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uncommon dog conditions
Small dog with vitiligo

📷 Mike McBey from Flickr

The essentials

  • It may be genetic in some dogs — Vitiligo might be passed down from one dog to its offspring and is common in certain breeds like rottweilers.
  • There are two types — Focal vitiligo only affects one area of the dog, while generalized vitiligo will create bleached spots all over.
  • Vitiligo isn’t harmful or painful — It doesn’t hurt your dog, nor does it cause any other health issues. There’s no way for vets to treat it, but your dog won’t be in discomfort or pain.

What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a rare skin condition that, while present at birth, isn’t noticeable until young adulthood (roughly 12-24 months old). It causes a dog’s skin or fur to turn white, either in one specific area or in different spots on the coat.

The technical term for this is “hypopigmentation,” which means your dog’s skin or fur isn’t producing color. Loss of pigment in the skin is most common. In some cases, vitiligo that starts in one area can spread, leading to a major or complete loss of color.

Vitiligo affects melanocytes, cells responsible for producing color in the skin. When a dog has vitiligo, the number of melanocytes in the affected area is drastically reduced. This is what causes the change of coat color: loss of melanocytes in one or more areas.

Genetics may be to blame

Vitiligo is thought to be a hereditary condition or autoimmune disease. If it’s in your dog’s genes, it will likely present at some point in their life. So if you’re searching for your next puppy, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder whether or not the puppy’s relatives or ancestors have had vitiligo.

In several studies, vitiligo was observed in dogs that had diabetes, a history of pancreatitis, and demodicosis. Even though those studies didn’t show a definitive link between vitiligo and any health condition, it’s still important to take your dog to the vet to ensure that they’re healthy and stay in good health.

Besides vitiligo, stress, old age, hypothyroidism, and rare diseases like canine uveodermatologic syndrome can cause a dog’s skin or fur to lose its color. Canine uveodermatologic syndrome is a rare hereditary immune disease that is commonly reported in Akita dogs and in other breeds like Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes.

Two types of vitiligo

Vitiligo will usually begin around the face and nose and spread to other areas, such as the feet, lips, footpads, nails, and neck. There are two types that determine how much it spreads:

  • Focal vitiligo. Only affects one part of your dog’s skin. Most often, this will happen around their nose (nasal planum) or eyes and eyelids.
  • Generalized vitiligo. Affects many different areas, and can appear to be random or symmetrical. Generalized vitiligo will begin around the nose and face before progressing to other parts of the body.

Dog breeds that are prone to vitiligo

  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Old English sheepdogs
  • Belgian Tervurens
  • Dachshunds
  • German shepherds
  • Labradors/labrador retrievers
  • Golden retrievers
  • Irish setters

What does vitiligo look like? How to spot it on your dog

Vitiligo makes your dog’s fur look like it’s been bleached. It creates noticeable white spots, a result of their skin losing all pigmentation. Vitiligo can also affect doggie noses, causing them to turn white as well.

Vitiligo looks different on various dogs. In many pups, it will present itself as a small patch of white fur or skin, typically around the nose or face. Other canines may get spots all over, and they can sometimes look like a symmetrical pattern instead of random spots.

Weimaraner with vitiligo

Vitiligo cuteness

If you notice your dog’s hair is turning white in one or more places, you shouldn’t panic. Although a trip to the vet for proper diagnosis is in order.

Diagnosis and treatment of vitiligo in dogs

Vitiligo is, as you’d expect, detected visually. If you notice very pale or white patches on your dog’s nose, around their eyes, or on their fur, vitiligo is a likely explanation. But if your dog has always had spots like that, pay attention to whether or not they’re growing or spreading; this is a sign of generalized vitiligo that’s progressing.

Should I take my dog to the vet if I think they have vitiligo?

Yes! Even though vitiligo isn’t harmful or even uncomfortable, you still need to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian to make sure the change in their skin and fur isn’t related to a more serious issue.

How is it treated?

There’s no treatment that will bring back the pigment in a dog with vitiligo. There are some treatments available for humans with vitiligo, but these have not proven beneficial in dogs.

👉 Your vet may recommend supplements and vitamins (especially vitamin C and vitamin D) to help bolster your dog’s immune system.

3 tips to manage your dog’s vitiligo

While it’s unlikely vitiligo will ever go away, there are things you can do to boost your dog’s immune system to keep them healthy.

Try omega-3 fatty acids — Fatty acids such as those found in salmon oil are great for your dog’s skin, coat, and kidney health, among other things. Giving your pup salmon oil may help slow down the progression of vitiligo (and even if it doesn’t, it still has many other health benefits for your dog). Our personal favorites? Natural Dog Company’s Salmon Oil and Premium Care’s Omega Chews!

Give your pup lots of sunlight — Sunlight, as many of us know, boosts Vitamin D, an essential vitamin for bones, hair, and teeth in dogs and humans alike. Sunlight may also increase the production of melanocytes and prevent your dog’s vitiligo from spreading. If your dog has vitiligo, try to get them as much sun as possible.

👉 Just remember that depigmentation puts dogs at a greater risk for sunburn, so you should always have doggie sunscreen on hand.

Reduce any stress on your dogSome studies show a dog’s fur turning white can be caused by stress, either from sickness or everyday life. If your dog has vitiligo and is showing signs of stress, see your vet (and maybe a pet behavior specialist) to develop a stress treatment plan. Reducing stress improves your pet’s quality of life drastically, and is worth it for that reason alone.