This is a complete guide on white Great Danes.
I am going to be breaking down everything about the Great Dane color and also show you how the double merle gene is achieved.
Here are some of the topics we are going to cover:
- What Is A White Great Dane?
- White Great Dane Genetics.
- Common Health Problems Of White Great Danes.
- And so much more.
So without much being said, let’s dive in.
What Is A White Great Dane?
A white Great Dane is one that is produced as a result of merle to merle breeding. When two Great Danes carrying a merle gene are bred together the result is a dog that has two copies of the merle gene i.e. a double merle. Many double merles have a pure white coat and they rarely have any markings.
The double merle gene in white Great Danes is the major cause of many health problems they experience. There are so many genetic factors that make merle to merle breeding in dogs considered to be unethical. Many white Great Danes are born with a number of disabilities so many organizations like the American Kennel Club discourage the breeding of such dogs.
What Is A White Great Dane Called?
The term used to describe white Great Danes produced as a result of merle to merle breeding is double merle. These double merles can be genetically explained as being homozygous merles. This means that they have 2 copies of the merle gene.
The abbreviation MM is a genetic shorthand used to symbolize these double merles that have 2 copies of the merle gene.
Are White Great Danes Rare?
White Great Danes are the rarest color of the breed. This is not necessarily because the color is difficult to produce but many animal experts have discouraged their breeding from merle to merle mating. Organizations like the American Kennel Club do not encourage breeders to produce white Great Danes because of the health problems associated with their genetic makeup.
Simply put, white Great Danes are rare because breeders are not intentionally producing the color due to health reasons and ethical practices recommended by animal experts.
A study on the retrotransposon insertion in SILV is responsible for merle patterning of the domestic dog revealed that:
Dogs heterozygous or homozygous for the merle locus exhibit a wide range of auditory and ophthalmologic abnormalities, which are similar to those observed for the human auditory–pigmentation disorder Waardenburg syndrome.
It is much better not to intentionally breed white Great Danes that produce a dog that will suffer much of their life due to health problems caused by their genetic makeup.
White Great Dane Genetics
As mentioned earlier, white Great Danes are dogs with 2 copies of the merle gene. They are a result of merle to merle breeding and the dog inherits two dominant versions of the M gene to become a double merle.
Two Great Danes that are heterozygous to the merle gene are basically bred to produce a Dane that is homozygous to the merle gene. The abbreviation MM is the genetic symbol used to describe a double merle dog that is homozygous to the merle gene.
These dogs usually have a pure white coat with no markings and will usually be deaf in one or both ears, and have serious and generally blinding eye defects.
The embryonic tissue that is responsible for nerves, skin, eyes, and ears also gives rise to melanocytes which are melanin-producing neural crest-derived cells. The merle gene generally causes changes in cells that give rise to melanocytes during development.
These changes in melanocytes by the merle gene will result in a reduction of pigment. Therefore, if a dog is heterozygous to the merle gene, it will have the merle color pattern, leaving some areas with full color (black or red) while other areas are a lighter shade. If the dog is a double merle, some cells will have no pigment at all, which leads to deafness when they are located in the inner ear, or will develop abnormally, as happens in various structures within the eye.
The breeding of white Great Danes is not encouraged by many dog organizations and animal experts due to the many health problems that arise as a result of their genetic makeup.
Breeding White Great Danes
As mentioned earlier, intentionally breeding white Great Danes is not encouraged due to health problems associated with the double merle gene. Merle to merle breeding is considered to be unethical because the dogs produced as a result of this mating are born with disabilities and many health issues caused by their genetic makeup.
It is recommended that merle Great Danes be produced from a merle to non merle breeding instead of the merle to merle breeding which produces white Great Danes with many genetic defects.
The image below shows a genetic probability chart where a white Great Dane is produced from a merle to merle breeding:
The probability chart shows that in a merle to merle breeding each puppy has a 50% chance of being born merle. The image below is another genetic probability chart for a merle to non merle breeding:
The probability chart shows that in a merle to non merle breeding each puppy also has a 50% chance of being born merle.
This clearly shows how it is not necessary to do merle to merle breeding when you can produce the same results by breeding a merle with another Great Dane of any color. Many breeders prefer mating a merle with a harlequin Great Dane because of the genetic similarities of the coat colors.
Merle to merle breeding to produce white Great Danes with a lot of health problems is completely unethical when there is no great incentive for doing that.
White Great Dane Health Issues
White Great Danes have a lot of health problems as a result of their double merle gene. Many social programs have been started to help bring awareness to the health issues faced by many dogs with a double merle gene.
One of such programs is the annual celebration of the Double Merle Awareness Day on May 20 where people voice their concerns on the intentional breeding of double merle dogs.
Amanda Fuller, the woman behind this special day for dogs with special needs had this to say:
Double merles are completely preventable and no dog deserves to be born with disabilitiesAmanda Fuller
This goes to show the rise in concern regarding the tragic life that many double merle dogs get to experience as a result of their genetic makeup.
This section is a quick summary of some common health issues generally experienced by Great Danes with a double merle gene:
This usually occur in the early stages of the Great Dane’s life and it is mostly permanent. Double Merle deafness is very difficult to reverse and will make it difficult for the dog to cope with their environment during these early stages of development. The inability to hear can really make it difficult for any dog to stay in tune with their environment unless they go through some special training.
According to Wikipedia, in one study of 38 dachshunds by a German researcher, partial hearing loss was found in 54.6% of double merles and 36.8% of single merles. 1 out of the 11 (9.1%) double merles was fully deaf while none of the single merles were.
Another study done by Texas A&M University found that of 22 double merles, 8 were completely deaf and two were deaf in one ear. This clearly shows that deafness and hearing difficulties are a common to dogs with a double merle gene.
Microphthalmia is a condition that occurs before the dog is even born and one or both eyeballs are abnormally small. This condition is one of the major contributors of blindness is double merle Great Danes. The image below shows a white Great Dane with microphthalmia:
Microphthalmia is one of the many ocular defects that occur to white Great Danes before they are even born. The double merle dogs are more susceptible to these ocular defects due to their genetic makeup.
Colobomas is another ocular defect that occur to white Great Danes. The condition is generally when normal tissue in or around the eye is missing at birth. The image below is an example of a dog with colobomas:
Congenital cataracts refer to a lens opacity in the eye which is present at birth. This condition is one of the major causes of blindness in many double merle dogs.
As mentioned earlier, The merle gene generally causes changes in cells that give rise to melanocytes during development. These changes will result in a reduction of pigment so the dog is more susceptible to life threatening diseases like skin cancer due to what is mostly a direct penetration of the sun to the cells. Sunburns and skin irritation are also common problems faced by double merle dogs.
Follicular dysplasia is a genetic disease of dogs causing alopecia, or hair loss. It is caused by hair follicles that are misfunctioning due to structural abnormality. Double merle dogs are more susceptible this condition because of the little pigment present in their coat and skin.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. White Great Danes mostly face this condition due to the fact that they have little pigment in their coat and skin so the effects of direct sunlight are amplified in these dogs with a double merle gene.
Multiple Congenital Defects
Multiple congenital anomalies (MCAs) are defined as two or more unrelated major structural malformations. Double merle Great Danes are more likely to have multiple organs within their bodies so they do not get adequate nutrients when they are in the womb since they have to compete with other puppies.
Mental Health Problems
White Great Danes with a double merle gene have mental issues and these mental health problems makes it difficult for them to socialize and interact with other dogs.
Are All White Great Danes Deaf?
Not all white Great Danes are deaf. Some may have hearing difficulties but they can still hear and respond to sound especially when it is coming from a closer source. Other double merle dogs can be deaf in one ear and still hear with the other although a large number will be completely deaf in both ears.
A recent study on the Prevalence of Deafness in Dogs Heterozygous or Homozygous for the Merle Allele revealed that:
Deafness prevalence in merles overall was 4.6% unilaterally deaf and 4.6% bilaterally deaf. There was a significant association between hearing status and heterozygous versus homozygous merle genotype. For single merles (Mm), 2.7% were unilaterally deaf and 0.9% were bilaterally deaf. For double merles (MM), 10% were unilaterally deaf and 15% were bilaterally deaf. There was no significant association with eye color or sex.
Deafness is very common in white Great Danes but there is no pattern with regards to when it occurs. Double merle dogs randomly experience this problem.
Are All White Great Danes Blind?
Not all white Great Danes are blind. Total blindness is not common in dogs with a double merle gene but they are susceptible to many ocular or eye defects that can lead to blindness when treatment is no started early.
These ocular or eye defects include microphthalmia, conditions causing increased ocular pressure, and colobomas, among others.
White Great Dane Lifespan
Great Danes generally live for 8 to 10 years but white Great Danes can have a shorter lifespan due to the many health problems caused by their double merle gene.
There is a chance that double merle Great Danes can live a long life like any other dog of the breed if you take good care of the dog and consistently provide a nutritionally balanced diet.
The genetics of double merle dogs make them susceptible to many life threatening conditions so they usually have a short lifespan as compared to other coat colors.
White Great Dane Temperament
There is little evidence to prove the relation between coat color and temperament so you should generally expect double merles to behave like any other Great Dane of a different coat color.
The major differences in behavior might come as a result of the mental health problems generally experienced by white Great Danes. These mental health issues makes it difficult for double merles to socialize with other dogs and stay in tune with their environment.
Other conditions like deafness and ocular defects can also have a great impact on the behavior of double merle Great Danes.
How To Take Care Of A White Great Dane
Taking care of a white Great Dane can be very different from caring for a Dane of any coat color due to the many health problems caused by their double merle gene. Here are some tips for taking care of a white Great Dane:
Regular Vet Checkups
This is one of the most important tips for taking good care of a White Great Dane. The double merle gene is susceptible to many life threatening conditions so regular vet checkups can help to diagnose these health problems early and save your dog in the process.
Provide A Balanced Diet
Providing a nutritionally balanced diet can help your white Great Dane to develop a strong immune system that is capable of fighting some of these genetic diseases. A typical Great Dane diet should have a high amount of proteins, moderate fats and low calories.
Get A Special Trainer
Most double merle dogs find it difficult to stay in tune with their environment and socialize with other dogs or humans so getting them a special trainer can actually help them find a balance with their environment and live a normal life.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
Double merle dogs have a reduced pigmentation so they are more susceptible to diseases like skin cancer and atopic dermatitis when they are exposed to direct sunlight for longer periods. It is important to keep your white Great Dane in the shade in order to reduce the risks of getting these life threatening diseases.
Regularly Clean Their Coat
White Great Danes are more likely to get dirty due to their coat color. It is important for owners of such dogs to regularly clean their coat and bathe the pooch with dog shampoo to avoid any parasites that may be attracted to the dirt.
Can Double Merle Great Danes Be Prevented?
Double merles cannot be totally prevented as long as the merle coated Great Danes are still existing. The double merles can be accidentally produced or be result of a breeder’s ignorance. This is one of the main reasons why events like the Double Merle Awareness Day are very crucial for those who support the ethical breeding of dogs.
It is important to never intentionally breed two Great Danes that are homozygous to the merle gene. A merle Great Dane should only mate with another Dane of any color other than the merle.
White Great Danes are a result of merle to merle breeding. Two Great Danes that are heterozygous to the merle gene are bred in order to produce a Great Dane that is homozygous to the merle gene.
These dogs that are homozygous to the merle gene are called double merles and they are more susceptible to many health problems due to their genetic makeup.
Dog organizations like the American Kennel Club and animal rights groups discourage merle to merle breeding due to the health problems experienced by double merle dogs.
For this reason, merle Great Danes should not be produced as a result of merle to merle breeding but they should be produces through breeding a merle Great Dane with another of any color.