What is Vitiligo?
Your dog may suddenly start going grey in patches in front of your eyes. While these patches and depigmented areas can be esthetically displeasing, they are not considered as dangerous to your pet’s health. Vitiligo is often hereditary but sometimes can develop as an autoimmune response related to and affecting the melanocytes. Stress can sometimes be a cause of this condition as well. There is no known treatment for vitiligo and if stress isn’t the problem, your dog will continue being his happy self. If the unusual color of the skin worries you, you can get your veterinarian to darken the area with tattoo ink. An alternative to this measure is to try supplementation, which is thought to have some effect.
Vitiligo is the loss of pigment from the skin or hair of your dog causing patches of fading or white color. Vitiligo may be unattractive to you, but is considered a harmless condition.
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Symptoms of Vitiligo in Dogs
- Black or brown pigment fades and can become quite white which can look quite startling or unusual on your dog
- Splotches of white start appearing on your dog’s face, especially on the nose or around the eyes
- Sometimes it is only on small areas such as the nose
- Other times it can occur all over in large patches
- Vitiligo is considered harmless to your pet and does not cause distress
- It rarely reverses and re-pigments
- Breeds prone to this condition include Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Yellow Labradors, and Siberian Huskies
- It may only discolor certain areas of your dog’s body, or restrict itself to perhaps one area
- Often it can just affect your dog’s nose, causing a condition referred to as a snow nose
- It can affect the area around the eyes and affect the eye itself in extreme cases
- It may appear sporadic in any breed of dog, producing random patterns
- The paws can have a mottled loss of coloration
Causes of Vitiligo in Dogs
- Although the cause of vitiligo is not totally agreed upon by the experts, it is considered by most to have a genetic basis
- Another theory implies it could be immune mediated - meaning your dog’s system may for some reason produce antibodies that destroy the color pigmentation
- Toxic exposure is also considered a factor that inhibits or destroys the melanin which is responsible for your dog’s coloration
- Some diseases seem to be connected to causing this condition – perhaps the stress caused by ill health initiates the condition
- Stress alone is also considered a possible factor
Diagnosis of Vitiligo in Dogs
To see your dog suddenly start to change its color or become patchy and slightly strange looking can be alarming at first. Although it doesn’t cause your dog pain and he remains his usual healthy self, getting him checked by the veterinarian is a wise decision as there may be health issues causing the vitiligo. Your specialist will evaluate your dog’s condition and run diagnostic tests to distinguish the cause of the change in colors. Skin scrapings taken from your dog’s skin where the fading is occurring will help with the diagnosis, as will a blood test to rule out other disorders such as a hormonal imbalance, or hypothyroidism. If your dog is showing anxiety, a change in lifestyle and behavior may be needed to settle the anxiety which may be causing this condition.
Diagnosis is usually based on the skin and blood samples examined under the microscope. While the condition is not in any way life threatening, it can be quite anesthetic, meaning your dog may look a little odd especially if he is dark by nature and breed and suddenly starts changing color and pattern. A Rottweiler that produces blond or white patches looks quite unusual because people are used to that breed being very dark, but your dog won’t worry about it and will continue as if nothing has happened so there is no need to be concerned once you have your veterinarian’s positive diagnosis.
Treatment of Vitiligo in Dogs
There is no treatment available that will return your dog to its original color. Occasionally, your dog’s patches may re-pigment and the color will return even partially or fully, but this is a very rare event. The effect of vitiligo is quite variable, with some dogs suffering extensive patching or fading, while in others it will only affect the nose and perhaps around the mouth. Some veterinarians suggest getting your dog outside more often to enjoy the sunshine, in the hope that the sunlight will stimulate the melanocyte production and prevent new loss of colors from occurring. Vitiligo is not associated with diet, but it wouldn’t hurt to get your animal specialists opinion on whether your dog’s diet is providing the right nourishment for optimal function of the immune system. Some veterinary caregivers will also prescribe nutritional supplements such as Omega-3 and Vitamin C.
If the loss of color really concerns you and your dog looks quite odd because of the placement of the patches of pigment loss, your vet may be able to darken the lightest areas cosmetically with tattoo ink.
Recovery of Vitiligo in Dogs
Management is the option here, as recovery for the lost color is almost always irretrievable. Very rarely does the natural color come back on its own accord. Once you have checked with your dog’s veterinarian expert and he has confirmed the vitiligo condition, it is a matter of living with it. A healthy and varied diet, plenty of exercise and time outside in the sun, and that is the best you can really do for a dog with this condition. Providing a stress-free environment for your pet accepting your dog for what he now looks like is important for the mental health of your four-legged friend. It has been noted that Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as vitamin C may help this problem, so that is worth discussing with your veterinarian.