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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views February 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: The dog’s white hair is taking on a rust color

Emmy the dog

Emmy’s coat used to be perfectly white. Now her face and her paws have taken on orange splotches. Why is this sweet dog “rusting” before her owner’s eyes?

Q. My 12-year-old dog, Emmy, has been pure white her entire life — until the last 7 months. As you can see from the photo, she now has a rust-colored face and paws. Three different veterinarians have given me three different theories for why this has happened, ranging from old age to allergies. At this point she has been on four allergy medications, including steroids, but none of them has helped. I should note that she has also had pus in her left eye, which is red. I have been applying the over-the-counter eye ointment Maxitrol, but I am already on my fourth tube — it only works for a couple of days. Please help my baby girl. I don’t know what else to do.

Donna Hendershot

Somerset, Pennsylvania

Dear Ms. Hendershot,

A. Hair around a dog’s eyes may take on a rust color any time there is an increased flow of tears. Tears contain proteins that bind to iron, and when the tears reach the outside of the body and are hit by oxygen, they literally rust, explains Tufts veterinary ophthalmologist Stefano Pizzirani, DVM. It is particularly obvious on white-coated dogs.

Tear overflow can occur for a number of reasons. The most common is extra hairs rubbing onto the cornea, which is very sensitive. (Have you ever had a hair in your eye?) Sometimes an infection or foreign body causes a problem. Allergies, too, can increase tear production, with the rusty coloring showing up on the sides of the nose.

As for the rust color anywhere on the legs, including the paws, the cause is licking. Saliva, like tears, can cause a red stain. Common causes of excess licking include psychological triggers or again, allergies.

In the case of your own dog, Dr. Pizzirani says, it looks from the photo like there’s a small mass on the bottom of the dog’s left eye, at the edge of the eyelid. That can produce some friction on the cornea, he says, which would increase tearing and overflow.

The best bet would be to have Emmy examined and diagnosed by a veterinary ophthalmologist and perhaps a veterinary dermatologist. Proper treatment will bring her coat back to its natural color.

Comments (2)

My schnauzer mix has the same brown tinged feet and muzzle for the last year. we do see her licking her pads more and know it's related to that, just don't know what could be different to cause allergies in the pads. She also licks her bedding and our linens kind of senselessly - no added stress at home, maybe she's just getting older and reacting to the same environment differently.

Posted by: Ana | February 4, 2019 5:15 PM    Report this comment

Many years ago my bichon had the same problem after I switched foods. My dog went through costly tests, shots, and vet visits. He had food allergies. Make sure there is no tomato pomice or beet pulp in the dog food you are using. These cause red staining. Use food with limited ingredients and better yet, cook your own. My dog lived to be 16 and 1/2 and ate a specialiized diet of tilapia and sweet potatoes with vitamins that was recommended by a vet nutritionist.

Posted by: Susan Slater | February 4, 2019 2:55 PM    Report this comment

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