Vitiligo in dogs is a condition that causes loss of pigment in the skin. This condition is harmless and is known to affect a few specific dog breeds including Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds.
In this post, I’m going to talk about the what causes vitiligo, how to identify it, and what to do about it. Concerned about white patches of skin or fur? You’ve come to the right spot. Keep reading to find out how this skin condition will affect your dog, and what you can do about it.
Vitiligo is an inherited skin condition caused by the breakdown of pigment-producing cells. It’s natural for aging dogs (8 years is considered senior in dogs) to experience a decrease in melanin (“going grey”) around their nose, eyes, and chin. It’s not, however, something you expect to see in a young dog. Vitiligo in dogs is usually seen in younger dogs around 3 to 4 years of age.
#1. Symptoms of Vitiligo in Dogs
The symptoms of vitiligo include the development of white patches over the skin and fur. You might notice the tip of your dog’s nose turning white, or even changing from light to dark depending on the season. Some dogs, especially light-colored dogs, can experience something called “snow nose”. Snow nose is not dangerous. What happens is that, in some dogs, their noses lose pigmentation during the winter months. As the seasons change and get warmer, their noses return to their original color.
Breeds more susceptible to vitiligo include:
Old English Sheepdogs
#2 The “Live With It” Treatment
A discussion on treatment options depends on the veterinarian. Most veterinarians, however, do not recommend any treatment since vitiligo in dogs is more of a cosmetic nuisance than a clinically dangerous one. In humans, there are a variety of creams and laser-therapy techniques used. Unfortunately, they’re not especially effective and are not a “cure”.
Dogs don’t care how they look. They just want you to feed them, praise them, and scratch behind their ears. They’re quite happy to live with it, which is probably the only “treatment” option the veterinarian will recommend. Some people swear by nutritional supplements like Omega 3 fatty acids or Vitamin C. It won’t hurt your dog if you try those things, but it’s not likely to improve the condition.
#3 Unless It’s Something Else…
Keep in mind that any changes to skin or fur that seem unusual should be reported to a veterinarian. Dogs can develop any number of skin conditions which can (and should) be treated.
Don’t assume it’s vitiligo until the veterinarian has had a chance to look. He/she may want to do some diagnostic tests, including the possibility of a skin biopsy, to rule out other diseases including skin cancer. Uveodermatologic syndrome, for example, is a rare disease that causes the skin to lose color. However, the disease extends to the eyes and can cause blindness in dogs.
#4 The Eyes Have It
We’ve talked a lot about how vitiligo in dogs is more of a cosmetic nuisance than a clinical danger. However, if you notice anything unusual about your dog’s vision, make sure to report it right away.
Like vitiligo in dogs, uveodermatologic syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. When you have an autoimmune disorder, your body can’t tell the difference between a danger to the system versus healthy body tissue. This can affect all dogs at all ages, however there are some breeds more susceptible to uveodermatologic syndrome. Akitas, Samoyeds, and Siberian huskies seem particularly vulnerable.
In addition to skin whitening and possible fur loss, this condition also affects the eyes. Squinting, sensitivity to light, and inflammation of the inner lining of the eye are symptoms associated with this condition. If this syndrome is suspected, the veterinarian will probably suggest aggressive treatment. It’s important to reduce inflammation in the eye and suppress the overactive immune system. Progression of the disease will likely lead to blindness.
#5 A Beautiful Prognosis
Vitiligo in dogs causes a lot of cosmetic changes that are irreversible. The skin/fur patches will stay white. In fact, it might even get worse over time. The good news, however, is that vitiligo in dogs does not affect lifespan or quality of life. Now, it’s easy to attribute subtle changes over the years to vitiligo. Just remember that there are other problems your dog could develop in time, and they’re not all necessarily benign.
Get regular medical checkups for your dog and alert the veterinarian of any changes to the skin or fur. Bleeding, scabbing, itching, and skin inflammation are not symptoms of vitiligo.
Keep in mind that autoimmune disorders in dogs can be caused by an underlying condition. One autoimmune disorder can also trigger another. For example, vitiligo in dogs has also been associated with Addison’s disease. The important thing is to get a clinical diagnosis of vitiligo before assuming that’s what it is. Luckily, the disease will not cause any long-term problems for your dog or his/her quality of life.
I hope you enjoyed this post and were able to get the information you were looking for. Please feel free to contact me via email: [email protected] with any comments, questions, or concerns.
I am not a veterinarian and I always recommend getting a clinical diagnosis for any problems your dog is having.