White animals seem to engender an aesthetic attraction of purity and cleanliness amongst pet owners. Nature does bestow on white animals an alarming beauty. Lovely to look at these animals are, by nature, absent of pigment and may not really be classified as albinos. Deafness affects 80% of white cats. The disadvantages of owning a white pet must be clearly envisaged at the time of purchasing the pup or kitten. The incidence of simultaneous skin cancer and deafness in some unlucky dogs and cats certainly creates a reason for pointing a finger at the people who allowed the defect to occur. In certain dog breeds e.g. Boxers a pure white pup is ethically euthanased and the line of breeding re-evaluated.
When picking out a white kitten as a pet the lovely aloof, sleepy, dopey animal may be profoundly deaf. The deaf cat is always different in character, living in a soundless world of its own, but also different in its attitude towards others, being limited to smelling and seeing for identification and judgment of people, other pets, objects and environment .
Visual training with hand signals or torch light can be effective for puppies and kittens but requires an enormous amount of know-how, perseverance, training and patience.
The real life-threatening dangers include traffic and dogs. Deaf pets cannot respond to intruders, doorbells, vehicles in the driveway, onslaught by an aggressive competitor etc. They often catch a fright, and can retaliate, if suddenly approached or handled while asleep.
Deafness is caused by a genetic disorder associated with the white coat. White cats, Dalmatians and Bull terriers with blue eyes or alternate coloured eyes have a greater likelihood of suffering impaired hearing. The disorder of the white gene causes a deformity of the organs in the ear.
Nothing can be done to reverse or reduce deafness. Deafness can be partial or complete. Your veterinarian will be able to evaluate the presence and level of deafness. Some partially deaf pets can hear very high decibels so whistles can be resorted to, but will not be cognizant of human voices and other lower pitched sounds.
The effects of sunlight on these creatures can not only be irritating to them but frequently induces changes in the skin which may be life-threatening. Dogs and cats living in the drier Highveld regions have a greater tendency towards sunlight dermatitis because of the height above sea-level and relatively closer effects of the ozone layer.
The most common canine victims are found amongst the terrier breeds that may be well pigmented over the entire body but have vulnerable white glabrous skin patches on the belly. These dogs thoroughly enjoy sunbathing on their backs or sides and it is a combination of this desire, the genetic tendency (family line predisposition) and the environmental influences which contribute to some dogs and cats developing skin cancer.
White cats are mostly affected with sunburn on their ears, on the lower rims of the eyelids and the tip of the nose. The condition develops gradually from exposure to the sun whether outdoors or on a ledge behind a window in the house. Initially, the ear tips start to scar and contract, becomes devoid of hair and folds slightly, then, later on, ulcers and crusts appear. There is undoubtedly an irritation at this stage which causes the cat to shake its head, cause bleeding and damage the ear tip wounds further. These sores may become infected and, invariably, alters towards a malignant cancer. The veterinary approach then is symmetrical amputation of the affected parts of the ears, which is life-saving and very successful if caught early.
If the cat’s nose is affected the situation becomes far more serious. The affected tip of the nose becomes raw and extremely tender. Every time the cat attempts to place its nose close to rough objects a sharp sensitivity is felt and may cause bleeding if traumatized. Affected cats become more withdrawn due to the sensitivity of the nose therefore a changed feline behaviour pattern is noticed. Conservative veterinary treatment and avoidance of sunlight may control the problem early on. Surgical removal will cause disfigurement. Radiation can be effective enough to reduce the nasal cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) to a dormant state or an easier surgical removal opportunity.
The life of your companion dog or pet cat depends on owner vigilance and avoidance of extreme lengthy sunlight exposure.
The dog breeds most prone to sunlight skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) are Bull terriers, Jack Russell terriers, Fox terriers, Maltese, Staffordshire Bull terriers and Dalmatians. The nature of these creatures are such that they do not readily accept confinement and unstimulated restriction indoors during the day and may let their owners know in ways that only a canine can do! Dogs do not have a clue that it is for their own benefit. Some dogs kept inside to avoid sunlight exposure may sneak in to a room where the sun is shining through the window and will get into a comfortable position for warmth and soak up the dangerous rays. For this reason, it is imperative that the restricted dog be moved around the house according to the position of the sun at various times of the day. The early morning and late afternoon sun is not risky. Rule of thumb is 9 am to 3 pm is lock away time.
Pet dogs that are totally intolerable indoors can have special jackets made to cover the vulnerable parts of the body. The application of pet sun block agents to the vulnerable skin areas must be done early morning and early afternoon. It must be observed that the dog does not lick off the remedies. The lotions should be allowed to dry before exposing the body to the elements. Your veterinarian will advise on these matters.
In dogs the white areas on the belly first show signs of pinkness and thickening. The discomfort of sunburn provokes licking and the skin may show a variety of lesions before progressing towards cancer. Some sores may be confused with abrasions, acne, abscesses etc. It is wise routine practice to turn the dog on to its back every now and again to inspect the underbelly for potential problems. Most male dogs seem to have the skin lesions on the sides of the foreskin whereas bitches have them in the flank. The squamous cell carcinoma is highly destructive in the skin but rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
Many dogs with the condition are in the prime of their lives and have to be euthanased because of treatment costs, guarded prognosis, aesthetics of the skin cancer, discomfort to the dog and further skin complications.
Registered pedigree breeders and disreputable backyard breeders are regarded as the extremes of the canine breeding ethical scale. However, in both categories white animals are produced. White animals must not be confused with albino animals:
Complete albinism, represented by a white coat, translucent irises, pink pupils and pink skin is very rare. Albinism is a recessive disorder of normal chromosomes where the individual possesses the pigment cells but lacks the enzyme to produce pigment (melanin). Albino animals should never be bred from!
Albino birds have light bills, legs and feet besides pink eyes and white feathers, is severely detrimental for a few reasons:
- Vision and hearing is poor
- Feathers deficient in pigment and lacking compensatory strengthening mechanisms are prone to breakage
- Courtship is dependent on coloured plumage
Most suspected albino birds are actually showing leucism which is the complete loss of a particular pigment, or all pigments, in feathers but not in the soft parts of the body. The pigments affected in birds may be melanins, carotenoids and porphyrins; the genetic variations, the ratios of gene dominance (Snow Goose, Egrets etc.) and gene recessiveness is extremely complicated.
The pink colour is really the translucency of the blood circulation because, under normal circumstances, melanin pigment obscures it. Albinism is an all or nothing situation.
Whatever happens to the breeds and individuals that harbour sun-sensitive characteristics and potential deafness, the future lies with man’s selective breeding.
Nevertheless it is tough being a white animal in the African sun.