Vitiligo in Dogs and Cats: What You Need to Know
You just noticed that your pet has some spotting on their body, and your veterinarian informed you that it's from vitiligo. But what is vitiligo in dogs and cats? Here are all the basics.
What Is Vitiligo in Dogs & Cats?
Vitiligo is a rare skin condition that some humans may develop, but so can cats and dogs. A human or animal with this condition experiences depigmentation, which occurs when the skin loses its natural pigments. The skin will turn white (or light pink) in patches and hair in those spots can also turn white.
Tri-County Animal Hospital in Wayne, New Jersey reported that vitiligo is a "condition characterized by symmetrical lack of pigment in the skin and white hair coat, especially involving the face and nose."
What Causes Vitiligo?
Is vitiligo something that can be "caught" from another animal with the condition? Simply stated, no. Austin Veterinary Emergency & Specialty (AVES) confirms that vitiligo is not contagious. However, this condition is often hereditary, so if a previous generation experienced depigmentation, your cat or dog is more likely to develop this uncommon skin condition. It's not clear why vitiligo occurs, but it's believed that it happens when something interferes with the body's melanin-producing cells.
Are Some Cats and Dogs More Likely to Get It?
If you're worried that your dog or cat might develop vitiligo, don't be too concerned, especially if you haven't noticed any white skin or hair spots. This skin condition is quite rare, though there are some breeds that are more likely to get it than others.
Tri-County Animal Hospital noted that vitiligo is common in dog breeds such as "Belgian Tervuren, German shepherd dogs, Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, German shorthaired pointer, Old English sheepdog, and dachshunds." Siamese cats may be predisposed as well.
Should You Be Worried About Depigmentation?
If you know your pet's bloodline and there haven't been any other cases of vitiligo in previous generations, you don't need to worry. However, pet parents who don't know their animal's family history of skin conditions might want to point out any of their pet's skin changes to their vet.
Since most cases of vitiligo in dogs and cats occur when they're young, depigmentation at an older age may require a visit to the vet. It may be easy to confuse going gray (a natural sign of aging) with losing skin pigmentation due to a medical condition. Hypothyroidism, stress, and kidney and liver disease may be the culprit behind depigmentation, according to AVES.
Vitiligo in cats and dogs is nothing to fear. Vitiligo in pets is painless and do not act any different as a result. Your pet will still live a happy life with some special spotting. Just make sure to discuss any skin changes with your vet!
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.