Blue Doberman syndrome, also known as color dilution alopecia, color mutant alopecia, blue dog disease and blue balding syndrome or fawn Irish Setter syndrome (when affecting other dog breeds) is an inherited disorder that occurs in color diluted (gray/blue or red/fawn) dogs. It manifests with alopecia (hair loss) at the dilute-colored areas of the body. Usually the severity of the condition is closely related to the dilution intensity. Luckily, the dog’s general health is not at risk.
What is Blue Doberman Syndrome?
As mentioned, blue Doberman syndrome is an inherited disorder that occurs in color diluted dogs. It manifests with hair loss occurring at the dilute-colored areas of the dog's body. The exact cause is not determined; however, it has been postulated that the condition develops due to gene changes in the D locus. However, since not all dogs with color-diluted coats are affected, it seems there are other contributing factors as well.
It is more than clear that there is a link between color dilution and hair loss. Yet, certain dilute individuals are not affected. For example, the Weimaraner dog breed has a blue diluted coat color, but the condition is not reported in this breed.
Dogs with color dilution alopecia have irregularly shaped and large melanin granules in the basal keratinocytes, hair matrix and shafts. The deposited melanin has cytotoxic effect which causes hair growth cessation and follicular dysplasia. Additionally, the melanin deposits distort the normal hair structure, thus making the hairs fragile and easy to break.
The condition manifests with dull, dry, brittle and poor-quality coat with fractured hairs. At first, the coat has a moth-eaten like appearance and then, as the condition progresses, it develops into total alopecia. The changes make the hair follicles more susceptible to bacterial infections which result in itchiness and comedo formation.
Affected dogs are normal at birth. In most cases, the onset of hair loss begins between 6 months and 3 years of age. However, there are case reports of the condition manifesting in dogs older than 3 years (as late as 6 years of age).
The exact hair loss pattern varies from breed to breed, but usually begins at the middle of the back – along the spine, neck and top of the head. More often than not, the face, tail and limbs are spared. Generally speaking, the lighter the shade of grey/blue the more extensive the lesions. In multi-colored dogs, the lesions are limited to the dilute-colored parts of the coat.
Signs of Blue Doberman Syndrome
Blue Doberman syndrome, as the name implies, is manifested mainly in Blue Doberman Pinschers (approximately 93 percent of all Blue Doberman Pinschers are affected). However, it can also be seen in other dog breeds with blue color dilution, such as:
- Great Danes
- Italian Greyhounds
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Standard Poodles
- Chow Chows
- Miniature Pinschers
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Sheetland Sheepdogs
- Silky Terriers
- Boston Terriers
- German shepherds
- Mixed dogs.
Also, predisposed are breeds with red-fawn color dilution, such as:
- Fawn Dobermans (83 percent of all individuals are affected)
- Fawn Irish Setters
- Red Doberman Pinschers.
It should be mentioned that the condition has no age and no gender predispositions.
What are the signs and symptoms of blue Doberman syndrome in dogs? The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Hair loss – this is the first and most easily noticeable sign. It usually appears during late puppy hood or young adulthood.
- Broken hairs – the hairs are dry, brittle and easily plucked.
- Dry and flaky skin – this indicates there is an underlying problem.
- Recurring bacterial infections – usually in the dog’s back there are tiny bumps (infected and swollen hair follicles).
- Pruritus (severe itching) – not present at first but begins when the secondary bacterial infection sets in.
Generally speaking, the lighter the dog’s coat is, the earlier in life the symptoms begin.
Diagnosis of Blue Doberman Syndrome
The diagnosis of Blue Doberman syndrome is based on: breed predisposition and physical examination. A variety of tests may be conducted including: trichogram (the microscopic examination of plucked hairs) to check for uneven distribution of melanin and presence of melanin clumps, skin scrapings – to rule out parasites, blood work – to rule out endocrine disorders and skin biopsy – to confirm the diagnosis.
Management of Blue Doberman Syndrome
Due to the nature of the condition, it goes without saying that it cannot be treated. Therefore, it is more logical to use the term management instead of treatment. Once the condition starts, its course cannot be altered. Luckily, there are certain tips that may help affected individuals:
- Weekly bathing with benzoyl peroxide shampoo (helps by reducing the comedo formation and degree of sebhorrea) or mild shampoos containing salicylic acid or sulfur (help by reducing the follicular plugging)
- Using antimicrobial and moisturizing shampoos
- Using antiseptics and oil rinses on a regular basis
- Using oral antibiotics (in cases of secondary bacterial infections)
- Feeding high-quality diets
- Implementing supplements like essential fatty acids, melatonin, fish oil, folic acid and vitamin B50
- Using soft coat brushes to avoid additional hair breakage.
When managing a dog suffering from Blue Doberman Syndrome you must not:
- Use harsh grooming products like dry shampoos and abrasive brushes (they tend to accelerate the coat damage thus promoting faster and more intense hair loss)
- Use human hair loss remedies on dogs. Human hair loss remedies are not beneficial for dogs, in fact, they can even be harmful and make the condition worse.
It should be mentioned that dogs with Blue Doberman Syndrome are more susceptible to cold and sunburns. Therefore, based on where you live, you might need to consider either pet-safe sunscreen products or protective threads.
Costs of Treatment for Blue Doberman Syndrome
Since the treatment is symptomatic the exact cost varies. However, in most cases the overall cost of treatment is less than $300 per episode.
The hair loss is permanent because the condition is characterized by poor hair re-growth. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the prognosis for normal hair re-growth is poor.
Fortunately, as long as secondary bacterial infections are absent, the Blue Doberman Syndrome is a purely cosmetic issue and affected individuals can live a relatively normal and healthy life.
Since we are talking about an inherited disorder, the only efficient method of preventing this condition is excluding affected individuals and carriers from breeding programs. In a nutshell, affected individuals, their parents and their siblings should not be bred because they are considered carriers.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.