change can lead to patterning. Often the lighter pink color comes through from the nostrils outwards. This leads to a distinct pattern caused by the original black color and newer pink color which resembles wings. For this reason, it is sometimes known as butterfly nose. Butterfly nose can look worrying, but it will only be temporary.
Most dogs will have a black nose, but there are some which are more likely to develop a color change in the nose. These include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. Butterfly nose is commonly linked to Pit Bull type dogs, Dalmatians and similar breeds. Of course, mixed breed dogs are also susceptible to it, but those with merle patterns are particularly likely to develop a color change in their nose.
Merle patterns can also influence other aberrant color changes such as those affecting the eyes. This is the case with the relatively common phenomenon known as heterochromia in dogs.
My dog's nose is changing color due to autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases are those which affect the way a body produces antibodies. Antibodies are proteins which attack pathogens such as viruses or bacteria. They act as the immune system's response to destroy or dispel them, reducing the symptoms these pathogens cause in the process. An autoimmune disease is one whereby the immune system is unable to respond effectively. If the immune system is not working correctly, the result is the proliferation of pathogens which threaten the dog's health.
There are three main autoimmune diseases in dogs which can lead to a dog's nose changing color. They are:
- Uveodermatologic syndrome: this is similar to Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome in human beings. It is an autoimmune disease which causes the dog to have a swollen eye, facial depigmentation mainly in the lips, eyes and nose, as well as scabs and lesions appearing on the perianal area, scrotum, vulva or paw pads. The veterinarian is usually alerted to the possibility of this disease due to inflammation of the eye occurring alongside a change in nose color. To confirm its presence, the vet will need to carry out relevant diagnostic tests such as skin biopsy, blood count, blood tests, urinalysis or antinuclear antibody test. While this disease is rare, it has been observed in Japanese Akita dogs and a report from 2014 found a case in a Miniature Poodle.
- Lupus erythematosus: this autoimmune disease can develop related syndromes as a result of its affect on the body's systems. These may include hemolytic anemia, polyarthritis or various skin disorders. For this reason it can present not only skin pigmentation of the nose, but also mouth ulcers, fever, lethargy or neurological problems which lead to difficulty walking and other issues. In order to diagnose the disease, an antinuclear antibody test is usually required, although skin biopsy and other tests may be implemented. While depigmentation of the nose will require protection from the sun, if the dog has lupus, sun avoidance is particularly important due to the increased risk of cancer.
- Vitiligo: sometimes as a consequence of diseases such as uveodermatologic syndrome, vitiligo can also explain discoloration of your dog's nose. However, this condition is caused by a deficiency of pigmentation in the dog's skin which has an unknown origin in many cases. Vitiligo in dogs is characterized by discoloration of the dog's nose, lips, eyelids and other areas of the body. There will be a distinct contrast between the darker patches of skin, often black or brown, and the lighter patches, usually white.
My dog's nose is changing color due to allergies
There are many dogs which have an allergy to plastic. Unfortunately, many dog food bowls are made of plastic which can cause irritation of the skin. Since the dog pushes their face into a food bowl to eat, the reaction often occurs on the lips, mouth and nose. Itching, inflammation and skin redness can present due to the allergic reaction.
If you suspect this may be the case why your dog's nose has changed color, the first thing you should do is replace the plastic feeder for one made of stainless steel, clay or ceramic. If the symptoms subside and the dog's nose returns to its original color, you will know the problem was an allergy to plastic. You should also remove any plastic items to which the dog may have access.
Plastic is not the only product which can cause hypersensitivity in the dog's skin. Cleaning products, painting materials or almost anything in the house can be a potential allergen for your dog. The reason the dog gets a reaction is because they touch the material, something which results in contact dermatitis. This can occur on any part of the body where it comes in contact with an allergen. If changing their food bowl does not solve the problem, you will need to go to a veterinarian to run diagnostic tests.
My dog's nose is changing color due to skin cancer
Canine skin cancer is recognized as one of the most frequent cancers in dogs, alongside breast cancer in females. Although there are several tumors or neoplasms which can affect the skin of a dog, the most common to cause discoloration of the skin is epitheliotropic lymphoma.
In addition to the aforementioned discoloration, epitheliotropic lymphoma or fungoid mycosis produces skin nodules, localized hair loss, ulcers, exfoliative peeling of the skin and problems with the lymph nodes. There may even be bleeding from the nose. The severity of these symptoms will depend on the form and progress of the disease.
In general epitheliotropic lymphoma has four clinical stages of progression:
- Exfoliative erythroderma: the affected dog shows skin depigmentation, hair loss, peeling and inflammation of the skin. Although erythroderma tends to be widespread over the body, it is also true that the face, head and neck are usually most affected.
- Mucocutaneous problems: areas such as the nostrils, lips and other places where mucous membranes meet the skin are often affected. We might see ulcers and other skin problems develop. Toxic epidermal necrolysis may occur as well as related autoimmune disorders.
- Growths: nodules and tumors may occur in single entities or in clusters. During this stage, the patient also usually develops scabs on the skin as ulceration is more developed.
- Oral mucosal disease: the gums, tongue and palate are damaged. Ulcers, inflammation and depigmentation develop.
Treatment of these types of skin cancer will depend on the progression of the disease. The most common treatments include surgery, phototherapy and radiotherapy. Only the veterinarian can diagnose epitheliotropic lymphoma, so we recommend going to them as soon as you see symptoms appear. While cases of this type of cancer are relatively rare, euthanasia for the dog may be recommended in advanced cases.
The breeds of dog most likely to suffer skin cancer are the St. Bernard, Irish Setter, Boxer, German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel and Golden Retriever. Learn more with our related article on the most common diseases of German Shepherds.
Other reasons a dog's nose changes color
Although the above reasons are most common, there are other reasons why dog's nose changes color. As it is a pigmentation problem, it is possible a poor diet can be the root cause. This is because the right nutrition is required to stimulation melanin production. If the dog receives food of insufficient quality or even quantity, melanin cannot properly bond with proteins and there will be a deficiency. The result is a lack of pigmentation.
To determine if diet is a cause in your dog's nose changing color, a systemic review will need to be carried out. This will involve the veterinarian giving them a physical examination and running diagnostic tests. They will then prescribe a diet which might help boost melanin production.
Although we discuss above the dangers of UV radiation on the dog's nose, it is important to point out that a healthy level of sun will help stimulate melanin production. Similar to when a human tans their skin, the sun's rays darken skin tone. If you keep your dog inside without exercise for too long, they may not be exposed to enough sun. Such deprivation of physical stimulation can also harm them overall, leading to obesity and other health problems. This does not mean they should have prolonged unprotected exposure to the sun due to the potential skin damage this may cause.
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1. Hnilica, K. A., Patterson, A. P. (eds). (2017). Small Animal Dermatology: A Color Atlas and Therapeutic Guide (4th Edition). W. B. Saunders.
2. Kang, M., Lim, C., & Park, H. (2014). Uveodermatologic Syndrome Concurrent with Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca in a Miniature Poodle Dog. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 55(6), 585-588.
3. Olivry, T., Linder, K. E., & Banovic, F. (2018). Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs: A Comprehensive Review. BMC Veterinary Research, 14(132).