About those pink patches

When is being called ‘Snowflake’ or ‘Pinky’ not good? When vitiligo is involved, says Kim Dyson.

About those  pink patches
- Advertisement -

Vitiligo is a skin condition where a loss of melanocytes – the cells that colour the skin – causes smooth white or pink patches. It’s hereditary, but not noticeable at birth and is mostly seen in Arabian horses. In young adulthood, animals with vitiligo develop bleached splotches of skin. These can appear as one or two well-defined patches or occur over large portions of the body. Vitiligo occasionally affects the coat and hooves as well.

Most splotches are on the face, especially the bridge of the muzzle or around the eyes. They are also commonly seen around body openings, bony areas, and between the hind legs. Colour loss may wax and wane, and includes the hair as well as the skin. Complete remission may occur but is rare. The condition causes no other health problems and no cure is available. It affects mares, geldings or stallions.

I’m often asked: “But why has my horse got this?” There’s no easy answer. The causes are complex. Studies suggest that some animals inherit a genetic predisposition for the disorder and the onset of the skin marks can be brought on by stress, trauma, severe sunburn or serious illness. Another theory holds that the nerve endings in the skin release a poison which attacks the melanocytes.

- Advertisement -

Yet another suggests that the melanocytes simply self-destruct. Then there are those who believe vitiligo is a malfunction of the auto-immune system, where the body targets its own cells and tissues. As noted, there is no cure. But vitiligo can be managed, and I always suggest applying sunblock to prevent the white areas from becoming sunburnt.

Many people also believe that, if the body is given enough nutrition, it can reverse any disease. Simply put, ‘albinos’ lack tyrosinase. The melanocytes need this copper-dependent enzyme in order to produce melanin (pigment) from tyrosine, an amino acid formed in the liver. Melanins, of course, protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation damage by absorbing and deflecting the sun’s rays. Accordingly, some claim a dosage of copper gluconate, selenium and vitamin E will help manage vitiligo. Ask your vet for advice in this regard.

Needless to say, boosting the immune system can also improve the strength of the body’s largest defence organ, the skin. Try gingko bilobo – the health benefits could spill over to re-pigmentation. Remember too, this skin condition ‘grows’ very slowly, and in a lot of cases will remain stable for many years.

Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line of your email.