Everyone finds their attention drawn to a dog with blue eyes. In some breeds, like the Siberian Husky, we expect the eyes to be blue.
In others, like the German Shepherd, such a sight would be quite rare. If you are exceptionally perceptive, you might notice that some dog breeds, like the Great Dane, typically have blue eyes associated with their coat color.
Great Dane blue eyes come about from genetic factors linked with coat color, and less commonly, disease. Eye colors in Great Danes can range from blue-green to a very pale icy shade of blue. Blue irises represent a trait that deviates from the Great Dane’s more typical brown eyes. Outside the influence of genetics, Great Danes can also have blue eyes with corneal edema from an eye injury or other insult.
Basics about the Eye
You probably already learned about the structures of the eye a long time ago. Great Danes and other dogs have the same basic eye structure as people.
- Cornea – an outermost clear area made up of several extremely thin layers
- Sclera – white of the eye
- Pupil – appears as a black circular area in the eye’s center; it allows light in and can expand or contract
- Iris – responsible for the eye’s color
- Lens – focuses light onto the retina
- Retina – sharpens images and sends them as electrical signals to the brain; location of cones (color vision) and rods (night vision)
- Optic nerve – carries electrical impulses from the retina to the brain
- Tapetum lucidum – sits behind the retina and increases available light for night vision
As you can see, the iris dictates what color your dog’s eyes are. A Great Dane’s natural spectrum for eye color is from yellow to dark brown.
Blue is not a specific ocular color but rather a lack of pigmentation of the iris. The most common shades of blue for a Great Dane’s eyes are sky-blue and pale ice.
If a Great Dane has a dilution and not a lack of pigmentation in the eyes, they will be amber, light brown, or chocolate. Yellow is a base color (bird of prey eyes), albeit highly undesirable in the Great Dane.
Puppy Great Dane Blue Eyes
All dogs, including Great Danes, are born with blue eyes. Of course, you cannot tell for the first couple of weeks because pups are also born with their eyes closed.
Puppies have blue eyes because the pigment melanin has delayed development in the iris. Hence, pups go for several weeks with no pigmentation in their eyes.
A puppy’s permanent eye color begins to develop at about two months of age and continues to change until she is 13 to 16 weeks old.
Some dogs do not achieve all the subtle shades of their final eye color until they are six months old. Even if your Great Dane’s eyes are crystal blue when you acquire her at nine weeks old, the chances that they will remain blue are slim. That being said, clear, blue eyes in your puppy often lead to light colors in adults.
- Green – exceedingly rare eye color in dogs
Most puppies will have bluish-gray eyes and you will see brown flecks develop at a relatively early stage of development.
What color can a Great Dane’s eyes be?
The Great Dane is like many dog breeds whereby their eye colors are highly dependent on what their coat looks like. Dogs with dark-colored coats have dark brown eyes.
Occasionally, Great Danes have light brown eyes, but registries like the AKC say that darker is better.
- Black – solid color with minor white markings possible
- Brindle – black stripes on a fawn base
- Fawn – light tan with a black facial mask
two coat colors rarely occur in the Great Dane and involve suppression of the black coat color. Beware of breeders trying to get premium prices for these colors. They cannot show, and the AKC does not recognize them.
- Brown – prevents expression of eumelanin, responsible for dark pigmentation in the coat, skin, and eyes; chocolate or liver depending on the breed but not a desired, common, or recognized color in Great Dane; eyes are not blue but amber
- Isabella – dilute liver, also known as lilac in some breeds; in Great Dane, this is not a recognized color, but in the rare cases that it occurs, dogs can have blue-green, amber, or smokey-blue eyes
Grays, Merles, Harlequins, and Blue Eyes
A blue Great Dane can have blue eyes. More commonly, however, their eyes are amber. Why are they not dark brown?
Blue Great Danes, despite how dark their steel gray coats may look, represent the effects of a coat dilution gene. If two copies of the dilution gene are present in a dog, any dark pigments in the dog’s coat will become diluted or washed out.
Black coats become blue (charcoal to light shimmery gray), and liver dogs will be Isabella or lilac (terminology depends on the breed and does not apply to Danes).
Blue can affect any black base in a dog. Blue fawns have a bluish tint to their tan fur and diluted facial masks. Blue brindle Great Danes have muted stripes.
The dilution gene also affects the pigmentation in the iris or colored part of the eye. Therefore, blue Danes are genetically incapable of having dark eyes, and their nose is also diluted.
However, dilution happens to various degrees, and blue Great Danes can have chocolate or light brown eyes. Their eyes will always be lighter than their non-diluted counterparts.
If a Great Dane is steel-colored and has blue eyes, they are usually a smoke color or a nondescript shade of gray. Rarely, they can be a stunning, deep blue.
Merle is a striking and unusual coat color in many ways. It involves a mix of normal and diluted pigmentation, so you will see splotches of black against a muted charcoal or brownish base or reddish spots on a fawnish base. The degree and pattern of torn patches can vary greatly between dogs.
Merle is a dominant gene and is often linked to blue eyes. This results from the fact that dilution of the coat will affect pigmentation in the eyes.
Since dilution in merle Great Danes is random, their eyes can be blue, dark, medium, or light brown, amber, green, or gray.
Blue and brown eyes are commonly mismatched, and one or both eyes can show a cracked glass pattern whereby brown and blue mix together.
Harlequin is a modification of merle. Its pattern alternates areas of normal pigmentation with patches absent of any melanin.
An ideal Harlequin is a largely white dog with black splotches or so-called torn patches. However, many dogs have merle-colored torn patches as well.
The eyes often show a lack of pigmentation in a harlequin, appearing pale blue, but can have the same mismatched character as merles.
These are great examples of harlequin and merle puppies with variable eyes from dark brown to deep blue to mismatched.
Harlequin Great Danes are the most likely color variation to have blue eyes as adults. They can also have all of the other eye colors of merle Danes.
Two merle genes in one dog usually produce a solid or mostly white coat with blue eyes. Unfortunately, these dogs born of two merle parents will frequently be deaf or blind.
Another coat color that will commonly produce blue eyes is merlequin. Merlequin Great Danes are not acceptable per the AKC. An incomplete harlequin, a merlequin dog has only merle patches with no solid black spots.
Other variations of merle or harlequin can also have blue or mismatched eyes, but the color may not be as clear or may have more of a grayish hue. Their eyes can also be brown, amber, hazel, or green.
- Fawnequin – marked like a harlequin whereby fawn replaces the black spots
- Brindlequin – brindle spots in a harlequin pattern
The Effect of Mantle on Blue Eyes
If you are a Great Dane aficionado, you know that the mantle pattern is a big deal for Great Danes. It creates a flashy appearance, lending black and white dogs a classic tuxedo appearance.
On a genetic level, it is a variation of the Irish white spotting appearance you can see in Collies and other breeds. White shows up in a symmetrical orientation in stereotypical areas such as a collar around the neck, a tip at the end of the tail, stockings on the legs, and a blaze down the face.
Although the AKC describes mantle only in terms specific to black dogs, the pattern also can be seen in fawn, blue, merle, brindle, and harlequin Great Danes.
You may wonder what a mantle pattern has to do with Great Dane’s blue eyes. It turns out that the Irish spotting gene will make it impossible for your dog to have true blue eyes.
Merle and harlequin mantles can, however, have heterochromia iridis or an iris with both blue and brown in it.
These are two merle puppies with beautiful mantle patterns. Note the collar around the neck, leg stockings, and facial blaze. It is hard to tell the color of the eyes, but they have already changed from solid blue.
Piebald Great Dane
The piebald gene can often resemble Irish white spotting or the mantle effect but is much less predictable in its expression. Piebald spotting also lacks symmetry and does not pass as consistently down through the generations as mantle patterning does.
The piebald gene can affect black, blue, fawn, or merle Great Danes.
Piebald Danes are unique in that these dogs will have very few patches of the respective color, often just on the head and a rare spot on the body.
They differ from harlequins because the patches are so sparse. Sometimes a piebald merle is mislabeled as a merlequin, but it does not matter from a show perspective because both colors would be disqualified.
Piebald dogs with merle, blue, blue brindle, and blue fawn spots can have blue eyes. The merle dogs will have the clearest blue eyes while the others are more likely to have grayish or smoke-colored irises.
Problems that Cause Blue Eyes
Some injuries and diseases of the eyes will cause them to appear blue. Usually, a diseased eye will have a bluish hue and will not resemble a Great Dane blue eye.
You may think you will rarely see cataracts in a Great Dane because they do not live long enough. You are partially right. Most cataracts form in dogs over five years old. Their presence, however, is most notable in dogs over nine years of age.
Unfortunately, Great Danes are one of the breeds affected by juvenile cataracts. Juvenile cataracts are genetic in the Dane and can manifest at birth. Most cataracts in Danes begin between one and five years of age.
Cataracts prevent light from penetrating the lens which can often be seen as a thick white disc within the eye. This combination of visual effects can give the eye a cloudy bluish appearance.
To the naked eye, lenticular sclerosis and cataracts in dogs can look very similar. In an older dog, your veterinarian can use an ophthalmoscope to tell the difference.
Lenticular sclerosis involves normal aging changes to the lens that leads to hardening and increased opacity.
The lens becomes visible when you look at your dog’s eyes and appears as a milky bluish-white disc. The entire surrounding area can take on a hazy blue appearance.
Glaucoma is the increase of the eye’s internal pressure. Great Danes are susceptible to a genetic form of the disease.
As the pressure increases and the eye starts to bulge and change shape, it alters how light enters and reflects off the surface, The eye can take on a cloudy, bluish appearance.
Unlike a dog with clear naturally-colored blue eyes, a Great Dane with glaucoma will have dull dark eyes that look like marbles.
They often do not have any translucency. Your veterinarian can diagnose glaucoma with serial measurements using a tonometer.
Penetrating injuries to the eye can cause fluid to build in between the layers of the cornea. Corneal edema can cause the eye to look a cloudy blue.
You can also see corneal edema as an age-related change. As endothelial cells in the cornea degenerate, they release fluid.