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WHAT IS THE GENETICS BEHIND LABRADOR RETRIEVER EYE COLOR?

Labrador with brown eyes

What is the genetics behind Labrador Retriever eye color? What does a Labrador’s eye color depend on?

The genetics (the variation of inherited characteristics) behind eye color is that at least eight genes determine the color of the eyes. Eye color is dependent on the amount and quality of melanin in the front layers of the iris.

Eye color, and hair color, in Labradors are determined by the amount and type of a pigment called melanin. The more melanin, the darker the eyes.

Most dogs have brown eyes although they may have lighter eyes at birth. Light-colored eyes do not have light pigment, they just present as light due to less melanin in the iris of the eyes.

Labradors have brown eyes regardless of the color of the dog’s coat. The breed standards allow only for brown eyes in black and yellow Labradors, and brown or hazel eyes in chocolate Labradors.

Labs with blue or other eye colors are not pure-bred Labradors.

Eye and coat color in Labradors:

  • Chocolate Labradors have hazel or brown eyes,
  • Yellow Labs have brown eyes,
  • Black Labradors have brown eyes.

Eye color may be different in Labrador cross-breeds such as Labradoodles.

Color vision

All dogs have dichromatic vision, they can only see blue and yellow.

WHAT IS THE GENETICS BEHIND LABRADOR RETRIEVER EYE COLOR?

What colors your Lab sees:

  • Red appears dark brownish-gray or black,
  • Yellow, orange, and green all look a bit yellowish to a dog,
  • They see blue really well, but purple looks the same as blue to them.

When you play fetch with your Labrador, it does not see the color of the ball. A dog distinguishes balls by the smell of the ball.

Dogs do not see well when the object is stationary but they see very well when something moves.

Their eyes are sensitive to light and motion so they see much better in bad light than humans

Can Labrador Retrievers have blue eyes?

Yes, Labradors have blue eyes when they are puppies, but blue-eyed Labradors do occur but cannot be registered with the AKC.

The blue, or light, color is because the melanin is still light and will develop into a dark or hazel brown.

Labrador genetics prescribe that pure-bred Labradors have dark brown or hazel eye color, so if your Labrador has any other color eyes, it is not a pure-bred Labrador.

At birth, the puppies‘ eyes are closed, but they start to open around four weeks. At this stage, their eyes are still blue but around 12 weeks their natural eye color starts to show, and at 16 weeks the permanent eye color is visible.

Adult Labradors with blue eyes are not purebred and cannot be registered because the presence of light eyes indicates breeding influence from outside the Labrador breed at some stage in the dog’s history.

The most common eye disease in Labradors

One of the most common Labrador eye problems that Labrador Retrievers suffer from, is cataracts. It is a leading cause of vision loss in Labradors.

Labradors and Jack Russel Terriers are amongst the breeds in the UK that suffer the most from cataracts.

Post-operative complications occurred more in dogs with cataracts in advanced stages.

This means that any question about how well your Labrador (especially older Labradors) can see, should be referred to a Vet without delay.

Signs that your Labrador has cataracts

  • Changes in eye color:
    • Black Lab eye color should be brown,
    • Yellow Lab eye color should be brown,
    • Chocolate Lab eye color should be brown or hazel.
  • Changes in pupil size or shape.
  • Cloudy pupils in one or both eyes.
  • Clumsiness.
  • Difficulty seeing in dimly lit areas.
  • Reluctance to climb or jump.
  • Rubbing or scratching of the eyes.
  • Signs of vision loss, such as bumping into furniture or not recognizing familiar people.
  • Squinting.
  • Unsure footing, misjudging distances, or an unusual, high-stepping walk.
  • Watery eyes.

Cataracts that do not receive attention eventually lead to blindness. Blindness is an expensive price to pay for something that can be cured with an uncomplicated operation.

Cataract surgery may lead to cancer in Labradors

Melanoma of the eye (eye tumors) sometimes occurs in dogs, also in Labradors. The tumors grow from the tissues of the iris.

The presence of the tumor is observed when the appearance of the eye changes as cancer starts to grow. It is a slow-growing cancer

Phacoemulsification, a cataract surgery method, may lead to glaucoma and blindness in Labradors. Labs are more susceptible to this cancer than other breeds.

It appears as if some cancers of the eyes may be inheritable in Golden and Labrador Retrievers, but more research is needed.

The AKC Labrador Breed Standard describes Labrador eyes as “Kind, friendly eyes imparting good temperament, intelligence, and alertness …” A Labrador with cataracts cannot present kind, friendly eyes, so be observant and look after your Labrador.

We hope this gives you a good overview of the genetics behind Labrador eye color, a topic that many new and existing Labrador owners frequently wonder about.

Sources:

  • https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/eye-tumors-melanoma-in-dogs
  • https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/do-dogs-see-color
  • https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1463-5224.2011.00896.x
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8926189/
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1938973618300527
  • https://www.animalerc.com/signs-of-pet-glaucoma-cataracts/

Images by Mylene2401 and Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay