Vitiligo in cats: Black and white cat looking out the window

Vitiligo in pets is usually hereditary. 

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Vitiligo in cats: What is it and what does it mean for your feline friend?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

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Did you know vitiligo doesn't only exist in humans, but also in dogs and cats? Here we take a look at the causes and treatments of vitiligo.

Reports of vitiligo in cats were first published in 1986, but the condition may actually have been recognised earlier than this. 

It's fairly rare in cats, but individuals can be predisposed to vitiligo and it's important to know what to look out for. 

What is vitiligo? 

Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the loss of natural pigmentation (known as depigmentation). 

It occurs when melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, are destroyed. With damaged melanocytes, the skin isn't able to retain pigment, turning the skin and fur white. 

Causes of vitiligo in cats 

Vitiligo is usually hereditary, with certain breeds believed to be more susceptible than others. 

In dogs, the condition is more commonly seen in breeds like the German Shepherd, the Old English Sheepdog and the Rottweiler

In cats, a form of vitiligo has been identified in southeast Asian breeds, such as the Burmese

Siamese cats reportedly have a higher propensity for vitiligo, however a cat of any breed can be affected. 

In some cases it can be caused by an autoimmune disease, that leads to the immune system attacking and destroying melanocytes. 

Neurological disease, stress and exposure to toxins have also been known to result in symptoms of vitiligo in cats. 

At what age does vitiligo start in cats?

Typically, the skin condition will begin in early adulthood, resulting in the progressive destruction of melanocytes. 

Vitiligo may be more noticeable in black cats, but in reality it can affect any type of coat colour. 

Symptoms of vitiligo in cats

The condition may first present with patches of white skin or white spots of fur, which extend progressively over time. 

There are two types of vitiligo in cats: 

Focal vitiligo, which only affects one area of the body. This can often be seen around the nose. 

Generalised vitiligo, which involves many patches across the body. This is sometimes referred to as the snowflake effect in cats, as the presence of vitiligo can very gradually turn little areas of the body white. 

Diagnosis of vitiligo in cats 

If you notice your cat seems to suddenly be turning white, you should book an appointment with your veterinarian. 

They may take a skin biopsy to check whether or not melanocytes are missing. They may also carry out a blood test, to ensure no underlying medical conditions are causing the condition

How rare is vitiligo in cats?

Vitiligo is very rare in cats, but it's always important to seek veterinary attention if you notice changes in your pet's behaviour or appearance. There could be an underlying health concern that requires treatment. 

Is vitiligo harmful in cats? 

While vitiligo may change the look of your cat's coat, the skin condition itself isn't harmful or painful for your feline friend. 

Vitiligo is a condition your cat can live with long-term, and it isn't contagious to other pets or people in the home.  

Treatment and management of vitiligo in cats

There is currently no form of treatment for vitiligo in cats, but where an underlying medical condition has been observed, this will be treated by your vet. 

There has been some suggestion that supplementing your cat's diet with fatty acids, omega-3 and vitamin C may help manage vitiligo in cats, but to date there is very little research to support this from a scientific perspective. 

While the colour loss of your cat's fur may wax and wane over time, this is a cosmetic issue. Your cat's quality of life and overall happiness will not be affected, and they can live a perfectly normal life without any discomfort. 

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