Your dog’s nose has gone from black to pink — or from pink to black. What’s that about?
Usually, it’s a seasonal phenomenon. The nose will be dark in the warm weather and then turn significantly lighter in winter. The reason for the change is not known, but some have speculated that it is associated with the activity of the enzyme tyrosine, which is responsible for the synthesis of melanin — the skin and hair pigment. Perhaps affected dogs have a variant of the enzyme that is less active during the winter months.
“Snow nose,” or “winter nose,” as it’s sometimes called, is harmless. You’ll tend to see it more in golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Siberian huskies, and Bernese mountain dogs. But other breeds can get it, too. It’s nothing to worry about.
Nor is it anything to worry about if your dog’s nose lightens with advancing years, with no back and forth from summer to winter. That’s just an age-related change.
Note that all dogs’ nose color is genetically determined, just like hair color. It can range from black to pink to liver-colored to the same color as your pet’s coat. All are normal.
Color Change That’s Not Benign
If your dog’s nose changes color and it’s not related to seasonality or aging, something is probably wrong. For instance, sometimes the nose loses pigment during an illness or trauma — but will then return to normal upon healing. Also, some dogs are sensitive to the materials used to make plastic food bowls, and the day-to-day irritation causes their nose to turn pink. (The lips may become inflamed as well.) But as soon as you switch to stainless steel, the problem resolves.
It’s also a problem if more than the nose is affected. Check to make sure there’s nothing different about the lips, foot pads, eyelids, claws, or any part of the coat. If there is, take your dog to the veterinarian for a workup.
Ditto if the color change is not symmetrical or comes with lesions — changes in the nose’s surface or texture. One disease that comes with color asymmetry is vitiligo, an immune condition in which antibodies are formed against pigment-containing cells. The result can be white patches on parts of the nose and also on other parts of the body.
And erosions, or “crusts,” on the nose along with a loss of pigment can be signs of lupus or another relatively severe inflammatory disease. Any crusting, blistering, dryness, or other texture changes on the nose are cause for concern and require medical attention.
Otherwise, your dog’s nose is in the clear. Just make sure, if your pet has a pink or other light-colored nose, to protect it with sunscreen. It can burn and is more sensitive to the sun, putting a dog at a higher risk for cancer.