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List: Posted: 09/23/11
If you have an outlandish affinity for white animals like I do, then you should know about a few things about their care and physiology.
Q: What Exactly is an Albino?
A: An albino is an organism that is unable to produce the pigment melanin. Melanin decides what color eyes, hair, feathers, skin, scales, or fur we all have. Albinism so far affects every vertebrate mammal species.
There are two main types of albinism:
Oculocutaneous – eyes, skin, and hair.
Ocular – just eyes.
There are also different levels of albinism, and different types within those two classifications.
Not all albino animals have red eyes, but they are still indeed albino. Those with red eyes simply lack the ocular pigment that would normally hide the sight of blood flowing through retinal blood vessels.
Some pets where white is their dominant color, but may have patches of other pigment, could still thought of as albino, or partially so. What this means is those spots on your pets body still have melanin producing apparatuses.
Fun Fact: Sometimes, if you shine a light on the eyes of a light eyed albino pet, or the sun hits their face just so, you can see very easily the 'spooky' red of the blood vessels beneath. I don’t recommend doing this often for reasons you’ll find below.
Q: What Should I Keep in Mind for My Albino Pet?
A: Melanin provides pigment that filters and protects us from UV rays from the sun. So it goes without saying that albino pets are very sensitive to sunlight and require extra protection. Unless your dog or cat has an extremely dense coat, limit continuous time in the sun and never leave them out in the yard or garden all day. Even with that thick coat, stay on the safe side of cautious. Albino animals are very susceptible to skin cancers.
If long exposure is unavoidable, then visit your local drugstore or pet store and grab some sunscreen. Yes, you read right, I’m telling you to put sun screen on Snowball, especially if Snowball likes to sit in full sun until they are panting (dog or cat). Or better yet, again, limit their time in the sun. Preferably use children’s sun-screen or sun screen made for sensitive skin. Animals are not used to having products put on their skin as we are, so you need to minimize the impact of said product.
Also, albino pets with blue or pale green or red eyes will have a greater light sensitivity. So keep that in mind when they are out in the sun or you’re using a laser pointer to entertain both yourself and your cat. Bright lights flashed into their eyes can actually be painful to some, and certainly discomforting.
If you have an albino dog with red, or light color eyes, sunglasses or goggles in some situations are not as ridiculous as they sound. In fact, their supervised use may save your pet some retinal damage.
Q: Can Albinism Cause Any Other Problems?
A: I’m glad you asked, indeed it can. Albinism is linked strongly to deafness in white animals, as is the combination of white fur + blue eyes, or white fur + one blue eye + one green eye.
Dalmatians, who are mostly albino, have higher percentages of deafness, especially if they have one or two blue eyes. The same goes for Paint horses who are dominantly white, with partial or fully blue eyes. Albino animals also show a higher propensity for neurological problems, vision issues, and even immunological disorders.
So, as you can see, your lovely alabaster best friend is not only beautiful, but is also at risk for several (entirely preventable) health problems. So pay attention to their behavior, have them tested, and do what needs to be done to keep them safe.
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