A rare skin disease called vitiligo is turning his black coat white around his eyes, mouth, body and bottom.
“He’s just getting whiter and whiter,” says owner and Grey Lynn veterinary nurse Vanessa Townsend-Paley. “Even his nails that were once black are turning white.” The six-year-old is believed to be the first rottweiler with vitiligo in Australasia.
The disease, which also affects humans – most famously singer Michael Jackson – and other animals, attacks the cells that produce skin pigment melanin. When melanin production stops, skin loses its pigmentation and turns white. But doctors don’t know what causes it and have no cure.
“Rommel’s the only one in the whole litter of 13 that’s changed colour,” says Ms Townsend-Paley, 32.
Vitiligo is genetic but some believe it can be triggered by stress or trauma.
Rommel broke his leg six months before the vitiligo surfaced. Ms Townsend-Paley believes the trauma only sped up what was going to happen anyway. She noticed something was wrong when Rommel started losing the pigment around his mouth.
The North Shore resident works at Grey Lynn Vetcare. She asked veterinarian Alex Melrose to treat the problem but it didn’t go away. “Then Rommel started to develop white spots on his back, one then more,” Ms Townsend-Paley says.
“That’s when we started questioning what was going on.” She combed the internet for more information and after Rommel developed about 30 spots overnight, a biopsy revealed vitiligo. “Everyone was just blown away,” she says. “Then it was like well, what do we do from here?”
Dr Melrose suggested she try copper supplements and high doses of vitamins to help restore pigment and regulate the immune system. “But that hasn’t stopped it or slowed it down,” Ms Townsend-Paley says.
“You just don’t ever see a case like this. I’ve tried everything. Most people say it’s untreatable. “Rommel’s in perfect health otherwise but now he’s not taking anything. We’re just letting it take its course because nothing’s worked.
“It’s just a case of wait and see.”