Vitiligo is a rare condition that results in unusual coat patterns in dogs. Affected dogs display white splattering or overall fading of an otherwise dark coat.
Whilst it is classified as a ‘disease’ it is not a life-threatening condition. Animals with vitiligo do not suffer pain or health issues other than an increased susceptibility to sunburn in de-pigmented areas.
Symptoms may first manifest in puppyhood, but generally vitiligo has a later onset, with adult dogs spontaneously exhibiting white-coloured patches.
The causes of vitiligo remain mysterious. It is thought to derive from antibodies mistakenly targeting melanin, which is responsible for skin coloration.
The condition cannot be ‘caught’ as such due to the strong genetic component. It is common for a number of animals in a certain bloodline to display the unique coloration. As such, a number of breeds are more likely to be affected, including German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Belgian Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Old English Sheepdogs and Dachshunds. It can however appear in dogs of all breeds.
Vitiligo appears in other species as well. Approximately 1% of the human population is diagnosed with the condition.
Due to the condition’s mysterious causes, no treatment options exist. However for unknown reasons, skin re-pigmentation may occur as quickly vitiligo markings appeared.
The extent to which the condition manifests varies. Commonly, depigmentation begins in the nose and eye areas. In some cases, the depigmentation stops there. Such dogs are described as having ‘snow noses’. In other cases, the entire body turns white. Sometimes even the retina (inside of the eyeball) will discolour.
Diagnosis can be conducted visually by a vet, however a skin scaping test may also be necessary to ensure the condition is from vitiligo and not a number of other skin infections that can cause similar fading.