Roan is the name given to a specific type of coat colour that can be seen in a variety of different animal species, including dogs, horses and cattle. Blue roan is a variant of roan that results in dogs that possess it displaying a distinctive and often very beautiful colouration that may extend across the entire coat, or take the form of ticking or another specific type of pattern.
Blue roan dogs can be found within a large number of recognised pedigree breeds, and dogs that display the blue roan colour are often in great demand among puppy buyers. If you are considering buying a blue roan dog or if you are just wondering what a blue roan dog is and how this colour is achieved, this article is for you.
We will explain in detail what constitutes a blue roan dog, the genetics of blue roan inheritance, and everything else you might need to know about this unique and distinctive coat colour. Read on to learn all about the blue roan coat colour in dogs.
Roan is a naturally occurring coat colour that can be found in a range of different animal species as well as dogs, and the exact definition of roan can vary depending on the species that exhibits it.
Roan is generally described as a mixture of pigmentation of the fur that is both white and another distinctive contrasting colour, which does not fade or turn grey or white when the animal in question reaches old age.
The causes of the roan colouration can vary in different animal species too, and so what we describe as being roan can vary depending on the type of animal we are talking about.
Blue roan is a variant of roan that is achieved when areas of a dog’s coat are made up of a more or less even mixture of white and black hairs mixed together, which produces a distinctive blueish-grey colour. This can vary in shade from a pale silvery-blue through to a darker, more distinctive grey-blue shade, but all of these colour combinations fall under the heading of blue roan in dogs.
The patches or areas of blue roan may also be mixed with patches of fur that are uniformly dark in colour, over areas of the coat where no white is present.
As mentioned, what we mean by roan and how the roan colour is achieved can differ between different animal species, and the presentation of blue roan in dogs is rather different to the ways in which it can manifest in other animals, like cattle and horses.
Within dogs, the roan areas of colouration develop only in unpigmented areas of the skin with white fur above them, and the exact size, shape and pattern distribution of roan within the coat is dictated by the individual dog’s genes for colour and pattern dissemination.
In horses and cattle, roan develops in pigmented areas of the coat too, and may be accompanied by other markings in white as well. Dogs that ultimately display roan colouration as adults are born with plain white markings in the areas that eventually become roan, and over a period of time, these white markings begin to change in shade and colour, developing flecks of colour initially that ultimately continue to become darker and clearer as the dog reaches maturity and displays their ultimate adult coat shade.
This means that you cannot tell for sure when looking at a very young puppy that might have inherited roan colouration what their eventual coat colour and pattern will be, as this takes weeks or even months to develop and will not be fully apparent until the dog in question is fully grown.
In many dogs, the roan colour continues to darken further as the dog ages, which can result in some significant differences in the appearance of the dog’s first puppy pictures to those taken when they are adults.
There are a wide range of different names and technical terms used to describe certain coat colours and patterns in dogs, and many of these can be confusing to people who are not overly familiar with them.
The terms “roan” and “ticking” are closely connected and often used interchangeably, and so it is worth learning what ticking means within a dog’s coat, and how it relates to roan colouration.
There is actually some debate over whether or not ticking and roan are ultimately the same thing, but as “blue roan” and “ticking” within a dog’s coat often look quite distinct from each other, they tend to be used as separate descriptions as best fits the dog being described. To further confuse matters, “ticking” is sometimes referred to as “roaning,” although this term is not widely used within the UK.
Ticking is a coat pattern that is distinctive for small flecks, spots or relatively uniform small patches of a dark colour (such as black or liver) on a white background. This creates a unique pattern across the white areas of the coat that can commonly be seen within various dog breeds including the springer spaniel, and that only affects the white areas of the coat. Other areas of the coat (such as in the springer, areas that are liver or black) remain a uniform shade, so that the dog’s coat is comprised of patches of the darker colour along with ticked white.
Like blue roan, ticking cannot be seen in the dog’s coat when they are first born, and the areas that later develop ticking start off as pure white. As the puppy gets older, their coat colour begins to change as the darker hairs begin growing within the white areas of fur, which ultimately develops into the flecked or ticked pattern that we all recognise.
Ticking may not develop across all of the white areas of the coat, and this can make the appearance of individual ticked dogs (even those from within the same litter) look quite different to each other.
We aren’t totally sure exactly which genes result in a blue roan colouration in dogs, but current thinking based on research and genetic study indicates that the roan colour and ticking pattern are closely related, and may involve the same combination of gene alleles expressed in slightly different ways.
When you know the basic differences between ticking and blue roan in dogs, you will be able to spot them in dogs that you see out and about.
The key difference between blue roan and ticking is that different colours of roan in dogs develop across all of the white areas of the dog’s coat, which means that if their coats start off completely or largely white, the dog will have a fairly uniform blue roan shade across all of the white on their body.
As ticking does not necessarily develop across all of the white areas of the coat (and can vary in terms of its intensity and clarity) this results in a much more variable appearance that may manifest as just a couple of small, localised areas of ticking or a much more prolific distribution of the pattern.
The mixture of white and black within blue roan dogs also tends to be finer and more evenly mixed than in ticked dogs, producing the blueish shade, whilst in ticked dogs the contrast between light and dark is much clearer, resulting in the clear ticks that are visible on the coat even from a distance.
So, how is a blue roan coat achieved? The physical colour and pattern traits that any individual dog displays comes down to the genes that they inherit from both sides of their parentage, and how these genes are expressed.
A specific genetic locus (a fixed position on a chromosome) results in the presence or absence of roan and ticking in dogs, and these colour combinations occur within chromosome 38, but researchers have yet to establish exactly what gene or combination of genes are responsible for it, and there is a possibility that these genes may vary in different blue roan dog breeds.
Whilst we don’t know the exact gene that causes roan or ticking, we do know that the expression of roan and ticking are controlled by the T locus, and it seems likely that there are several different alleles or gene variants that result in different types of expressions.
Following this logic, there are likely to be three T alleles, which result in either roan, ticking, or white with no effect on the white patches. Pure roan and ticking are dominant coat traits, so unless they are overridden by another gene or gene combination, will tend to result in the same roan or ticked pattern in dogs that inherit the trait from just one side of their parentage.
Blue roan appears naturally as a permitted colour variant within a number of different dog breeds, which means that there are quite a number of options out there for people seeking to buy a blue roan dog as their next pet.
Some of the dog breeds that can be found in blue roan include:
There are also many more dog breeds that can display roan in another colour other than blue, and also, breeds that display ticking rather than a true blue roan colouration.
As we mentioned earlier on, blue roan dogs are not born with their final coat colour displayed, and blue roan dogs often look markedly different when fully grown than they did when they were younger.
How fast the roan colour begins to develop and how long it takes to fully display can be very variable from dog to dog, but all blue roan puppies are born with white fur across the areas that later develop their roan shade.
This can make it difficult for puppy buyers to be able to tell what their chosen pup will look like when fully grown, and this is all part and parcel of the blue roan puppy buying process.
If either of the pup’s parents was a blue roan, it is reasonable to expect that their pups will also be a blue roan due to the dominance of the genes that result in this colour.
When pups that will eventually become blue roans are born, the areas of the coat that become roan start off as while. Roan pups usually have coloured paw pads, which tend to be uniform in shade but may also have an interesting appearance of lighter coloured pads with a darker ring of colour around the outside, which if present, can help you to predict the eventual roan colouration.
As the pup gets older week by week, this initial dark border of pigment that may be present spreads in to cover the paw pads, simultaneously with the colour changes that develop across the coat itself too.
Over the first few weeks of a blue roan puppy’s life, the white parts of the coat (or the whole coat, if it is entirely white) begin to develop individual darker hairs interspersed with the white, producing a blueish appearance due to the fine mixture of light and dark. Viewed up close, you will be able to see that the coat is not all one colour but actually a mixture of white and dark hairs blended together.
The growth of the individually darker coloured hairs within the white are initially masked by the overlying white fur, and as the base coat grows and the previous top layer of the coat is shed, this leads to a gradual darkening of the coat and the spread of the colour mixture.
The first signs of the development of the darker hairs within the roan may become apparent just a few days after a puppy is born, although they may be hard to spot and may not begin to develop properly until a little later on.
Usually by the time a pup is around three to four weeks old, you will be able to see a distinctive albeit potentially subtle difference in the general coat colour compared to pictures of the puppy when they were first born, and this continues to develop and establish itself over the next couple of weeks.
By the time a puppy is old enough to move in with their new owners at the age of around 12-14 weeks, it will already be obvious that they are going to be a blue roan, although the extent and full intensity of the colour may continue to develop for some months to come.
This can continue well past the pup’s first year of life and lead to their darkening a little more each year during their early years of adulthood, but you should have a fairly good idea of a dog’s ultimate colour and how they will look by the time they reach their first birthday.
The blue roan coat colour is one that occurs naturally within certain dog breeds, and is recognised within their respective breed standards as acceptable or desirable within the breed. Inheriting a blue roan coat does not come accompanied by the risk of the dog also inheriting any colour-specific health issues as a result of their colour heredity, although there are some blue coat shades that may be confused with roan that can be problematic.
Merle coats are another type of coat colour and pattern combinations that can be seen in some dogs and that may present as blue merle, and this is something that the uninitiated may confuse with blue roan at a glance.
However, merle colouration and roan colouration might look similar, but they are caused by different gene combinations and gene expressions. The blue merle colour in dogs is associated with a range of potential health problems that can be passed on to dogs that inherit the gene for blue merle, and within many dog breeds, blue merle specimens are ineligible for pedigree registration with the Kennel Club as a result of this.
Double-merle dogs are dogs produced from the breeding of two merle dogs with each other, and doing this greatly increases the chances of the double-merle pup inheriting a range of serious health problems, most notably those that can affect the hearing and vision.
Around a quarter of all double-merle puppies are born both deaf and blind due to the risks that accompany heredity of this colour, and breeding double-merle dogs is very much frowned upon within most dog breeds as a result of this.
Blue roan pups, on the other hand, are not associated with any health issues specifically as a result of their colour heredity, and there aren’t any increased risks associated with breeding blue roan dogs.
However, virtually all pedigree dog breeds (including those that we mentioned as having blue roan variants) have their own specific health challenges and increased risk factors for a number of hereditary health conditions, and you should do plenty of research into the general health of the breed of dog you are considering buying before committing to a purchase.
If you do see a puppy offered for sale as a blue roan and it is from a breed or type of dog that this colour is not found in, or not widely seen in, ensure first of all that the dog in question is not actually a blue merle rather than a blue roan, and so, may have an increased risk of health issues.
A naturally occurring blue roan coat in the dog is not a problem in any way in and of itself, and does not come with any special care considerations or health issues for dogs that possess it.
One potential disadvantage of the colour on a purely cosmetic level however may be relevant to people who wish to buy a show-quality pedigree blue roan dog for showing, or to use as the foundation of a breeding programme of their own. This is because the final expression of the blue roan colour in the adult dog takes a while to develop, so when you buy a puppy, you will not be able to predict the eventual appearance or quality of their coat.
However, this is all part and parcel of the showing and breeding process, and is just one of a huge number of variables that prospective puppy buyers or breeders need to understand from the outset – there are no guarantees!
Blue roan can present very differently in the individual dogs that possess a coat of this type, but the colour is generally distinctive and handsome-looking, which can increase the appeal of such dogs to dog thieves.
Blue roan is not one of the most common dog colour variants but neither is it particularly rare, but anyone who owns a dog of any type (and particularly the owners of unusual looking, very good quality, or show-standard pedigree dogs) should take care to safeguard their dogs against the threat of either opportunistic thieves or those that dogs steal to order.
Ensure that your dog is microchipped and wears identification on their collar, and that you don’t leave your dog tied up outside of a shop, alone in a car, or ask a stranger to watch or look after them for you.
There are no known health implications of the blue roan colour in dog breeds that possess it, and no special care requirements for dogs that have this type of coat colour and pattern distribution.
If you have your heart set on owning a blue roan dog, it is important to make the right choice in general rather than simply deciding on a colour and going from there, but as blue roans can be found in various different dog breeds, this should not be too much of a challenge.
It is vital to research all of the key traits of the type of dog you intend to buy, meet lots of dogs of the breed and find out as much as possible about the pros and cons of ownership first; once you have narrowed down your options to certain types of dog, you can then winnow the field further by making a choice on colour.
When viewing blue roan puppies for sale, don’t forget that your adult dog’s colouration might well be rather different to how they looked when you first viewed them – and if you visit the litter more than once over the course of a few weeks, you will probably begin to see these changes beginning before you even bring your new pup home.
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