The world of purebred dog breeding is governed by a document called the breed standard. Every purebred dog has a breed standard, and the Poodle is no exception.
The breed standard is developed by purebred dog breeders that aim to preserve certain key attributes that are considered to be unique to that dog breed. As such, any departures from the breed standard are typically viewed with suspicion or hostility.
Blue eyes are quite normal for some dog breeds. But the Poodle is not one of these. In Poodles, dark eyes are prized, and blue eyes are almost unheard of. In this article, we will discuss the rare incidence of blue eyes in poodles and what causes this.
Can Poodles Have Blue Eyes?
The short answer to this question is yes. Poodles can have blue eyes.
The long answer is much more controversial. Blue is not a typical eye color for purebred Poodles. There is much debate about whether a purebred Poodle can ever have blue eyes or whether this is the result of crossbreeding at some point in the lineage.
The truth is the science of canine genetics is still very young, and there is a lot left to learn about how and why genes interact to produce a color variation. This is what we will discuss in the rest of this article.
See a Poodle with Rare Blue Eyes
In this owner-made YouTube video, you can see a Poodle puppy with partially blue eyes.
As you will notice, one viewer asserts that the dog is not really a Poodle. Yet the puppy looks like a Poodle in every other way. Genetic testing might help identify where those rare blue eyes come from.
Is the Poodle’s Eye Color Really Blue?
One question worth asking when you see a Poodle that appears to have blue eyes is whether the eye color is truly blue.
The pupil of the canine eye is normally black. The iris, the band surrounding the pupil, is the part of the eye where the dog’s eye takes its color name.
As Dog Coat Colour Genetics points out, the most common iris eye color for the modern companion canine is brown.
When that basic brown gets diluted by interactions with other genes, it turns into amber. The amber color spectrum can range from yellow to light brown, copper, yellow-green, or even grey.
In most cases, a dog with amber eyes will have a liver, isabella, or blue coat color. Occasionally, a black-coated dog may also have amber eyes.
The dog’s coat color can also impact whether the dog’s eye color appears true to shade. For example, if the dog’s coat has a strong blue undertone, this can make the eyes look more blue than grey.
When there is doubt about the dog’s eye color, looking at the nose color can often help to clear up the confusion. Genetic testing can also help in this area.
What Does the Poodle Breed Standard Say About Blue Eyes?
According to the official breed standard filed with the American Kennel Club (AKC), the purebred Poodle should have the following coloration.
The skin should be a solid and even color.
The coat color should match the skin color in the shade, even if in varying degrees throughout the coat.
Poodles with cafe au lait or brown coats should have liver noses.
Poodles with black, white, blue, cream, gray, and silver Poodles should have black noses.
Poodles with cafe au lait or brown coats should have dark amber eyes.
Poodles with black, white, blue, cream, gray, and silver Poodles should have very dark eyes (the color is not specified beyond this).
The breed standard is very specific and darker eyes are very preferable for dog show purposes.
This makes it abundantly clear that the purebred Poodle does not typically have blue eyes in whole or in part.
Faults in the Poodle Breed Standard
If the breed standard clearly states that Poodles should not have blue eyes, how are blue eyes in a Poodle treated in terms of that same standard?
The breed standard actually does not address blue eye color directly at all. The breed standard does state that particolored dogs (dogs with more than two coat colors present) and dogs with very light color eyes are considered at a major fault.
But the breed standard does not directly state that Poodles with blue eyes are to be disqualified.
How Does a Poodle Get Blue Eyes?
According to Dog Coat Colour Genetics, there are four possible ways a dog could end up with blue eyes.
Three out of the four ways relate to some level of pigmentation issue. The other way is if the dog inherits a very rare gene that codes only for blue eyes. Poodles are not known to carry this gene – it is mainly seen in Siberian Huskies and Border Collies.
The other three ways a dog can wind up with blue eyes can be traced back to pigment issues.
Albinism is a very, very rare condition in modern dogs – so rare that there may not even be any fully albino dogs.
As PetMD explains, dogs can be partially albino when they inherit genes that produce certain coat patterns like piebald and merle.
When a dog is born with white irises, this may indicate a lack of pigment production in the eye area that could cause the eyes to appear blue.
Here again, Poodles are not known to be prone to this type of specific absence of pigmentation.
As mentioned earlier, the merle color pattern gene is linked to blue eyes in dogs. Merle produces a pigment dilution in a random pattern. This random pattern affects not only the coat but also the skin and eyes.
Sometimes the merle gene can produce a condition known as heterochromia, where the dog has two differently-colored eyes, such as one brown eye and one blue eye.
A heavy dilution is more likely to produce blue eyes in one or both eyes.
Can Poodles Inherit the Merle Color Gene?
Poodles can be born with the merle gene.
Here again, there is more than a little confusion amongst breeders regarding what to call different types of merle color patterns.
As Paris Poodles breeder explains, merle is not a color at all. It is a pattern caused by pigment dilution specific to eumelanin, the pigment that produces the black color spectrum.
Merle doesn’t impact phaeomelanin, the pigment that produces the red color spectrum.
So only the areas on the Poodle’s coat that would have produced colors along the black spectrum will be impacted by the merle gene. In fact, even the terms used to describe the Poodle’s coat color under the influence of the merle gene can get confusing fast.
Some breeders call a merle Poodle a black merle, while others call the dog’s color a blue merle. Similarly, sometimes breeders call a brown merle Poodle a red merle Poodle or vice versa.
Is the Merle Gene Dangerous for Poodles?
Any time the merle gene shows up in a dog, there is concern about the health of the breed lineage as well as the health of that individual dog.
But this concern is not always warranted.
The merle gene is known to be dangerous when a puppy inherits a copy from each parent dog. In this case, the dog is called a “double merle” and maybe blind, deaf, or malformed to the point where there is a risk of early fatality.
As well there is still much to learn about the merle gene itself. Merle can be subtle or very obvious in its effect on a Poodle’s coat and overall coloration.
Does the Merle Gene Cause Blue Eyes in Poodles?
As of the time of publication, there have been no confirmed cases of albinism in purebred Poodles. Similarly, Poodles are not known to carry the separate gene that can encode blue eyes.
And Poodles are not known to have eyes with excessively white irises. This makes merle the most likely culprit when a Poodle ends up with full or partially blue eyes.
In this case, both eyes could be blue, or the Poodle could have one blue eye or just a portion of one or both eyes that are blue. This variance is due to the random nature of how the merle gene expresses in diluting the dog’s pigment.
Working with a reputable, health-focused Poodle breeder is the best way to ensure your puppy does not inherit two merle (double merle) genes with the risks that entail.
If your Poodle has blue eyes and you are worried, your veterinarian can do a health check to ease your mind.