Albino Shih Tzu

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This is Angel, the Shih Tzu with the mystery color mentioned in my previous post. When my friend Gretchen contacted me, she wondered if Angel might be a pale lilac dilute. That is a dog that has both the blue dilution (dd) and brown (bb). The palest shades of lilac are usually the lightest color, aside from white, that most dog owners are likely to see. Angel’s skin is not a muted brown, though, but a clear pink – quite a bit lighter than would be expected in a lilac dog.

Although lilac dogs have the palest overall tone, when it comes to skin coloring the lightest colors can often be found in recessive red dogs that are also homozygous for brown (ee and bb). In Labradors, this combination is sometimes called Dudley. As this comparison image shows, Angel’s nose color (left) is considerably lighter than the one on the Dudley Labrador (right).

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The pink skin was consistent on the pads of her paws as well. This extreme absence of skin pigmentation is particularly striking to anyone accustomed to looking at dogs. As I mentioned in the previous post, dogs do not have pink skin under their white markings in the same what that a horse will. Unlike horses, white markings that cover the nose do not give a dog a pink nose. Dogs seem very inclined to retain at least some pigment in their skin, which is what makes a truly pink-skinned dog stand out.

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Pink Angel toes!

Historically, dogs like Angel have been called albinos. That is true even though most have blue, green or even hazel eyes. They also have traces of color in their fur, making it possible to discern hints of things like black-and-tan patterns, black masks or white markings. To someone immersed in the world of horse color, that would sound like a mistake. It is an article of faith in the horse color community that albinos must be white with pink or red eyes. Yet albino is the term used not only by owners and breeders, but in scientific literature. Researchers have told me that albino is a term that can be used strictly or more loosely. That is one reason why it is so very difficult to get a definitive answer to the question, “Can a true albino have blue eyes instead of pink?” It really does depend on who you ask!

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Angel has hazel-colored eyes, but would still be called an albino dog

I had first become aware of dogs like Angel when I stumbled across a paper on albino Pekingese when doing research on the Hanoverian Creams. I was also aware of a handful of of other more modern cases, mostly among the smaller Asian breeds. What I did not realize until I began looking was that while still quite rare, this type of coloring is more widely distributed among the different breeds (and even among what are probably pariah dogs) than I had originally assumed.

The timing of this could not have been better, too, because at least one type of albinism (or extreme dilution, if you prefer) in dogs was identified in just the last few months. The particulars of that mutation will be especially interesting to horse color researchers, but it merits a separate post. In the meantime, I have set up a new Pinterest board with a wide range of images of albino dogs. I tried to pick ones that showed the range of color in the eyes and the fur. As with the other Pinterest boards, I have tried to be sure to link the pins back to their original site to preserve the photographic credits. In the case of some of these pins, following those links will take you to further information and more photos.

And just a final note. Angel is in the care of the Crossroads Shih Tzu Rescue in Tallahassee, Florida, and is looking for her forever home. You can find more information on her Petfinder page.

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15 Responses to Albino Shih Tzu

  1. Sue wroe January 2, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    She’s very similar to my Lola, n she’s lemon and liver, her nose is darker than this one it’s a pinky brown if that makes sense, I’ve only seen a couple of others in her colour,

    • Sophie August 14, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      yes, Mine too!! her name is latte with a darker nose than angel’s…she is white and brown, and i’d really want to know what other half she is…

  2. Kristina Pry January 2, 2014 at 6:09 am #

    I’m not as up on canine color genetics as equine, but I have two Shelties I’d like to share some info about in regards to this article.

    First – merle IS a color that can change skin pigment, right? Because many merles have pink noses, or a mixture of pink and black.

    My blue merle is white factored, so he has quite a lot of white markings. All his toenails are white and his paw pads are pink. Not as pink as Angel, and his nose is black, but it seems like for him at least that his white comes with pink skin.

    Now my bi-black has a mixture of white and black toenails, and pink and black pads. But what struck me most was when he had an injury on his shoulder and had to be shaved. It was right where his white mane met his black body fur. And under the white fur was white skin (and I do mean white, not black); under the black fur was black skin. While he was clipped it was an extremely striking contrast.

    • equinetapestry January 2, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      Yes, merle can take the pigment off the nose. In double merles, that’s actually pretty normal. And I suspect there are other patterns that can produce a partially white nose on dogs, at least on rare occasions. The color on the noses of recessive red dogs (like yellow Labradors) are prone to fading with age, too. But as you note with your bi-black, there does seem to be a tendency in dogs to keep the pigment, particularly on the nose. That was why images of these dogs had stuck with me over time, because a dog with such a colorless nose really looks odd to my eyes.

      I do think that it might be hard, in some cases, to know if an all-white dog – pure white with an entirely pink nose – with blue eyes was a double merle or some form of albino. I saw some images of “albino” Pit Bulls that made me wonder if they were just really white double merles. Perhaps in person you could find pigmented spots on them, or get some clues from the eye color, but from just a photo it could be hard to tell them apart.

  3. Heather M. January 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    Angel is seriously SO CUTE! :)

  4. Danni K January 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Lesli, has true albinism (white with red/pink eyes like mice, rats, and rabbits) actually been found in domestic canines or felines? I’m curious now.

    Thank you, so glad you are back to the blog!

    • equinetapestry January 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      I have wondered the same thing, Danni. I am not aware of true pink-eyed dogs or horses. I have a follow-up post to make on that subject, but I am afraid it is just more questions and no real answers. :)

  5. Hiruni Wijesena January 24, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Do you own Angel? And do you have any information about where to find some other albino dogs?

  6. HR January 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Do you own Angel?

  7. equinetapestry January 27, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    No, I do not own Angel. As mentioned in the post, she is with the Crossroads Shih Tzu Rescue and is looking for a home. I am not aware of anyone intentionally breeding albino dogs, beyond the breeders who focus on white Dobermans. Extremely diluted dogs, and pink-nosed dogs in particular, are considered defective by many breed registries, so many breeders consider intentionally producing them to be unethical.

    As I mentioned in a later post, I do not personally breed dogs or horses. I have neutered pets, so my interest in animal coloration (and breeding animals in general) is primarily academic.

    • Eileen May 14, 2014 at 6:57 am #

      I have a little girl who is albino and the lighting controls her eye color. Her eyes in the sun are green like a human eyes with white and small pupils. Inside her eyes are pink like a dogs eyes. But the the sun makes her eyes tear very bad. She stays out of the sun because she is very sensitive to it. If you would like to see her shoot me a email . Her nose and mouth and pads and skin all pink.

  8. Jenn February 18, 2014 at 3:47 am #

    im not sure i get why it seems so definitive for animals that they must have pink eyes to have albinism. Humans with albinism have eyes ranging from violet to blue to green even some shades of brown depending on the type of albinsim they have. My daughter has OCA1A and has no pigment at all and her eyes are lavender/violet

  9. jamie July 22, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    I rescued a white shih Tzu puppy from a lady that was selling them. They were only 5 weeks. I went ahead and bought the last one to get her proper care. She has pink eyelids, pink nose and pink paw pads. She may look a lot like Angel when she grows up. I have two shih tzus of my own and they are cream and white, but not like this little girl. I think she will have green or blue eyes when she grows up.

  10. Robbie October 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    I have what I have been told is an albino shih tzu . He is healthy and is only light sensitive because of his blue eyes and pink skin..

  11. Eileen Milton November 19, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    She looks just like Pink. Pink is albino her eyes are green in the sun and pink indoors. If you have any question let me know,She will sun burn easy. Your baby is adorable. Lol Just love her. I would say albino all the way