Dog Skin Pigmentation Changes: Why Has My Dog’s Skin Changed Color?

Dog skin color is determined by cells that produce pigment, melanin. Different breeds come with different skin color. What does it mean, though, when your dog’s skin color changes?

Dog Skin Pigmentation Changes: Why Has My Dog's Skin Changed Color?

Like with any change, it’s important to pay attention.

Systemic

Yellow skin

If your dog’s skin turns yellow, it is referred to as jaundice–this is serious. Although you’re more likely to notice jaundice in the whites of the eyes and on the gums, skin gets affected as well.

Jaundice is caused by deposition of pigments which are a byproduct of the breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. Normally, these pigments end up in bile and make their way through the digestive system and leave the body with poop.

When these pigments end up deposited in the skin instead, it means one of three things:

  • the liver is unwell and unable to do its job
  • the bile duct is obstructed
  • too many red blood cells die and the liver is unable to keep up

If your dog’s skin turns yellow, they are very sick and need medical attention as soon as possible.

Blue/purple skin

If your dog’s mucous membranes, tongue, or skin turn blue, this is called cyanosis–this is an emergency. Cyanosis happens when the body tissues are not getting enough oxygen. Either there is not enough oxygen getting into the body, or it’s not being adequately distributed.

Either there is a problem with your dog’s circulation, respiratory system,  blood, or nervous system.

If your dog’s skin turns blue, they have a life-threatening problem that requires immediate medical help.

Localized or in patches

Blue/purple/yellow areas or dots

Bruises cover much of the color spectrum as they age. Bruise colors go from red to blue and dark purple, to pale green, and yellow or brown. If you sigh a breath of relief, though, don’t–your dog is bleeding under their skin.

Dogs don’t bruise nearly as easily as we do. Unless your dog just had surgery, finding bruises on their skin is a serious business. It means one of two things

  • their blood isn’t clotting properly
  • their blood vessels are unable to contain the blood where it belongs

If you find bruising on your dog, you might be looking at

  • serious trauma
  • poisoning
  • serious infections
  • auto-immune disease
  • cancer
  • and other scary stuff

Darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation)

Also referred to as acanthosis nigricans, darkening [and thickening] of the skin can be a result of various conditions. It can be hereditary but that’s quite rare and generally happens only with Dachshunds.

Commonly, your dog’s skin can darken in response to inflammatory conditions. Skin can get inflamed because of

  • allergies
  • skin infections
  • immune or hormonal disorders

In any case, dark and thickened skin points to a chronic issue.

Poor thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is one of the top suspects. If combined with bad smell, there is a good chance the underlying cause is a bacterial or fungal infection. These infections can be secondary to hypothyroidism or allergies.

Red skin

Red skin is an inflamed (or hot) skin. Whether you’re looking at an infection, allergies, or autoimmune disease, it will also be itchy, painful, or both.

Loss of pigment

Loss of pigment is often a cosmetic condition with no connection to any serious health issues.

Depigmentation can be the result of aging or changing seasons. Some breeds, for example, have a genetic predisposition to a seasonal lightening of their nose, a condition also referred to as snow nose. There is a relatively rare condition, vitiligo, that causes the skin to lose its pigment–in patches.

In some cases, loss of pigment can be caused by infections (e.g.aspergillosis) or an autoimmune disease.

Related articles:
Jaundice (Icterus)
Unexplained Bruising

Further reading:
Causes of Skin Pigmentation Changes in Dogs

Categories: ConditionsSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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