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Vitiligo: My Gordon Setter is turning white!

Thank you to Dr. Jerold S. Bell DVM for your response to our January 11, 2015 article about Macallan :  Hair Color Changed in a few days time?

Jerold S Bell DVM, Dept. of Clinical Sciences, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Vitiligo is a disorder where your Gordon Setter’s hair suddenly begins to turn white

Vitiligo is a disorder where your Gordon Setter’s hair suddenly begins to turn white. It is an autoimmune disorder where the dog starts producing antibodies to pigmented cells. Leucotrichia (the change in hair color to white) is the primary symptom of vitiligo. Over time, the skin can also lose pigmentation, which can be most evident on the nose leather and around the eyelids.
Vitiligo does not cause any other health or immunity related problems. Vitiligo is purely a cosmetic disorder. Age of onset of the disorder is most often in middle aged to older dogs. The loss of pigment is first evident as small patches of white hair, usually on the head or face. In some affected Gordon Setters, the white hair occurs primarily in the tan areas, while in others, it can occur in both the black and tan areas simultaneously. Over time, the white haired areas spread further over the body. Vitligo should not be confused with the sporadic appearance of white hairs (often seen at sites of prior wounds or injections), or seasonal changes in the color of the nose leather.
Vitiglio should be differentiated from other disorders that can cause white hair and pigment changes in dogs. T-cell lymphoma (mycosis fungoides) is a skin cancer that occurs in Gordon Setters, whose skin lesions can cause loss of pigment and white hair. However, these skin lesions are usually raised, crusty, and also cause thinning or loss of hair. Vitiligo does not cause raised lesions or skin thickening. T-cell lymphoma is diagnosed with a skin biopsy. Uveodermatologic (VKH-like) syndrome is an autoimmune disease manifested by a progressive, severe eye inflammation (uveitis) and depigmenting dermatitis. It is most often seen in the Akita breed, and has not been reported in Gordon Setters. Vitiligo does not cause eye inflammation.
Vitiligo is a rare disorder that has been diagnosed in several breeds. Several breeds with cases of vitiglio have black and tan markings, such as the Rottweiller, Doberman Pinscher, and Gordon Setter. However, vitiligo has also been documented in Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs. Vitiligo is seen in people, where (since we have much less hair) the loss of pigment is more evident on the skin.
In both human and canine vitiligo, it is believed that there is a genetic predisposition for the disorder. However, a mode of inheritance is not known. The disorder is so infrequently seen, that there is yet to be any cases of related dogs that have the condition. With the late age of onset, affected dogs (in several breeds) have produced offspring, and none have been identified as affected. Therefore, it is not justified to remove related dogs from breeding at this time.
This article is meant to alert Gordon Setter owners to the existence of this condition in the breed. If you have a Gordon Setter with a documented case of vitiligo, please donate blood samples from the dog and its close relatives to the CHIC Gordon Setter DNA repository (forms are available on the TarTan website). If future research investigates this disorder, the stored DNA will be invaluable.

(For permission to reprint, contact jerold.bell@tufts.edu)

Additional Links:  GSCA Health Survey 2004 Results