Ponies Without Pigment? Horses Get Vitiligo, Too

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that destroys skin melanocytes, causing depigmentation in humans, dogs, cats and horses, a well as in other species. Though unsightly, the condition is mainly cosmetic, though it may affect the value of competition animals. It mainly occurs near the head and face.

First described in horses more than 3,500 years ago, vitiligo was first noted in horses in literature in 1931, and again in 1960. There is no information that offers a global or regional percentage of horses affected by vitiligo, but Cornell University noted that vitiligo accounted for 0.7 percent of equine dermatologic issues seen at the veterinary teaching hospital. Because it is mainly cosmetic, many owners may not seek veterinary care.

Drs. Olivry, Keith Linder and Heng Tham used five vitiligo reports as a baseline for their study of the disease. Of the 32 horses affected, 12 were Gelderlands, nine were Spanish Thoroughbreds, four were Arabians, four were Belgians, one was an Oldenburg, one was a Mecklenburg and one was a Quarter Horse. In a study using 28 horses, it was determined that mares were more affected by vitiligo than males at a ratio of two-to-one.

There is no definitive cure for vitiligo, treatment for the condition can include the use of vitamins A, D, B12 and E; one study used chelated copper with good results, though it was not determined if this was because of a copper deficiency.  In show animals, highly potent glucocorticoids can be applied topically, but this is only practical for areas with little or no hair. This treatment may prevent the progression of the disease, but it does not guarantee repigmentation

The researchers said that because vitiligo is only cosmetic, interventions with possible adverse effects should be avoided. They recommended additional research to better understand if the same genes that cause vitiligo in humans are linked to vitiligo in horses.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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