Vitiligo in Dogs

Vitiligo is a skin disease that manifests through skin depigmentation. The condition is believed to be genetic and may be immune mediated. The condition is not life threatening, but may be unaesthetic. The extent to which the condition affects the dog is variable, some will experience full depigmentation while others will only have a depigmented nose.

Causes of Vitiligo in Dogs

The causes of vitiligo are not fully understood. The disease is considered genetic. However, there are a few theories according to which the condition can be immune mediated. The immune system may produce certain antibodies that destroy the melanin, which is responsible for the skin coloration.

Some dog breeds are more at risk to develop vitiligo: German Shepherds, Belgian Tervuren, Rottweilers, Old English Sheepdogs or Dachshunds.

There are also a few triggers that may be associated with the occurrence of vitiligo:

  • Stress
  • Neurological factors
  • Certain diseases
  • Exposure to toxins

Symptoms of Vitiligo

Vitiligo will cause depigmented skin patches. The condition may have an early onset, while the dog is still a puppy, but in most dogs, the signs of vitiligo will only be observed at a later time. Most commonly, the first signs will be visible on the nose and other areas of the face or mucous membranes. The discolored skin patches may extend. In some dogs, even the retina (the inside of the eyeball) will be discolored. The hair that covers the depigmented skin patches will also turn white.

Other less common symptoms of vitiligo may include:

  • Skin lesions
  • Increased amount of dander

The dog may experience discoloration on his entire body or only in certain areas. In any case, the symptoms will develop within 3 to 6 months after the first signs of vitiligo. If the dog is only affected in certain areas of the body even after 6 months of the onset of the disease, he will remain in this condition and the patches will not be extended. In some dogs, the condition may only affect the nose (the condition is referred to as snow nose).

Diagnosing Dog Vitiligo

Vitiligo can be diagnosed by performing a series of tests. A skin scraping test is necessary, as many skin infections may cause discoloration and the vet will need to rule out other possible caused of depigmentation.

Treatment Options for a Dog with Vitiligo

There are no known treatments that eliminate this genetic skin disease. However, there are multiple alternative treatments that can manage and reduce the extent to which the dog is affected by vitiligo. Some vets will recommend exposure to sun, as the UV rays may have a beneficial effect on the skin pigments. The melanocytes may be stimulated to form. Homeopathic treatments may also be used and dilutions can be created according to the dog’s symptoms and health condition. If the condition is associated with underlying conditions or stress, you will have to deal with the condition and allow the dog to recover.