Owners know that the bond they share with their dogs is unlike anything other. Still, no matter how close the relationship between dogs and their human parents, nothing compares to the special kind of affection children and dogs share.

So, it’s likely that your heart melted as ours did when you read the story of when eight-year-old Carter Blanchard met Rowdy, the beautiful black Labrador Retriever shared the same rare skin condition. The boy’s mother described the meeting as life changing for Carter and said that Rowdy has helped her son overcome his fears. In case you missed it, you can read more and see the video of Carter and Rowdy as featured in the Huffington Post.

About one percent of the world’s population (50 million people) are living with vitiligo, about two to five million are in the United States. Pigs are especially helpful as animal models because pig skin has been shown to be the most similar to human skin in structure, thickness, and layers. Most recently, researchers discovered that water buffaloes also naturally suffer from the disease when villagers in western India showed them a buffalo herd with blotchy bellies with patterns comparable to those found on human vitiligo sufferers.

Probably the most popular vitiligo sufferer is pop icon Michael Jackson. Throughout his life, people questioned why his skin tone progressively lightened in the 1980s and 1990s; many thought it was because he wanted to “appear white”, even though he had already shared his vitiligo diagnosis publicly and was undergoing various forms of drug and light therapy.

Dermatologists and medical researchers haven’t yet determined if vitiligo is a genetic disorder, and it remains unexplained why and how it happens. While vitiligo itself doesn’t develop into other diseases, people with the condition are likely to suffer further complications that affect their auto-immune systems such as Addison’s disease, type 1 diabetes, or anemia. Other issues can also develop – significant risks of extreme sunburn, hearing loss, and eye problems if the skin in the inner ear or in and around the eyes become affected, possibly even blindness.

Rowdy shows that vitiligo is a disease that also affects animals the same way it does humans. The most common instances we know of are mostly in horses, cats, and dogs – but it’s also been seen on black leopards, panthers, and buffalos. Although it isn’t deadly and animals don’t share the same social stigmas humans do, there are rare cases that can develop complications such as constant itching.

The majority of vitiligo patients rely on the help of drugs, topical creams, and light therapy to cope with their disease. A study conducted by dermatologists at Yale University concluded that an arthritis drug commonly used to treat joint inflammation could potentially be used to treat vitiligo. As with this one, animal research led to the development of medicines, and it undoubtedly will continue to play a significant role in finding a cure. Research is a continuous process and we can thank investigators and animals alike for their contributions to the Carters and Rowdys of the world.

Photo via Instagram @white_eyed_rowdy


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