Is your dog’s coat or skin losing color in patches? If so, they might have a condition called vitiligo. Fortunately, it’s similar to human vitiligo and is usually nothing to worry about.
We’ve done the research to help you and other dog owners understand vitiligo, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know in this article.
- There are two types of vitiligo — 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.
- It may be genetic in some dogs — Vitiligo might be passed down from one dog to its offspring and is common in certain breeds.
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a rare skin condition that, while present at birth, isn’t noticeable until young adulthood (roughly 1-2 years 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 — which is only used for non-human animals — is hypopigmentation. This means your dog’s skin or fur isn’t producing color or is losing its color. In some cases, vitiligo that starts in one area can spread and lead 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’ll likely present itself at some point in their life. If you get your new puppy from a breed and you’re concerned about them developing vitiligo, you can ask the breeder if they did a genetic panel on the parents or if any dogs in the lineage had it. If you got your pup from elsewhere, you’ll simply have to wait and see.
The 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
Vitiligo is more prevalent in purebred dogs because of the genetic element. Some breeds are more prone to vitiligo than others, including:
What does vitiligo look like?
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.
It can also look different on various dogs. In many pups, it’ll present itself as a small patch of white fur or skin, typically around the nose or eyes. Other canines may get spots all over, sometimes looking like a symmetrical pattern instead of random spots.
Diagnosis and treatment of vitiligo in dogs
If you notice your dog’s hair is turning white in one or more places, don’t panic — although a trip to the vet for a proper diagnosis is in order. Vitiligo is, as you’d expect, detected visually. Your vet will check the white patches around your dog’s nose, eyes, or on their fur and confirm that they’re caused by vitiligo.
During the appointment, the vet will also assess your dog to ensure they have no underlying medical conditions. They’ll likely take a skin biopsy and blood sample for confirmation.
How is vitiligo treated?
There’s no effective treatment that’ll bring back the pigment in a dog with vitiligo. There are some treatments available for humans with vitiligo, but these haven’t proven beneficial in dogs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is vitiligo in dogs contagious?
No, canine vitiligo isn’t contagious — your dog won’t be able to spread it to other pets or animals. However, it can be genetically passed down. You also won’t have to worry about catching vitiligo from your fur baby. You can still treat them the same way, including cuddling and petting them as you normally would.
Does vitiligo reduce your dog’s lifespan?
Vitiligo is a cosmetic disease and won’t cause your dog any pain. Dogs with vitiligo can still live long and happy lives. Their patchy fur and skin color are a unique but harmless trademark. If the condition is caused by an underlying health condition (e.g. diabetes), that issue might impact the dog’s lifespan.
Can vitiligo in dogs cause blindness?
In most instances, no. However, vitiligo can be a symptom of a rare autoimmune condition in animals called uveodermatologic syndrome (UDS). UDS can lead to discolored skin and eyes. For dogs, some of the other symptoms can be serious and may even lead to blindness (i.e. glaucoma, sensitivity to light, vision loss, or retinal detachment).
Can a dog’s diet cause vitiligo?
Your dog’s diet doesn’t usually play a role in the development of vitiligo. That being said, a balanced diet is important for the overall health of your dog.
How common is vitiligo in dogs?
Vets know that vitiligo in dogs is rare, but there aren’t any specific numbers yet to tell us just how many dogs are affected by it.