Why A Yellow Lab Can Have a Black Belly (And When To Worry)

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Molly always loves getting belly rubs, as do most Labs or Lab mixes, but I couldn’t help but notice it appeared considerably darker than I remembered. Concerned, I researched it and contacted my vet to see if it is normal for Yellow Labs to have a black belly, and what it means.

A yellow Lab can have a black belly for a few reasons ranging in severity. One is coat pigmentation, and it can be totally natural. Other reasons may be related to skin health, hormonal health, or natural aging. Consulting a veterinarian to be sure is the safest course of action.

In Molly’s case, it turned out to be a non-issue. However, I’ll share some additional symptoms that may require a vet’s attention, and how your Yellow Lab got that black belly in the first place.

yellow lab laying down in grassy area

Should I Worry About My Yellow Lab’s Black Belly?

If your Yellow Lab is constantly licking and scratching its darkened belly, or if you notice oozing sores, crusting, or other skin ailments, get your dog to a veterinarian immediately. Your dog might be suffering from an allergy, an infection, or parasites.  

Some medical issues that can cause a Yellow Lab’s belly to darken:

Canine Atopic Dermatitis

According to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, over 10% of Labrador Retrievers suffer from canine atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin condition that causes intense itching. Canine atopic dermatitis is incurable but can be managed. 

Only a trained veterinarian can make that diagnosis and prescribe the necessary treatments. 

Hormonal Imbalances

If your Yellow Lab’s dark belly is accompanied by hair loss, dandruff, and floor wetting, your dog may have a hormonal imbalance. A veterinarian can determine whether skin conditions are caused by gland dysfunction. 

If your Yellow Lab has not yet been spayed or neutered, that operation will often solve the problem. 

Obesity

As they get older, many Yellow Labs put on weight. Their less active senior lifestyle gives them more time to eat and watch the world go by. However, all that weight strains their bodies and immune systems. This can lead to infections that cause dark blotches on their bellies and legs. 

There are a number of food choices that I cover in the article Best Dog Foods for Labradors that may assist. Finding the right balance of nutrition that matches your dog’s lifestyle is essential to their long-term health. 

yellow lab laying down at vet

Growing Up and Growing Older

Unless your dog shows signs of discomfort or disease, your Yellow Lab’s black belly or blotchy grey-black spots on their pink belly are nothing to worry about. If your Yellow Lab appears otherwise healthy and happy, consider yourself the proud owner of a black-bellied Yellow Lab.  

Dark belly skin is quite common on Yellow Labs. Let’s take a look at why Yellow Labs are yellow, and why sometimes their bellies are not.

What Makes a Yellow Lab Yellow?

The Yellow Lab’s color is produced by a gene that alters its coat pigmentation. Two different genes determine the three Lab coat colors recognized by the AKC

  • Black
  • Brown (commonly called chocolate)
  • Yellow 

Now we’re going to look at how those genes interact with each other. Doing so can help explain the black belly.

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The Chocolate Labrador Gene

Chocolate is a recessive color in Labs. The puppy must receive the chocolate gene from both parents. Otherwise, the Lab puppy will be a Black Lab. 

While this means that Black Labs are more common than Chocolate Labs, a fair number of Black Labs also carry a copy of the chocolate gene. 

chocolate lab on the beach

The black gene regulates your Labrador’s production of black melanin. Black melanin is the chocolate mutation that switches the output of black melanin to brown melanin. When the chocolate gene activates, the Lab’s black coat is replaced by a warm, brown color. The brown color can range from light to dark chocolate.  

The Yellow Labrador Gene

Yellow is also recessive, and a Yellow Lab puppy must receive the yellow gene from both parents. When activated, the yellow gene overrides both the black and brown genes. 

As a result, the puppy will have a yellow coat ranging from fox-red to a light cream. 

Essentially, the yellow gene suppresses the black and brown genes from coloring the Lab’s coat. However, those genes remain within the Yellow Lab’s DNA. Since the yellow gene is recessive, many Black and Chocolate Labs may carry a copy.  

This multi-gene crapshoot makes Lab breeding interesting. 

Yellow and Chocolate puppies sometimes pop up in a Black Lab litter. Additionally, mating between a Yellow and Chocolate Lab may produce a whole litter of Black puppies!

So Why Does My Yellow Lab Have a Black Belly?

Your Yellow Lab has a black belly because the yellow gene shuts down melanin production within the Lab’s hair, not its skin. Often, Yellow Labradors are referred to as a Black Lab in a yellow coat, and this is why. The differences between a Yellow and a Black Lab are only hair-deep.  

There is no brown or black melanin in your Yellow Lab’s hair. So as long as they have hair on their bellies it will be lighter-colored.

A Yellow Lab’s coat color comes from pheomelanin, a yellowish-red pigment. Yellow Labs produce pheomelanin in varying quantities, which is why you find them in every shade from cream to copper. 

But though their hair is different, a Yellow Lab’s skin coloration is identical to a Black Lab’s.  

Not only is black skin acceptable on a Yellow Lab, but the AKC breed standard also requires it. Black noses and eye rims are expected on both Yellow and Black Labs. Chocolate Labs are allowed a mauve-brown nose and eye rims, but those traits bring penalties (and for some judges, disqualifications) in a Yellow Lab.

Your Yellow Lab’s black belly is perfectly normal and within the breed standard. Your dog’s skin and muzzle may also darken as they mature, or they may become lighter. 

Like humans, every dog ages differently.  

Some Yellow Labs Have Pink Bellies

While you will generally see at least some dark patches on a Yellow Lab’s belly skin, many Yellow Labs stay pink-bellied throughout their lives. 

The lighter the Yellow Lab, the more likely their skin will remain pale. But while dark-bellied Yellow Labs have won ribbons and even championships, many of these light-bellied Yellow Labs would be disqualified.

What Are Dudley Labradors?

When two Yellow Labs carrying the chocolate gene are mated, they can produce puppies who are both Yellow and Chocolate Lab puppies can be produced if two Yellow Labs carrying the chocolate gene. The yellow gene suppresses hair pigmentation. Therefore, these dogs will have pink eye rims, noses, and paws and not be chocolate-colored.

These Labs are sometimes called Dudley Labradors

The lack of black melanin does not harm the dog, and Dudley Labs are as healthy as any other Labrador Retriever. But according to the AKC standard, these dogs are disqualified from competitions and should not be bred.

close up of a dudley labrador laying on the ground

The mating of a Chocolate and Yellow Lab frequently produces Dudleys, which can also be produced in matings between Chocolates if both carry the yellow gene. To avoid creating Dudleys, some Labrador breeders prefer to mate Chocolate to Black Labs. 

Though barred from AKC competitions, Dudley Labs can be every bit as healthy, curious, and loyal as their dark-bellied black-nosed cousins. If you have a Dudley Lab, give your beautiful pink-bellied friend all the love he doesn’t get from dog show judges.  

Conclusion

Since 1991, the Labrador Retriever has been America’s most popular dog, so if you love Yellow Labs, you have lots of company. You will have no problem finding other Lab lovers to share photos or helpful advice should you run into difficulties with your pet! 

Whatever color your Yellow Lab’s belly, you can count on your canine companion for years of fun, love, and long walks. Now that you know why your Yellow Lab’s belly is black — or why it isn’t — you can relax and enjoy your time with the world’s best dog! 

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