My daughter and her boyfriend have just bought an albino Boxer puppy, but I’m worried, as they don’t have much spare money, and I thought albinos needed special care. Are they just storing up trouble for themselves, or are albino dogs just the same as normal ones?

James Farrell advises…

True albino animals are extremely rare – are you sure the Boxer pup is not just white, which is a relatively common colour in this breed? Albinoism is an absence of pigment of any kind – so not just a white coat, but also pale eyes and a pink nose, and a skin colour that is uniformly pink, with no darker spots of pigmentation. A white dog, on the other hand, will have dark eyes, and may have dark nose and paw pads, and grey skin patches under his white coat.

Due to lack of pigmentation in a true albino animal, great care will need to be taken in sunlight, as they burn very easily, and a strong sunblock must be applied to exposed skin areas when outside (although it’s worth remembering that all pale-coated or pale-skinned pets will burn more quickly). The animal’s eyesight will be poor in bright sunlight too, and he may suffer nystagmus (rapid involuntary eye movements). Health issues connected to UVdamaged skin would include an increased risk of burns, tumours and skin cancer. There are also some indications that albino dogs may suffer from depressed immune systems, but not enough research has yet been done on this aspect of the condition.

However, as I said, it is highly unlikely that your daughter’s pup is an albino, and much more likely he is just a white-coated Boxer. Although white is not a colour recognised by the Kennel Club for this breed, it does crop up, and is not actually pure white but, genetically, a coloured dog whose white patches extend over the majority of the body. There are some health issues in the Boxer (of whatever coat colour), including heart problems and degenerative myelopathy (a neurological condition), but good breeders health-screen their dogs and will only breed from clear stock. If your daughter hasn’t already done so, it’s worth her finding out whether her puppy’s breeder screened the parents.

The only additional problem a white Boxer may have is that the gene that makes a pup extreme piebald (that is, mostly white patches, rather than a dark dog with a white chest, for example), is linked to congenital sensorineural deafness. However, only 15-20 per cent of white Boxers are affected, and as the deafness is from birth, the problem should have shown itself by now. You say that your daughter and her boyfriend are concerned about costs, so I would suggest they take out some kind of pet insurance. I would recommend this for any breed (and any crossbreed or mixed breed, too) if coping with an unexpected bill might cause problems.

I don’t think their choice of colour in this instance will mean their dog is especially prone to any more problems, but no one can guarantee a pet’s future health, so having a contingency plan is always wise.

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