If there’s one thing we expect to stay the same, it’s usually the color of our pets. So what does it mean when our dog’s color starts to change … often dramatically?

It can happen. If you have a dark black dog, you may notice it turning a lighter shade — even a brown.

Don’t panic, it’s actually normal.

Why is my black dog turning brown?

If your black puppy is turning brown, it’s probably just genetics.

Everyone has a cousin who was blonde as a baby but brown-haired as an adult. You might even have been that cousin. The juvenile colors of an animal aren’t usually the final colors of an animal. Puppies, in particular, change a lot when they move into adulthood and get their final coats.

If you have a puppy and want a better picture of what your puppy will look like later, you should look at both of its parents. But that isn’t a guarantee, because of the way genetics work; there can be recessive genes in there that will change the way that your puppy looks even though it’s not visible in your puppy’s parents.

That’s one reason. But what if your older dog is turning brown…?

It’s pretty simple. It’s the sun.

Forget about your baby cousin, what about your cousin who surfs? Most people instinctively know that hair is going to lighten under the sun. But what they don’t realize is that dog fur is, well, essentially their hair. It does the same thing. This is because pigments start breaking down under UV light.

The more a dog is under the sun, the lighter it will be. And it will be the lightest in the areas most commonly exposed to the sun. If you have a black dog, you will likely see that its back becomes lighter than its belly.

You might also notice, however, the skin on its belly growing darker, too. Not only do dogs get sun-bleached, but they also tan!

What should I do about my black dog turning brown?

There’s no harm done.

When dogs turn brown, it’s because of environmental causes. You can stop your dog from turning brown by restricting sunlight. Too much sunlight is bad for dogs just like it’s bad for people; it can lead to sunburn and eventually skin cancer. But your dog still needs some sunlight to remain healthy and happy. Sunlight helps dogs process vitamin D, just as it does with cats.

If you want your dog to turn black, be aware that it’s going to require the full shedding of its now brown coat. In other words, it’s going to take a while. It’s not like losing a tan after a vacation; there’s a lot more material that has to be disposed of and replaced. You can potentially shave your dog to return your dog to its prior color. But shaving most dogs is inadvisable and you should never shave a dog that has a double coat.

If you’re asking whether there’s anything you should do about your dog changing colors, there really isn’t. You might want to reassess how much time your dog is spending in the sunlight, but that’s about it. And unless you’re going to die your dog (with, of course, dog-safe dye), there probably isn’t anything you even can do.

Now, there is one time this could cause issues. If you have a purebred show dog, bleaching of fur could cause it to lose points during shows. Many show dogs are judged based on their coloration. But again, there’s not much you can do except wait it out and keep your dog in from the sun more next time.

Changing Color With Age

The above all assumes that your dog is actually turning brown. If your dog is turning a lighter shade of black — in other words, gray — it’s more likely to be aging. 

Just like people, dogs go white with age. They tend to go white in specific areas first: the snout and the paws. But when white fur is interspersed with black, it could start to look brown. You can tell because if you look closely at your dog, you will see individual gray hairs.

This is nothing to be alarmed about. Dogs will naturally gray just like anyone will naturally gray. Some dogs may retain their color just like some people will never lose their hair with age. Going gray also doesn’t mean that your dog is getting “old,” as some dogs start to get their gray very early. 

That being said, just like turning brown, turning gray doesn’t have a “cure.” There’s nothing you can do once your dog starts to turn gray except to enjoy its new, distinguished appearance.

Why are my dog’s paws turning brown?

Why would a dog’s paws turn from black to brown? When it comes to paws, it’s not going to be the sunlight. 

Actually, it’s another issue entirely. A dog’s paw pads can turn brown if your dog is licking them too much. It causes saliva to build up which eventually creates a brown stain.

This stain can be cleaned off and generally should be cleaned off whenever you bathe your dog. Not only is it unsanitary, but it can also cause a bacterial build-up in your dog that could ultimately cause skin problems, as well as itching and irritation.

When a dog’s paws turn brown, it’s the same cyclical problem as a “hot spot.” Your dog licks its paws too much, it starts to itch, it continues to lick its paws because it itches, and the itch gets worse.

If your dog continues to lick its paws, you may want to investigate the initial source. It’s possible that your dog is allergic to something, whether it’s the outdoors or its food. But in the meantime, you should clean up your dog’s paws, treat them with any topical medications that your vet recommends, and finally make sure that your dog stops licking — even if you have to put your dog in a cone.

That’s all about when your dog’s paw pads turn brown. But what about the fur around your dog’s paws? Brown fur staining is usually caused by yeast. Dogs can have yeast build up around their eyes, around their ears, and around their toes — pretty much anywhere there is moisture and warmth, yeast can thrive.

Yeast is everywhere, and it’s usually not damaging; a faintly yeasty odor is usually detectable on most dogs’ paws. But when it gets out of control, it causes a yeast infection. Yeast infections are very unpleasant for dogs, in particular, because of itching. So if your dogs’ fur is suddenly running with brown streaks in areas where your dog is often moist, you may need to take your dog to the vet. 

Why is my dog’s nose turning brown?

So, a dog’s fur turns from black to brown either due to age and genetics or due to exposure to the sun. And a dog’s paws turn from black to brown because of a buildup of saliva.

Now, why would a dog’s nose turn brown?

This is an interesting question because it has nothing to do with the previous answers.

When a dog’s nose lightens, it’s frequently called “snow nose.” It usually happens in the winter months, but it can happen any time the weather changes to be colder. Black noses may turn brown. Brown noses may turn pink.

Perhaps most interestingly, there hasn’t been substantial research into why this happens or what it means for dogs. Mostly, it appears that a certain enzyme isn’t produced during cold weather that keeps a dog’s nose darker.

“Snow nose” is known to be harmless. It’s most frequently found in cold weather dogs like huskies, but because of breed mixing, it can show up pretty much anywhere. Snow nose will go away once the warm weather comes back. It’s not known if it’s advantageous in some way to the dogs themselves, but it isn’t harmful.

Now, there can be other reasons a dog’s nose turns brown, so you shouldn’t just dismiss it. If it doesn’t correlate with a weather change, it could be something more serious such as skin cancer or another skin issue. A nose can also change color if the skin is scraped off or if the nose scars. If your dog is sensitive about its nose at all or if the change has occurred outside the winter, you should consult with your vet. You should know whether your dog commonly has “snow nose” because it should happen every cold season.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.