Many breeds standards call for dark eye rims, particularly in working breeds like the Alaskan Malamute (“in all coat colors, except reds, the nose, lips, and eye rims’ pigmentation is black. Brown is permitted in red dogs”)…
And in the Boerboel: “…eyelids must be tight fitting with complete pigmentation…”
The Bouvier des Flandres: “the eye rims are black without lack of pigment”…
and Akita: “eye rims black and tight”…
In Anatolian Shepherd Dog…. “Eye rims will be black or brown…”
and Canaan Dog: “eye rims darkly pigmented or of varying shades of liver harmonizing with coat color…”
Dark eye rims can also be indicated for a terrier (Bedlington Terrier: “Eye rims are black in the blue and blue and tans, and brown in all other solid and bi-colors,” and the Dandie Dinmont Terrier:“Eye rims dark…”
…..as well as for a toy breed like the Affenpinscher: “Eye rims are black.”
In some cases, eye rims are preferred to be dark because they off-set expression which helps set breed type (to see an example of this, check out the section on eye rims on the Papillon’s Judges Guide). Some people have even opined that humans have selectively bred certain breeds to have dark eye rims because lighter pigmentation is more reminiscent of a predator than that of a companion dog. We don’t know about that, but we do know that in many breeds, dark eye rim pigmentation is important because it absorbs sunlight and doesn’t reflect rays into the dog’s eyes which would impede the dog’s ability to see, particularly for a breed that works in snow. As an aside, almond-shaped eyes, such as those found in the Samoyed, also enable the dog to squint and expose less of her eyeball to wind and frigid air while still being able to see. Just saying.
Any change in an adult dog’s pigmentation should be discussed with a veterinarian to eliminate a medical condition such as depigmentation dermatoses which can be caused by autoimmune disorders, allergies, infections, or irritants. Often, however, a change in pigmentation can be normal when it happens during the winter months, and in bitches following a season or pregnancy.
There are those who feel that pigmentation fading is due to a shortage of minerals, particularly iodine and iron, and we know of one or two folks who give their dogs certain herbal extracts (like Elderberry & Nettle Extract) to improve pigmentation, but we strongly advise that before tinkering with anything put into a dog’s diet, a veterinarian be consulted first.
Image: The nice dark eye rims of a young Golden Retriever