Vitiligo is a condition that can affect both humans and dogs. It changes the pigmentation of a dog’s skin or fur and can be very worrying if a pet owner doesn’t understand what it is. Thankfully, despite the visible changes it causes, Vitiligo is not a life-threatening disease.
What is Vitiligo in dogs?
Vitiligo is a rare skin and fur condition that affects melanocytes. As in humans, melanocytes are cells in the skin that are responsible for the colouring. When they are damaged, the skin or fur loses its pigment. Vitiligo is not the same as fur, which naturally turns grey, and was first detected in dogs in 1971. It’s an even rarer disease in cats.
Signs of Vitiligo in Dogs
- Lightening or lightening patches of fur, especially on the face or nose
- Lack of pigment in the skin
The obvious lightening or lightening of the skin, mucous membrane, and fur are evident to most dog owners, especially if those areas used to be darkly coloured. These classic signs of Vitiligo can appear anywhere in a dog and can also be symmetrical.
The gums and lips are the most common sites for the first signs of Vitiligo. It can then spread to the snout, nasal planum, mouth and the hard roof of the mouth and mucous membrane, eyelids, eyelashes and ears. Vitiligo can also appear on the feet, nails, legs, neck and other parts of the body.
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Causes of Vitiligo in Dogs
Nobody really understands exactly what damages melanocytes and leads to vitiligo. It is believed to be a hereditary condition that develops in dogs with a family history of the condition or because of its mysterious nature as an autoimmune disease.
Diagnosing Vitiligo in Dogs
To diagnose a dog with Vitiligo, a veterinarian will do a full physical exam and review your dog’s medical history. Visualizing the depigmentation may be the only thing that will help a veterinarian with their diagnosis, but skin biopsies may be recommended to confirm this or rule out other more serious conditions. Since vitiligo is not painful and does not cause problems for a dog, it is not a relevant diagnosis.
Treatment of Vitiligo in Dogs
While there is no official, effective treatment protocol for a dog with Vitiligo, some pet owners will try treatments that are sometimes used on people with the same skin condition. Topical immunosuppressive medications and UV phototherapy are two options that can be discussed with your veterinarian, but the results are usually not impressive. Since vitiligo is not a painful condition and does not interfere with a dog’s daily life, most pet owners choose not to undergo treatments, especially since they are not very effective. Some Amy dogs even spontaneously regain pigmentation in areas affected by Vitiligo without treatment.
Dogs with Vitiligo continue to lead happy lives and are not negatively affected by the pigment changes. Dogs don’t care what they look like, so the changes often bother the owner more than the pet.
How To Prevent Vitiligo In Dogs
Dogs with vitiligo should not be bred to reduce the chances of it being passed on to offspring if it is hereditary. Otherwise, there is no real way to prevent the condition from occurring as no one knows the exact cause of the condition.
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Other reasons for pigment changes in dogs
Aside from naturally turning gray as it ages, other issues besides vitiligo can cause a dog to lose pigmentation in its coat, skin, or mucous membrane. In addition to vitiligo, hypothyroidism, kidney and liver disease, and stress are known to cause pigment changes in dogs.
Risk factors for developing vitiligo
While any dog, including mixed breeds, can develop vitiligo, certain breeds of dogs are at higher risk of developing vitiligo. These breeds include:
- Belgian Tervurens
- German shepherds
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Old English Shepherds
- Miniature dachshund
- Giant schnauzer
- Beauceron Shepherds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
Is Vitiligo Contagious?
No, Vitiligo is not contagious to humans or other animals. It is not a contagious or zoonotic disease.