German shepherds (GS) are a strong, agile and well-muscled breed of dog. All along with that, they have a domed forehead, long muzzles and strong jaws.
Interestingly, GS comes in a variety of skin coats and patterns. There are various questions which are usually asked by GS owners such as why does GS have white paws & toes? Is this character genetic? Is having a white paw/toe abnormal in GS?
Here, we will discuss this particular point under the light of scientific literature.
Why German Shepherd Has Got White Paws?
As we know, genes are major players behind the controlling of each and every trait in our body. Similarly, in dogs, genes also play an important role in monitoring the coat and skin color along with managing other characteristics.
Interestingly, there are two basic pigments in the canine which determine the coat color of the dogs. These two pigments are eumelanin and pheomelanin. Simply, various genes modify these colors and convert them to various new colors. In other words, genes play an important role in defining/modifying the colors, their intensity in dogs.
White paws in German shepherds are due to a number of reasons. One of the main reasons is “breeding fault”. Usually, German shepherds from working lines carry those genes which encode for the white paws.
Additionally, this must be kept in mind that, white paws are not common in German shepherds and don’t always indicate that your German shepherd isn’t from pureline or a mixed breed.
According to research studies conducted on the pure GSs with white paws, it was concluded that out of fifteen dogs, thirteen GS were carrying the genes responsible for the white paws and chest markings.
Ultimately, genetic studies explored that even purelines carry white gene which impart white color to the paws. White paws don’t indicate that GSD is from a mixed breed. However, these might be due to genetic reasons. In the remaining two GS, white paws were found to have happened due to loss of pigment.
However, this is just a genetic variation/phenomenon that results in the whitening of paws and sometimes areas of the German shepherd’s body.
In addition to that, it has been generally observed that, German shepherd from working lines have white paws and markings on the chest. Later on, these white markings become faded with the passage of time.
For better evaluation and understanding, you should check out the actual pedigree of your German shepherd and more details about its genetics. All along with that, DNA testing can also help to determine whether your GS is from a pure line or mixed one.
Another big reason for the development of white paws in GS is pigmentation issues. The white color of the paws is often termed as residual white. This is important to note that paws are the last organs which develop melanin in the uterus. Due to aberrations/mutations in the genes, the melanin is not produced in sufficient quantity and can’t properly stain the paws. This is why; the paws of the GS appear white.
It is important to note that white paws and other white markings are considered undesirable in black coated German shepherds. However, there is not any abnormality in white coated German shepherds.
Autoimmune diseases have also been considered one of a reason for white paws in GS. However, the involvement of autoimmune diseases in causing white paws is very rare. Autoimmune diseases are those particular groups of medical conditions in which immune cells of a dog’s body attack their own cells.
Autoimmune conditions destroy the melanocytes- the cells which are actively involved in the production of melanin (a pigment that imparts a particular color to skin). Hence, due to destruction of melanin producing cells, sufficient amounts of melanin can’t be produced in the dog’s body that ultimately leads to the occurrence of loss of pigmentation. Remember, occurrence of autoimmune diseases also depends upon the breed of dog. This has been scientifically proven that GS are not much susceptible to autoimmune diseases. It is also noteworthy that, trauma can induce the loss of pigmentation which is technically called “ Trauma induced hypo-pigmentation that occurs due to any external injury or trauma resulting in loss of pigmentation.
Malignancies can also be one of the reasons of white paws in dogs. Malignant growth/tumors impair the proper functioning of the melanocytes and also bring mutation in them. This also disturbs the production of melanin. It results in the dilution of the skin coat and loss of pigments on different areas of the dog’s body. But this is always better to talk to a registered vet before making any strategy. Your vet can help you better in dealing with this situation.
If your GS has got white paws, then don’t panic. It is highly recommended to talk to a genetic expert/veterinarian. He/she will help you in better understanding of the actual reasons of the white paws whether it is of genetic origin or acquired due to the pigment abnormalities.
Frequently asked questions:
Why has GS got white paws?
There are various factors behind this such as loss of pigmentation, genetic variations, mixed bred.
Does white paw GS is always a mixed breed?
No, this is not always necessary that GS from purelines can also have white paws. That mainly depends upon the genes which codes for white paws. Additionally, white paws have also been seen in GS from purelines.
How loss of pigment causes white paws in GS?
Mutation is responsible for all this. It causes changes in the genes that encodes for the melanin- pigment that imparts color to the skin. Mutation in these genes causes the less or no production of melanin. This results in loss of pigment and white paws in GS.
Can white paws fade away in GS?
Yes, this has been usually seen that white color of the paws becomes faded with the passage of time.
Can autoimmune diseases cause white paws in GS?
Yes, to a certain extent, autoimmune diseases are also considered responsible for causing white paws due to affecting the melanocytes and inhibiting the melanin production in the body. But the probability of occurrence of autoimmune diseases isn’t that much high as compared to other particular breeds of dogs. But this factor should also be kept in mind while assessing the cause of white paws.
Can malignancies cause white paws in GS?
Yes, some cases have been reported in which malignancies alter the genes coding for melanin which result in loss of pigmentation. But the frequency is not so high in German shepherds.
How knowledge of pedigree helps us in evaluating the cause of the white paws?
This is better to have a thorough knowledge of the pedigree of a GS with white paws before owning it. It helps us to clear the actual picture whether this particular GS is mixed breed or a pure one.
Wahl, Jacquelyn M., Stephanie M. Herbst, Leigh Anne Clark, Kate L. Tsai, and Keith E. Murphy. “A review of hereditary diseases of the German shepherd dog.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior 3, no. 6 (2008): 255-265.
Tengvall, Katarina, Marcin Kierczak, Kerstin Bergvall, Mia Olsson, Marcel Frankowiack, Fabiana HG Farias, Gerli Pielberg et al. “Genome-wide analysis in German shepherd dogs reveals association of a locus on CFA 27 with atopic dermatitis.” PLoS Genet 9, no. 5 (2013): e1003475.
McClarty, S. (2009). A German Shepherd, A Natural Redhead and A Yellow Scarf. Antigonish Review, (159), 25
Carver, E. A. (1984). Coat color genetics of the German Shepherd Dog. Journal of Heredity, 75(4), 247-252.