What is heterochromia and how do dogs get it? | TeamDogs

What is heterochromia and how do dogs get it?

The condition is more common than you think, and is normally harmless

Fiona Callow

Posted 31d ago

(Image: Getty Images)

You may not have heard of the term heterochromia, but the chances are you’ve probably seen- and admired- a dog who has the condition without even realising what it is. 

Heterochromia is the scientific term for eyes that are two distinctly different colours. The condition can not only occur in dogs, but can also affect other animals such as cats and horses, and occasionally even people. 

The condition is caused by a lack of the pigment melanin in all or part of one eye. Generally In dogs with heterochromia, the lack of melanin causes one of their eyes to appear blue or bluish-white.

It also isn’t necessarily a unique trait, being more common amongst particular breeds than others.

Here at TeamDogs we’ve cleared up some common misconceptions around the condition, and tackled some of the frequently asked questions on the phenomenon.

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How do dogs get it?

(Image: Getty Images)

Heterochromia is normally hereditary, passed down through a dog’s genetic makeup.

There are three different types of the condition; Heterochromia Iridis, when one eye is an entirely different colour from the other one, Sectoral Heterochromia which is when the iris is only partially blue, and Central Heterochromia where the blue colour comes from the pupil in spiky pattern.

However, it can also develop later on in life, which is when it is more likely to be linked to a health-related problem such as loss of sight.

Other vision problems such as glaucoma or cataracts can look a lot like the condition, so it’s always best to notify your vet if you see a change in your pet's eye colour.

Which breeds is it most likely to occur in?

(Image: Getty Images)

It is believed that a dog’s fur pattern actually has an influence on whether a dog is more likely to have heterochromia, and even the type that manifests itself. 

Generally it is more common in dogs with piebald or dapple colouring, especially with white around the face and eyes. 

This is why it’s common to see Huskies, Cattle Dogs and Dalmatians with one piercing blue eye.

These breeds are also more likely to have Heterochromia Iridis where the whole eye is a different colour, whereas other breeds will have an only partially blue eye.

Smaller dog types that sometimes display the condition are Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Shih Tzu's.

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Can it be related to health problems?

(Image: Getty Images)

This is one of the most common misconceptions that is often linked to heterochromia.

Dogs with hereditary heterochromia have normal vision; it’s when the condition develops later on in life that it can be linked to loss of vision.

Another belief that can be easily debunked is that the condition is always related to hearing problems. 

This is untrue in the most part, although there has been a link established between Dalmatians with heterochromia having a greater chance of being deaf or hard of hearing.

Do you have a dog with beautifully coloured eyes due to heterochromia? We’d love to see them! Comment below or post your pictures to TeamDogs so we can celebrate more of these cuties, with their mesmerising eyes!

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