Vitiligo In Dogs: What Is It, and What Are the Symptoms?

October 11, 2019
It's not super common, but did you know that vitiligo in dogs leads to light spots on their skin and fur?

This skin pigmentation disorder impacts a very small percentage of the population. We’re talking about both dogs and humans. In dogs, vitiligo takes the form of light patches on certain parts of its body. We’re going to tell you more about it further down.

What you need to know about vitiligo in dogs

One of the least well-known skin problems out there is vitiligo. The basic cause is an imbalance in melanin production. The primary symptom of it is the appearance of light or white patches on various parts of the body.

In dogs, vitiligo shows up in the form of hyper-pigmented areas, alternating with ones with normal coloring. The places it most frequently happens are around the nose, nostrils, and lips. Outside of that, though, vitiligo is asymptomatic, so your dog won’t even realize it has this condition.

It’s important not to confuse vitiligo in dogs with nasal depigmentation or “snow nose.” That second condition is where your dog goes through de- and re-pigmentation depending on the time of year and the intensity of the sun. In some cases, it can even happen simply from a lack of vitamin B.

We don’t know much about the origins of this condition. What we can say with certainty is that it starts out when the immune system is weak. That means that your dog’s anti-bodies will start to attack the melanin as if it were a harmful organism like a virus or a bacteria.

A dog sitting in a room with plants.

The breeds most likely to get vitiligo are the Siberian husky, the Alaskan malamute, the Golden retriever, the Labrador retriever, the Dachshund, the Irish setter, the Pointer, the Afghan hound, the Poodle, the German shepherd, and the Belgian shepherd.

We still don’t have any specific treatments to prevent or treat vitiligo in dogs. But, because it’s an aesthetic thing, and doesn’t affect a dog’s health, it’s not a major cause for concern.

How to identify vitiligo in dogs

Even though vitiligo is harmless for dogs, and doesn’t have any impact on their health, it’s still good to be able to determine if your dog has this condition. Here are some tips on identifying it:

1. Changes in nose color

This is the main place to be looking for depigmentation, though not the only place. You’ll notice that where the area was once black or brown, some white or pinkish patches have started to show up. Talk to your vet if these are more than just seasonal changes.

2. White patches

These can appear on any part of a dogs’ body. It can happen to both its skin and fur, almost like big “lumps” of white hair. These patches are most common on a dog’s face and near its eyes.

A dog's fur with white and brown patches.

3. It can happen to puppies too

In case you’re thinking that this is probably something that only happens to older dogs, it’s actually something that can also happen to a dog in its first few months of life, too. You also need to know that vitiligo never goes away completely. It expands more and more, with the white patches potentially getting bigger over time.

But because it’s a harmless and mostly aesthetic condition, many owners won’t bother taking their dog to the vet. However, we’d recommend that you take it in for a check-up to make sure there’s not an underlying illness at work.

Changes in a dog’s skin color could be the sign of a more serious condition. So, you can see why it’s important to rule that kind of thing out. Your vet will do a test that basically involves scraping a bit of your dog’s skin and taking some fur samples to test them and see what’s going on.

Uveodermatologic syndrome

You really need to make sure your dog doesn’t have uveodermatologic syndrome. This condition makes its immune system attack pigmentation cells. It’s much more than an aesthetic problem about your dog’s fur or skin, though. It can actually impact its eyes and cause blindness in severe cases.

Vitiligo doesn’t pose any kind of health risks in dogs, so don’t worry if your vet diagnoses your furry friend with this condition. There’s no complete treatment for it, but they’ll probably suggest you add more vitamins to your dog’s diet (especially E vitamins). That will boost its immune system and keep the patches from spreading to its entire body.

Da Cruz, T.P.P.S; LIMA, S.R; LAZARI, P; CAMPOS, W.N.S; SOUSA, V. R. . (2016). VITILIGO GENERALIZADO EM CANINO – RELATO DE DOIS CASOS. Enciclopédia Biosfera. https://doi.org/10.18677/Enciclopedia