Afghan Hound Coat Colors and DNA Tests

a brief explanation of how currently available DNA tests can help predict some coat colors



This webpage is part of a series on Dog Coat Color Genetics. It was first mounted before April, 2006 and was last updated on February 14, 2017 by Sheila Schmutz


By mid-October 2009, the original set of dogs and the official Saluki Coat Color Study was completed. The research phase to address the gene/s causing grizzle was completed in spring 2010. This research lead to the study of domino in Afghans as well. The manuscript describing this was b published in Journal of Heredity in Fall, 2010. A free PDF copy of the manuscript is available for download. Note that the Afghan photos and Table showing the Afghans in this study are also availabe under Supplementary Data (see gray bar at the right of the Journal of Heredity page).

HealthGene offers testing for this mutation.

Prior to this, Afghans were also used extensively in the study of the K Locus, the Beta-Defensin 103 gene. The original study mapped this gene and a subsequent study reported the mutation that causes black versus fawn. The mutation causing brindle is also at this locus but is very complex so a DNA test for this is not offered by any diagnostic lab thus far.


The E Locus

All colors are acceptable in Afghan Hounds in most countries, but nevertheless people have preferences. DNA testing for the E alleles in Afghan Hounds allows breeders to better predict the colors of pups from particular matings. All 3 typical E alleles (EM, E, e) have been shown to exist in Afghans. However, like Salukis, they have a fourth allele EG. The dominance hierarchy is: EM > EG > E > e.

Afghans may be red from two different genetic mechanisms. These are virtually indistinguishable when one looks at red dogs. One genotype which causes red is a y at the agouti locus Because ay is dominant the other alleles at this locus, one copy is enough to cause this type of red that is called fawn in many breeds. In most breeds, such red dogs are E/-, ay/- or EM/-, ay/- depending of whether or not they have a melanistic mask. But some fawn afghans have one or both MC1R alleles as the EGallele. Fire. left and Claudia, right are fawn with a mask.

The second genotype which causes a red coat color in Afghans is e/e at the MC1R gene. This may be more rare but we have not tested enough Afghan Hounds to be sure of this yet. Our group did not contain such a dog so I do not have a photo of one to include. Dogs which are "e/e" can not be brindle or domino, even though they may carry the alleles for these patterns at other genes. They also never have a mask, or in fact a single black hair. All of those patterns include black and black pigment can not be produced in dogs that are "e/e" because the mutation in the MC1R gene prevents any eumelanin pigment in hair. However the nose and pads and eye rims of such dogs can still be black because pigmentation at these locations is affected by the B locus or TYRP1 gene.

Photo by Stephanie Hunt-Crowley
Photo by Barbara Lessmeister

A black mask only occurs in Afghans that carry at least one EM allele. It is typical for such dogs to have black ear fringe also. Although a mask is not visible on black or blue Afghans but only on fawn, cream and brindle Afghans, it can occur in dogs of all these colors. Kaschmir, at the left, is cream because he is a dilute red but he has a striking black mask. EM is the "top dominant" allele in this series. The EM allele is very common in Afghan Hounds.

Among 46 Afghan Hounds genotyped for the MC1R alleles, none carried the E allele.


The A Locus

The A locus is the Agouti Signal Peptide gene (ASIP). There are four common alleles at this locus with a dominance hierarchy of: ay > aw > at > a. It would appear that only ay and at exist in Afghans.

Dogs which have the genotype at/at in the presence of other suitable alleles (at least one E or EM and ky/ky), are black-and-tan. Tai and his cloned puppy Snuppy, left, who has recently been verified as a true clone, are this coloration. Since they have a black mask they have at least one EM allele.

Scandal is a black-and-tan Afghan. Her face, right, shows the chararacteristic tan "eyebrow" markings of dogs with this coat coloration. Scandal has the MC1R genotype EM/ EG. Because EM is the dominant allele, she has a black mask and is not a domino.

Afghans with the at/at could also be blue-and-tan, black-and-cream, blue-and-cream, or have brindle undersides if the appropriate alleles are present at other genes to alter this pattern.

Domino Afghans have the genotype at/at and ky/ky but they must also have at least one EG allele and no EM allele. Weasel (left) is a domino that is homozygous for the EG allele allele. Beck (right) is a domino Afghan with an EG/e genotype. Both are blue-and-cream.

Afghan coats often change color from birth to maturity, so early DNA testing may help to predict their adult color. The DNA tests we have verified in Afghan Hounds thus far are available from Healthgene Laboratory (Canada).


The K Locus

Although Little (1957) suggested that ebr was another allele in the E locus series that caused brindle, recent DNA studies prove that brindle is caused by an allele of the K locus, Kbr.

Afghans were one of several breeds of dogs in the study to find the K locus at Stanford University. Some three generation families that included black, brindle and red/cream dogs were used to map this gene.

Photo by Stephanie Hunt-Crowley

Dogs with a single KB allele are black unless they are e/e. Twinkle is an example of a black Afghan. Twinkle's genotype is EME, but one can not see her black mask against her black coat.

Black Afghans could have a Kbr allele or a y allele in addition to their KB allele. DNA tests are now available to determine if a dog is KB/KB or ky/ky. The brindle mutation is complex and a DNA test is not available to determine which black dogs might be carrying brindle.

Dogs that are Kbr/Kbr or Kbr/ky are brindle (unless they are e/e). The dominance heirarchy is KB > Kbr > ky at this locus. Precious is an example of a full body brindle Afghan pup that is diluted to grey and cream stripes, instead of black and fawn stripes.

All full body brindle dogs must have at least one ay allele. The brindle stripes occur on a fawn body, so to speak.


The D Locus - is it in Afghans?

The D locus has recently been shown to be the melanophilin gene (MLPH). There appears to be more than one d allele. Dogs with a d/d genotype are "born blue". We have only tested a single Afghan that was born blue so far and it did not have the common mutation found in Weimaraners, Great Danes, and Grehounds. Until the other mutations are identified, DNA testing can not be used to detect "born blue" in Afghans.

In 2016, we identified a possible explanation for this coat color in Afghan Hounds with Dr. Rob Loechel. This is not published yet.


Progressive Graying

A DNA study is currently underway to determine the gene that causes black to become blue and red to become cream over time. Many Afghans lighten with age due to a phenomenon called "progressive graying". Little suggests that this is caused by the G locus. The gene causing this has not been identified so far. The black hairs on Such dogs turn from black to grey all over their body in their first few years of life.

Progressive graying is different from geriatric graying. In old age, dogs of many breeds get white hairs around their muzzle and eyes. This does not usually begin until at least 8 years of age or so.


Cream - an unsolved coat color

Cream colored Afghans with no mask, such as Lulu, right, can be E/E, E/e, or e/e. The hints of reddish color seen on her ears suggests that her underlying color is red but because her genotype is E/e, we know it is the ay type of fawn red and not the e/e type red.

Photo by Stephanie Hunt-Crowley

Cream and/or white is not understood at the DNA level yet in most breeds of dogs. This is not albinism because the eyes, nose leather, pads, etc. are all pigmented. Whatever gene or combination of genes causes cream/white affects only the coat color.

Kaschmir, the cream Afghan Hound with a black mask at the top of the page, is a striking example of a dog that only dilutes phaeomelanin and not eumelanin. His mask is still very black, even though his body is almost white.


Further Reading:

  • Schmutz, S. M., T. G. Berryere, N. M. Ellinwood, J. A. Kerns, G. S. Barsh. 2003. MC1R studies in dogs with melanistic mask or brindle patterns. Journal of Heredity 94: 69-73.
  • Berryere T.G, J. A. Kerns, G. S. Barsh, S. M. Schmutz. 2005. Association of an Agouti allele with fawn or sable coat color in domestic dogs. Mammalian Genome16:262-272.
  • Philipp U, Hamann H, Mecklenburg L, Nishino S, Mignot E, Schmutz SM, Leeb T. 2005. Polymorphisms within the canine MLPH gene are associated with dilute coat color in dogs . BMC Genetics 6:34-. (This article is published in a publicly accessible online journal at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/6/34)
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