Why do Dogs Have Black Lips: The Strange Truth

People like to say cats are the mysterious ones, but there are lots of odd doggy quirks that leave us scratching our heads too. Have you ever looked at your dog and noticed their lips? Quite a few breeds have black lips. It’s one of the stranger physical qualities of our canine friends. Even if your pup is pink everywhere else, sometimes they have this unique black mouth. I had to know more about why, so I decided to look into the issue, and I learned more than I’d expected about my dog’s mouth.

Why do dogs have black lips? Because dogs have less fur around their mouths, they need a way to keep from sun burning that area, hence the unique coloring. Black pigment is a dominant gene. The color helps protect skin against harmful solar radiation, just as darker skin does for people. 

Doggy Skin Pigment Overview

Just like their lips, when we look at dogs who are shaved or hairless, there are several standard skin colors. Black is only the darkest of them. As I mentioned, the black color is a dominant gene, which makes your favorite fido more likely to have black lips, and pass them on to puppies, but it’s no guarantee.

A dog’s nose will also sport a color like the black lips. Unfortunately, genetics is a strange and fickle mistress, which means plenty of pups end up with piebald or spotted skin around the mouth and on their sniffers. This isn’t a problem, but it is inconsistent and can look a tad funny depending on the pattern.

The darker your dogs’ skin is, the better they are protected from the sun. This natural sunscreen is healthy for them. However, not having it isn’t per se a problem. Good dog parents aren’t about to let their favorite pooch get a sunburn anyhow, but it’s nice to know the color isn’t totally random.

Most likely, in dogs as in humans, the closer the ancestors lived to the equator, the darker the skin. Evolution has created some intriguing methods for coping with the environment. Skin color is just one of the most visually apparent expressions.

Dog Skin Tones on The Lips, Nose & Body

Much like their human friends, dogs come in several shades. Spotted, striped and other combinations of these colors is perfectly normal, though less common. Each color and non-color has a unique name.

  1. White and pink dogs don’t have a color. Their skin lacks pigment.
  2. Isabella is the palest shade of dusty brown and the rarest dog skin color.
  3. Liver is a ruddy brown skin tone.
  4. Blue dogs are actually grey-skinned.
  5. Black is self-explanatory. It’s the darkest and most UV resistant doggy skin tone.

If your pooch is pale, his or her ancestors might have lived up north for a few thousand years. There are four different skin colors for dogs and two non-colors. Of the colored skin, two are dominant, and the other two are known as dilutions because the colors are diffused and lighter.

  • White

White isn’t an expression of color. It’s a lack of pigment in the skin. The palest pooches are as white as a paper under their fur.

  • Pink

Like white, at least where the skin is concerned, pink isn’t a true ‘color’ but rather another way of showing a lack of melanin in the skin. Of course, it can also indicate sunburn, but there are dogs whose skin is the color of Barbie’s dream home.

  • Isabella

Also known as Dusty, Dilute Liver, or Lilac, this is the lightest skin tone some dogs have. The pale shade is a combination of the dilution gene that causes otherwise black dogs actually to appear grey and the liver skin tone. Isabella is the rarest doggy skin color.

  • Liver

This skin color is a fancy way of saying ‘brown.’ However, Isabellas can have dark brown noses that aren’t genuinely liver-colored because of a quirk in genetics. The same genes that determine doggy skin color affect their fur and eye color, as well.

  • Blue

It may surprise you to learn that what we call a ‘blue’ dog is grey in color. Thanks to the dilution gene, blue dogs are an offshoot of the black dog. Because dogs with the dilution gene have that particular genetic feature, neither blues nor isabellas can have pure black or true liver color on their skin and hair, even though either can have pretty much any pattern on their coats.

  • Black

Did you ever wonder why you see so many black dogs and black patterns on other colored dogs? It’s because of genetics, of course. Black is the most dominant skin and fur color for a dog. Most dogs with black lips will also have black noses. Similarly, if you take two purebred dogs with black lips and mate them, it’s almost sure that all their puppies will have black lips too.

Whatever their colors, we love our dogs for more than their looks. Still, it’s pretty intriguing to learn that their fur, eyes, and skin are all determined by the same genes. Typically you’ll notice that the patterns on a dog’s fur are mirrored under the coat on the skin. Now you know why.

Though your dog’s lips rarely have issues with chapping, their noses can get alarmingly dry. If you need a great reasonably priced and portable product to treat your pup’s dry nose, I suggest My Dog Nose It Moisturizing Sun Protection Balm. I like the fact that it protects my pup’s nose from UVA and UVB, but my best friend loves it because it works surprisingly well. You can find more information and get some for your pooch by clicking here

Anti-Cancer Skin Color

Black lips or not, your dog needs some way to keep the sun off their skin. Much like humans, the darker the skin, the less likely the pup is to get skin cancer from solar radiation. You can thank melanin for that.

The same thing that makes skin dark helps reduce cancer rates. However, also like their people, being a darker dog is not a guarantee that your pet will never have cancer. Reduced risk means precisely what it sounds like; the chance is less, but it’s not impossible.

You still need to do everything you can to protect your pup from the harmful side effects of too much sun. Black lips won’t prevent sunburn, but they can hide it. Likewise, color won’t keep your dearest doggy pal from getting overheated.

SPF Puppy: Sunscreen Everywhere Except the Lips

If you’re outside a lot with your black-lipped pup, I suggest getting a good portable doggy shade bed to let them get out of the sun and take a rest anywhere you go. The SUPERJARE Outdoor Elevated Pet Cot with Canopy from Amazon is easy to set up and comes with its own carrying case. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the durable 1680D Oxford fabric. Get one for your favorite dog by clicking here

Dogs can get sunstroke or suffer dehydration like any animal. Sadly no amount of protective skin color, nor sunscreen, can keep the sun from shining. Always make sure you provide plenty of shade and water if you plan to have your dog outdoors.

What Your Dogs Black Lips Are Saying

If your dog’s black lips protect them from the sun, why don’t the lips have fur too? Other animals have fur around their mouthes instead of darker lips. It would make sense for them to have mouth fur as well.  It’s hereditary.

Dogs developed lips to help with two important things they need. Primarily they help with smelling things and communicating with other dogs. You could say they use their mouths to communicate with other animals and us as well, but most non-canines don’t speak very fluent dog.

If you want to learn more about what your furry best friend is saying to then, I suggest you make sure you can read their lips and body language. I suggest trying out a Sun and Bug Blocker shirt from Hurtta. It will keep the sun off your pooch and let you see them easily at a distance. Plus it protects them against bugs like ticks. You can find out more by clicking here

Read My Lips: Body Language and Your Dogs’ Mouth

First, the lips help dogs to send signals with their mouths. When your dog growls or makes other faces, it’s a form of communication. Regardless of what they are saying, it’s easier to see without fur in the way. The lips help your pooch make their meaning clear. It’s not the color, but the definition of a lip line that helps most.

Presumably, because dogs are pack animals who work and hunt together, lips are useful. Being able to see what your companions are saying with their faces more efficiently is a benefit. Dogs can read each other’s lips, no pun intended, from further away.

There are some breeds whose mouths are obscured by fur. Especially long hair can make doggy communication a little harder to understand. Fortunately for our canine friends, they have a sophisticated visual language that allows them to use many different postures and signals, so even those with ultra-dense or very long fur can still send the messages they need without exposed lips.

The other side of that is human intervention. Because we bred dogs for the traits we find desirable; some breeds have lost parts of their natural communications system. We make up for it in part by taking care of them, but it’s hard to wag a tail if you don’t have much of one. Things other than lip movements have gotten lost in translation down the generations.

Does This Smell Funny to You: Dog Lips Help With Smell

A dog’s lips, whatever the color, help channel odors to their noses. Specifically, the flews are responsible for this duty. On a dog, that’s the name for the upper lip. The shape varies depending on the dog’s breed, but all dogs use their flews to sniff out trouble, food, mates, friends, and much more.

Your dog’s nose is its superpower. They have forty million olfactory receptors in that cute snoot. A dog can smell more than we can even imagine. Their high powered sniffers pick up ten thousand to a hundred thousand times as much data as ours. That’s pretty impressive.

Those black lips help your dog take in air and smells, which he or she then separates. Some of what they breathe goes into the respiratory path and ends up passing through the pharynx while the rest passes through their olfactory areas and gives their doggy brain a picture of what’s ahead in ways we couldn’t even process with our human minds.

When Should You Worry About Black Lips on a Dog

More than just their black, piebald speckles or other colors, dog lips have a lot to say to you. Traditionally people have made a lot of assumptions about the black on dog lips and mouthes. Some folks believe black is a sign of a purer breed of dog. Similarly, some say it makes them better hunters or smarter in general. However, there’s no evidence to back up any of those claims.

Most of the time, black lips are nothing more than what I’ve already covered. Genetics has given your dog this inherited bonus sun protection for their faces, and that’s all she wrote. In some cases, however, black spots on the lips and gums can be a sign of trouble. Watch out for these dangerous black lip and mouth issues that are not natural:

  1. Raised black patches aren’t normal dark skin.
  2. Rapid color changes are not normal for a dog’s lips and mouth.
  3. Sudden blue, grey or black mouth may be a sign your dog is having a serious circulatory issue.

Your Dog’s Lips Might Need a Vet

If your dog has raised black patches on their lips or tongue, either as part of an all-black mouth or as a piebald (multicolored or spotted) mouth, then please see a vet. Despite the UV protection, dogs with black lips and mouthes are predisposed to a different type of oral cancer.

Equally crucial for dog owners whose dogs have pink mouths; your pet’s mouth should not change color. If your pink lipped dog is suddenly looking blueish or black around the lips, gums, or tongue, you should be concerned.

Circulatory problems, heart issues, and other severe conditions can manifest visually as a suddenly bluish, greyish, or blackish mouth. Don’t mess around if you suspect your beloved furry friend is potentially suffering from something serious. Your pet’s health is worth more than a vet bill.

Final Thoughts

There are only two types of dogs that were intentionally bred to have black lips, tongues,  noses, flews, and mouthes. The AKC (American Kennel Club) says that Chow Chows and Shar-Peis breed standards include the black-lipped faces. Chow Chows specifically must have a unique colored blue-black tongue.

Whatever the breed of your dog, black lips are a sign that nature wanted your dog’s ancestors to survive the sun’s glare unharmed. That pigment is deeply tied to the genes that chose their eye color, fur, nose color, and much more. Black lips are a dominant doggy trait, so you’ll see them eventually even if your dog has pink lips.

There’s nothing wrong with a dog who has black lips unless they’ve been eating your ink pens. However, if you notice sudden changes in your dog’s mouth or raised black spots, see a vet right away.

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