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?