In the early 1990’s I got a phone call from a veterinarian in Peterborough. She had a client with a black Newfoundland puppy and its coat was turning white. None of her regular reference sources were of any help, so in desperation she decided to consult a Newf breeder.
Incredibly, even now, a quarter of a century later, she would have been in the same dilemma. There is virtually no literature on the phenomena of temporary white coat in Newfs.
Anyway I told her what I knew at that time – the cause of the loss of pigment is unknown although there was speculation that it may be dietary related, possibly a deficiency of zinc. Fortunately it is a temporary condition and most pups are fully back to black by 12 months although in some rare cases it can take up to 24 months. To confirm the temporary nature of this condition she should check the roots; they may already be coming in black.
Recently I tried to research this phenomenon but had to do it indirectly. Most literature about temporary white coat relates to domestic felines but even this is quite sparse. They usually call it “fever coat”.
Reviewing the info on fever coat in cats gave me a new insight into the probable cause. Sarah Hartwell put it this way: Fever coat usually means that the mother had an infection while pregnant or that she was stressed or on medication.
Now this makes more sense as I was having trouble with the diet theory. In the last litter that I whelped that had pups with temporary white coat, the affected pups were on different diets so this pretty ruled out nutrition as a cause.
Besides cats I found that black bears also experienced a similar condition and a cub may be white or other diluted colour and then return to black as an adult. Here is a photo of such:
While in the long run this condition is normally irrelevant for Newf puppy adopters it may have short term consequences. Depending on how much of the black causing pigment is diluted you could have a pup that appears silvery-grey in whole or part. The lighter colour may only be evident when the coat is back brushed. In some cases the coat may sun bleach and actually make the pup go from looking like a grey to appearing to be brown. For most people this just means having to explain the unusual colouration to the curious. However for anyone intending to enter conformation shows, it would mean having to wait until the coat colour returns to normal.
As for breeders this is not reason to stop using an otherwise good brood bitch. Obviously they should make a concerted effort in future to ensure a stress free pregnancy. If the condition appears before a pup is picked up, then they might offer a refund of the deposit but with proper explanation most adopters would not take them up on this. Should the white coat only appear after a pup is ensconced in a new home, then education of the pup’s guardians is the answer especially if they were considering going to a vet. This is a case where no intervention whatsoever is the best action.
While I don’t have any photos of Newfoundland pups that show an example of the colouration phases involved with temporary white coat you can get an idea of what it might look like by going to Pictorial Case History of a Persian Kitten with Fever Coat.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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