Can Dogs Be Albino?

There are plenty of all white dogs out there, but are they albinos? Does such a thing exist?

By | Posted: November 10, 2014, 11 a.m. PST

Alan: "My uncle Roger says he saw an albino polar bear once." 

Stu: "Really? Polar bears are white, how did he know it was albino?" 

Alan: "This one was black." 

Stu: "Uh, are you sure it wasn't a black bear?" 

Alan: [after thinking] "Whatevs."

--From that movie classic, The Hangover 2.

The jury's still out on whether albino polar bears exist. But they probably do, since albino black bears and other bears exist. As well as albino humans, monkeys, bats, rats, mice, snakes, alligators, birds, lobsters and even bugs. And remember Moby Dick? The Great White Whale wasn't necessarily a figment of Melville's imagination. A 45 ft albino humpback whale was sighted off the coast of Australia in 1991.

So where are the Moby Dicks of dogdom? You'd think that as malleable as the canine species is, with all the various traits and oddities selectively bred to make new breeds, pink-eyed dogs would be as common as pink-eyed lab rats. Or polar bears. 

They're not. 

In fact, until recently, a lot of people denied they even existed. Sort of like Moby Dick. Sure, white dogs are everywhere. But albino dogs aren't just white; they a complete or almost complete lack of pigment in the fur, skin, eyes, and nose. 

In 1976, a white female Doberman Pinscher named Padula's Queen Shebah was born to two black and rust parents. Shebah was bred to her son to produce more white Dobermans. Since then, several thousand Dobermans, many of them white, have descended from Shebah. Although they are called white, they're actually light cream, with blue eyes and pink nose, lips and eye rims. The Doberman Pinscher Club of America (DPCA), backed by several geneticists, contended they were albinos. But many of their breeders insisted they weren't because they didn't fit the image of the prototypical albino with white fur and pink eyes. 


White Doberman
Photo from Pinterest 

The truth is, more than 60 different gene mutations in various species are known to cause albinism, often with slightly different effects. Light fur with blue eyes is typical of the most common type of albinism, oculocutaneous albinism type 2 (OCA2), in humans. It is now acknowledged that white Dobermans are in fact albinos, and the causative gene has recently been discovered. The mutation is not a part of any of the known dog color loci. This includes the C series, where mutations causing albinism in many others species, including cats, rats and mice, have been identified. However, mutations in SLC45A2 cause the OCA4 type of albinism responsible for cream-colored Bengal tigers, horses, and gorillas, as well as some albino humans. 

Dobermans are the only breed in which albinos appear to be purposefully bred, very much against the wishes of the DPCA. They squint in bright light, and they're prone to sunburn, which may lead to skin tumors. A recent study (Winkler PA, Gornik KR, Ramsey DT, Dubielzig RR, Venta PJ, et al. (2014) A Partial Gene Deletion of SLC45A2 Causes Oculocutaneous Albinism in Doberman Pinscher Dogs. PLoS ONE 9(3): e92127. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092127)  found albino Dobes had a much higher incidence of eye and skin melanocytic tumors than normally pigmented Dobes. 


Albino Pekingese 
Yao-Ling, image from Dogster 

But Dobes aren't the only breed with albinos. Pekingese seem to have the second largest number, but they've also been seen in Shih Tzu, Poodles, Pit Bulls, Beagles, Pugs, Dachshunds and doubtless, many others. In the few individuals tested, they don't seem to share the same mutant gene with the albino Dobes, nor do they seem to share the C-series allele seen in so many other domestic albino animals. In no breed is the purposeful breeding of these dogs encouraged---nonetheless, if you have one, they make fine companions but you need to take steps to keep them from being dazzled by bright light or from getting sunburned. 

Do you have an albino dog? Let us know!


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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

11/11/2014 4:19:24 AM

Interesting Article!

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