Skin Pigmentation in the Shiba Inu

Question from House of Two Bows: “I wonder if fur pigmentation has anything to do with skin pigmentation… and if that has anything to do with overall dermal health, as I am also plagued by questions about why today’s Shibas are so damn itchy. If they were this bad in the days before prednisone and cyclosporin and Benedryl, they wouldn’t have survived!”

You hear all this stuff about white dogs being more prone to suffer skin allergies, etc. I honestly can’t decipher fact from fiction at this point, even after being in the Vet field for 15 years. I do know, that people with short coated light skinned breeds, like Shar pei for instance, Mexican Hairless, Chinese Cresteds etc, report a higher incidence of skin cancers and have to use lotions or the dogs get burned. There *may* be breeds where the lighter coated varieties are just generally unhealthier and can be more prone to skin issues, like the Ghost and Isabelle colored Dobermans, Westies, or any albino dog.

Does fur pigmentation have anything to do with skin pigmentation? I will answer that in the context of cream and white Shibas. Yes, it does. There is discussion of Cream vs White Shibas in countries where the color is allowable to show and breed, such as England. Some feel that true cream color, where the dogs have pinkish brown noses as adults and you can see some red color on the ears, back and tail, and possibly also some faint urajiro, is linked with fading or diluting genes. This is a separate color from an albino or white, and something that I feel is more accurately described as a faded or mismarked red.

I personally believe that introducing faded and washed out pigment will produce more of that and diminish the brilliant red that is the Shiba hallmark, regardless of some claiming that it actually improves red color. A few US breeders wish to make cream an allowable color and change the AKC standard. This would be completely opposite the Japanese standard, which, as the country of origin, is the standard we ought to strive for regardless of talk that there may be Japanese breeding creams into their lines. There are unethical and frankly nutso breeders over there as well.

Those in England report seeing White shibas, dogs without fading of their skin pigments who are solid white, and they do use these for breeding as “white” is a recognized NIPPO color in the general description of coat colors for the Nihon Ken, like in a Kishu or Hokkaido. The breed standards call for dark pigment of the nose, lips, eyes, anus, etc, and dark nails. When a dog, regardless of color, exhibits fading of the skin, why enter it into the breeding pool when there are multiple other specimens of equal or greater merit, who are correctly pigmented?

I have never seen any solid evidence that cream or white Shibas display greater instances of allergies or health problems over red, sesame or black and tan dogs. I think that is more linked to genes and environment. Also, creams seem to be very popular in pet stores, BYBs and mills and are advertised as “rare” colors, possibly due to the Japanese standards disallowing their use in breeding, which lead to AKC breeders not using them as well, and so very few were produced initially. That is changing however, and due to lack of testing, cleanliness, and good rearing practices, many of the Shibas produced this way in mills, a lot of them creams, may tend to be unhealthier as a group, but not specifically because they are cream, they just happen to be. Could have and does happen with all the colors that are in irresponsible hands.

I often wonder what Shibas were like a few hundred years ago when in Japan and without medication. How would my Beebe have survived? I am certain she could have found enough to eat, but I recall her ugly skin before treatment, and now this hypothyroid business. She would probably have been one of the most wretched village dogs around, and well, nature would have taken it’s course over time. Unfortunately, I suspect only the hardiest Shiba dogs then survived and itchiness not being a fatal flaw, what we might call an allergy dog today, was just as likely to be bred back then. Being isolated from the world for millennia and accustomed to eating limited diets with exposure to only indigenous flora and fauna, I can see how the breed would appear to be very allergic as a group once importation to foreign climates and soils started on a grander scale. That’s my theory anyways, and also that puppy millers and bad breeders have bred only the worst to the worst and thusly have helped really destroy the breeds overall health.

Also, this is kind of what I mean by “cubby bear” shibas. They kinda look like pom puppies with their round eyes, round heads and muzzles. These are all from online breeders, and one that shall remain un-named in New Jersey. They aren’t supposed to look like teddies or pomeranians. They aren’t supposed to be overwhelmingly cute and charming. They ought to look Japanese, moderate, reserved, nothing extreme, etc, but pet people really go for the cutesy puppy over the correct puppy, so go figure, which is easier to sell?

3 thoughts on “Skin Pigmentation in the Shiba Inu

  1. Some very interesting questions! I of course have a Black and Tan and a Cream Shiba. Both have allergies, but different kinds. Miko, the BT has airborn allergies and she chews on her feet. Not to the point of doing any damage, and I have to wash her feet often and give her Benedryl. Sami the Cream on the other hand has severe food allergies and is on a Venison and Potato diet. She also takes Pepcid and Prednisone every day. It is also interesting, the Cream vs the White Shiba. Sami is a Cream and she has a lot of color to her which is especially noticeable when her hackles stand up, she has this dark stripe down her back, or when she is in the snow. I was reading about the Cream Shiba's somewhere on the internet and they called the ones with a lot of color, Dilute Reds. She also has a pink nose, but I had just attributed that to her medical problems which can cause the loss of pigmentation in the nose.As far as breeders listing the Whites or Creams as rare is because there are fewer of them then the other colors. The colors going from most common to least common are Red, Red/Sesame, Black and Tan and then the Cream. I have only seen a few puppies in the store here. Two were Reds and 3 were Black and Tans. The Reds looked like normal Shiba Puppies to me. The Black and Tans however were another story. The first one was extremely tiny. It was supposed to be 3 months old and I swear it was smaller then Sami and Miko were when I got them at 5 1/2 weeks old. The Second one was the most Shiba like except his coloration was a bit odd, especially on the face and his tongue just seems so huge! The 3rd one I would say was the most unshiba like, the coloration was way off, the white going almost all the way up all four legs and had a big white spotch of color on the back. Almost all the white areas were speckled with black and brown freckles. The ears were the strangest. They seemed too tall, pointy and narrow with very little hair on the inside. The only thing I would have to disagree with you is your statement that Shiba puppies aren't supposed to be overwhelmingly cute and charming. Everything I have read about the Shiba says that the Shiba puppy is one of the cutest puppies. I would have to agree with that because I just fell in love with Sami and Miko when I saw their first photos when they were 21 days old and Sami had me completely wrapped around her little paws with those pretty brown eyes set off by those white eyelashes. I still think she has the prettiest eyes. LOL

  2. I really appreciate the detailed and thoughtful response! It's late here, so I'm only going to jot a couple sporadic thoughts. I got to thinking about fur pigmentation because of your discussion of well-defined urajiro as a more contemporary refinement (not that shiba didn't have urajiro before — obviously some, if not most, must have). And it brought to mind anecdotes from pit bull owners who claimed their white-furred pitties tended to be more prone to allergies, though this is not something I have systematically verified through either survey, research, or experience.As a puppy, Bowdu looked VERY different from all those puppies you presented as examples. And certainly different from the "perfect" shiba pup in the post preceding this one, heh. Comparing pictures, I did wonder at times throughout his development if he was "pure" Shiba, especially given his shady past. I've come to the conclusion that he is, though badly/haphazardly bred which accounts for some of his anatomical aberrations that eventually balanced out over time. Not that breed 'purity' means so much to me, nor does it guarantee that all shibas will look the same. But knowing what I do now, the assurance of knowing he's full shiba would only be as a consequence of screening for everything else you talk about — overall genetic health of dam and sire, breeding lines, etc.Not sure if this comment makes sense or responds to what you've posted here, but I'll be back. =)

  3. Judy: creams used to be rare, and that's how they were advertised in stores and online adds. They are no longer rare. That's what happens when you breed two recessive dilute dogs together which is popular in mills and with backyarders, so you get a bunch more. Even reputable ethical breeders are seeing them pop up more and more in their lines. I also don't disagree that Shiba puppies in general are cute, that's not the point. It's that they shouldn't be too cutesy, wrinkly and bearish, as when adults they loose that haughty yet moderately refined look. Breeding for extremes is never good, and I know that is in all the Shiba books I know of, and echoed by the best breeders as well.Bowdu's mom, he is a very cute little Shiba guy, and personally, I think he looks way more "Shiba" than some of the "breeder" dogs I have seen here. It really helped me knowing that Beebe was a Shiba when she was having her health issues, because then it all made sense in relation to that, especially regarding the Pacific Rim Disease that the Doc wanted to treat as Addisons which would have been fatal. Interesting about the white pits.

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