Vitiligo is a very rare skin condition in dogs. It makes the hair and skin turn completely white. Humans, cats, and other animals can also have Vitiligo. It’s more of a cosmetic problem because it’s completely painless and won’t bother your Rottweiler.
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The skin loses the natural pigment and the dogs affected by the condition can look odd as a result.
How can you spot Rottweiler Vitiligo?
It’s easy to notice Rottweiler Vitiligo because the breed is almost completely covered in black hair so if there are white patches they will be visible. Let’s take a closer look at this rare skin condition in dogs.
Vitiligo is described as an acquired and chronic condition. The first cases in dogs were reported in the early ’70s.
The estimated prevalence of Vitiligo in humans is approximately 0.5-2%. The incidence in dogs and especially Rottweilers is unknown. It’s hard to evaluate because it’s only a cosmetic problem and some owners aren’t motivated enough to seek veterinary care.
Some breeds have a higher genetic risk to develop the condition. The most predisposed breeds to Vitiligo are Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Collies. According to one review that noted Vitiligo cases in 74 dogs 20% of them were Rottweilers.
Other breeds with a higher risk than the average include:
- Siberian Huskies
- Golden Retrievers
- Belgian Tervuren
- German Shepherds
- Old English Sheepdogs
- German Shorthaired Pointer
Causes of Vitiligo in Dogs
The pigment that gives the skin a natural color is called melanin. Melanin is produced by special cells in the skin called melanocytes. When these cells die off or are destroyed the condition occurs.
Melanocytes are not only a part of the skin but can be found in the eye, the oral mucosa, the cochlea (a bone in the inner ear), and meninges (membranes of the brain) too.
One cause for the destruction of melanocytes in Rottweiler’s skin is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system produces cells that attack the body itself instead of substances that can cause harm (bacteria, viruses, parasites).
In the case of Vitiligo, the autoimmune response is towards the melanocytes. Some other potential causes can be neurologic disorders, toxin exposure, or stress. Stress can be a result of an underlying health problem the dog might have.
Is Vitiligo in dogs contagious?
Vitiligo isn’t contagious and other dogs, animals, and people can’t get the disease from a dog that already has it.
Forms of Vitiligo in Dogs
There are two main forms or types of Vitiligo in dogs – Generalized and Focal Vitiligo.
Generalized is when there are more white patches on the whole body. The patches can be in random areas or with symmetric patterns. The generalized form can extend to the point of producing a snowflake kind of fur.
Focal Vitiligo is a condition when only one area is affected. In Rottweilers and other dogs, it’s usually the nose or the skin around the eyes. This is usually called a snow nose syndrome.
Symptoms of Vitiligo in Dogs
The first signs of Vitiligo appear while the dogs are still young. As the destruction of melanocytes progresses and more of them die off the skin in affected areas discolors to pink and white; soon after the hair turns white as well.
In most cases, the primarily affected area is the face, especially the nose. The lips and the skin around the eyes can also be the first areas of discoloration.
Spreading beyond just the face the condition moves to the footpads and other body parts as well. In the generalized condition of dog Vitiligo, the full extent of symptoms can be expected in 3-6 months after the first sign.
When an area turns white it will probably stay that way. However, sometimes it can regain the pigment or even wax and wane. It’s very rare for dander, skin lesions, and inflammations to develop on the affected parts.
It’s more easily seen in animals with dark fur. In completely white dogs (ex Samoyeds) it can go undetected.
Diagnosis of Vitiligo in Dogs
Even though your dog can’t die or be medically compromised by Vitiligo it’s advisable to take him to the vet for further examination when he suddenly starts to turn white. There can be other causes of depigmentation that need to be ruled out.
During the check-up, you need to provide information to the vet about the onset of the symptoms, other possible signs, and the exact areas where depigmentation started. Also, think about any possible thing that can be a reason for increasing the pup’s stress.
The diagnosing process doesn’t end up with observation only. A few diagnostic tests are also needed to access the complete health status of the dog. Bloodwork and biochemistry are always advisable.
The vet will take skin scrapings from the areas affected by the condition and observe them under a microscope. To take a closer look he/she might also take a skin biopsy sample and determine the reduction of melanocytes.
Treatment of Vitiligo in Dogs
There is no available treatment for Vitiligo in dogs. Re-pigmenting of the dog’s skin and fur can’t be achieved with any type of medication. But since it’s not a condition that puts the dog in an uncomfortable place it’s nothing to worry about.
You can discuss a few management options with your vet. Some vets recommend exposing your dog to sunlight because this way you stimulate the production of melanocytes.
If the condition developed as a result of some concurrent disease the vet will prescribe medications that can help with the primary issues.
Even when you don’t know if stress is causing it, you can try making the home environment less stressful just in case. Both you and your pup will benefit from a stress-free environment.
Some people are bothered by depigmented skin and ask vets to tattoo the affected areas, but we do not recommend this and encourage you to accept the color of your Rottie as it is!
There is little research about the effect of vitamin c and omega-3 fatty acids on Vitiligo, but you can try giving them to your dog anyway. Talk to your veterinarian about the best choice of supplements and appropriate dosing.
Can a Rottweiler Die From Vitiligo ?
Your Rottie can’t die from Vitiligo. The depigmentation can’t harm your dog in any way so you don’t need to think of it as a big problem.
How to Prevent Vitiligo?
If a dog genetically inherits Vitiligo from his parents there’s nothing one can do to prevent the disease from occurring. Preventing inheritance on the other hand can be prevented. Dogs with Vitiligo shouldn’t be bred and they won’t pass the disease to the offspring.
Other Forms of Pigmentation Conditions in Dogs
Vitiligo isn’t the only problem with pigmentation a dog might experience. There a few other diseases that might resemble the symptoms but have a completely different cause.
Depigmentation in Older Dogs
Dog’s coat goes gray as the animal gets older – especially the areas on the face. This type of gray is also a result of the decreased number of melanocyte cells in the skin. It happens in all dogs but the most affected are Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors.
Season Skin Color Change
The nasal planum (the hairless tough part of the nose) in some dogs changes the color to lighter variants. Dog breeds like Siberian Huskies or Retrievers can have darker noses in summer and lighter in winter.
These breeds along with Dobermans, Samoyeds, German Shepherds, and Afghan Hounds have the color of their noses gradually fade over time.
Skin color change due to external influences
When a dog suffers from some form of skin inflammation and irritation his skin color can change even after the lesion heals. Certain drugs like procainamide, ketoconazole, and vitamin E can cause generalized symptoms of coat color alterations.
Injecting medications like prednisolone and dexamethasone cause loss of pigment at the site of injection.
Change of Coat due to diseases
Hormonal diseases like hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism can contribute to change in coat color. Usually, this sign is bilateral and non-itching and appears in older dogs.
Discoid lupus erythematosus is a common immune-mediated dog disease. It can look like Vitiligo because the nasal planum goes through depigmentation. Other symptoms are erosions, skin ulcers, crusting, swelling, etc.
Opposite to Vitiligo, some dogs can also suffer from hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is only a sign and not a specific disease. Usually occurs due to some changes on the skin that make melanin accumulate in larger quantities.
The most probable cause is trauma to the skin. For the skin to heal it needs to start the skin repair cycle. During this process, the melanin layer can be bigger in an attempt to increase the protective effect.
It’s very rare for a case of hyperpigmentation to mean anything serious. When there are darker patches it usually means that the disease has already been taken care of.
It’s highly unlikely for Rottweiler Vitiligo if the dog’s parents don’t have any symptoms. Even though Rottweilers are prone to it to some point, it’s still a very rare condition in general.
The hereditary character of Vitiligo means you need to be picky about your puppy and the breeder. There are no genetic tests that can tell you if the puppy is predisposed.
When it happens it may take a bit of time to adjust to your Rottie’s new look. The new look shouldn’t bother you at all. You need to give the same love and affection to your dog because he will do the same if the roles switched.
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