Facts About Albinism website.
In this section, my thoughts will be in red.
Information from other sources will be credited to the author.
Albinism is a group of inherited conditions which include a decrease in the amount of pigment either in the eyes alone, or in the eyes, skin and hair. The term albino comes from a Portuguese explorer of Africa who saw both light- and dark-skinned natives and called them "Negroes" (from the word for black) and "Albinos" (from the word for white) - he erred in thinking that they were of different races.
People with albinism have inherited from both their parents a copy of a gene that does not allow the body to make the usual amounts of a pigment called melanin.
Melanin is a dark compound that is called a photoprotective pigment. Melanin absorbs the ultraviolet (UV) light that comes from the sun so that the skin is not damaged. Sun exposure normally produces a tan which is an increase in melanin pigment in the skin. Many people with albinism do not have melanin pigment in their skin and do not tan with exposure to the sun and instead they burn.
Melanin is also in other parts of the body such as the eyes and the brain. Melanin is present in the retina and the area of the retina called the fovea does not develop properly if melanin pigment is not present. The other areas of the retina develop normally. The nerve connections between the retina and the brain are also altered. The iris has melanin pigment and this makes the iris opaque to the light (no light goes through the iris). Iris pigment in albinism is reduced and the iris is translucent to light, but the iris develops normally and functions normally otherwise.
Melanin forms in a cell called the melanocyte. This cell is found in the skin, the hair follicle, the iris and retina. Two types of melanin form: black-brown eumelanin and red-blonde pheomelanin.
The eye needs melanin pigment to develop normal vision. People with albinism have a vision impairment but are not "blind." They don't even have blurry vision, a common misconception among those who do not have or understand albinism.
I had also believed that albinos have blurry vision as no resource I had found while doing my initial research for this website ever explained what they actually see. More recently, this has been answered. The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) has included a description on their website which was written by an adult with albinsim, submitted below in it's entirety:
What Do You See?
An Adult with Albinism's Description of What He Sees
© 2000 Matthew Bailey NOAH Board of Directors
"Imagine a large, clear color photo printed on the front page of the newspaper. Now imagine that someone in the photo is wearing a golf shirt with some lettering or a logo on the shirt pocket. You look at the photo up close, trying to read the lettering printed on the shirt. To your dismay, you can't quite make it out. Overall, the picture is not blurry. Yet when you look at the small details, you just can't make them out. If you were looking at the original photo the paper used, however, you could make out those words.
"So what's the difference between the original photo and the photo as printed in the paper? The difference is the resolution, or the number of dots that make up the picture. In other words, the picture in the newspaper and on film is really a bunch of individual dots that are different colors. The picture printed in the newspaper is made up of fewer dots than the picture on film. Therefore, each dot covers a larger portion of the total picture and the amount of fine detail you can see is less. To see how a picture is made up of dots, just look at the picture on your TV screen from a few inches away. You'll be able to see the individual dots. The picture on the back of the human eye is also made up of dots - millions and millions of them! They're the 'cones' and 'rods' on the retina in the back of the eye. People with albinism have less of the cones than normally sighted people because of the lack of pigment. So, we have fewer 'dots' to make up the picture we see.
"Another trick to see how less resolution does not make a picture blurry is to look at a picture you have scanned into your computer and digitally compressed to send as an e-mail attachment. The digital compression reduces the number of dots in the photo so you can send it over the Internet faster. Compare the digitally compressed picture on your computer screen to the original print. You'll se more subtle details in the original photo print. If you have a digital camera, take a few pictures using your camera's highest resolution (pixel) setting, and then take a few on your camera's lowest setting. Compare the difference. None of the photos you took were blurry (we hope), but you can see more details using the high resolution setting! The difference between how those of us with albinism see and those of you normally sighted folks see is a lot like the difference between the low resolution digital camera photo versus the high resolution picture: Neither is blurry, however, we can't quite make out some of the finer details that you can. Just like that low resolution digital image you e-mail to grandma, however, we generally don't need to see the details we're missing to live a perfectly typical life.
"So why do normally sighted people assume our vision is blurry? Those of us with albinism should keep in mind that for normally sighted people, the only reason they experience reduced vision is because the lens in front of their eye doesn't focus the image clearly to the back of the eye, much like you would correct a blurry slide projector or a blurry image in your binoculars by turning the focus knob and thereby repositioning the lens. People with albinism also have these problems affecting our ability to focus. That's why it can be important for young children and even babies with albinism to wear glasses - the back of the eye and the children's use of their vision can both develop more fully in many children if they have the most focused image possible on the back of the eye."
This article can be viewed at the NOAH website.
Bianca Knowlton, a woman living in the UK with OCA1A albinsim ("classic" ty-neg albinism) mentions that it is important to know that not all people with albinism will benefit from wearing glasses. She herself once wore glasses but it was determined that it wasn't really improving her vision one way or the other, so she no longer wears them. She can get along better without them.
Bianca's website can be viewed by clicking here
People with albinism, whether it involves the eyes alone or involves the skin and the hair, often have several problems:
People with albinism are not "blind," but their vision (also called visual acuity) is not normal, and cannot be corrected completely with glasses. Extreme far-sightedness or near-sightedness, and astigmatism (an eye condition which causes decreased sharpness of vision because the lens does not focus light evenly on the retina so that the image is distorted) are common and correction with glasses can improve acuity in many people with albinism. Corrected visual acuity ranges from 20/20 (can see at 20 feet what should be seen at 20 feet; normal) to 20/400 (see at 20 feet what should be seen at 400 feet; legally blind). Normal or near-normal vision is unusual, however, even when glasses are worn.
Nystagmus (nye-STAG-muss), which is an involuntary movement of the eyes back and forth. Many people with albinsim learn to use a head tilt or turn that decreases the movement and may improve vision.
Strabismus (strah-BIZZ-muss), which means that the eyes do not fixate and track together. Despite this condition, people with albinism do have some depth perception, although it is not as sharp as when both eyes can work together. Strabismus is common in albinism and is related to the altered development of the optic nerves.
As far as I know, nystagmus and strabismus is unheard of in the white Doberman. This is also unusual as they are common in albinism. This is something that should readily be seen, and I would wager a bet that a veterinary opthalmologist could tell. Maybe not in dogs, as albinism itself in this species is quite rare. But it is common among other animals, particularly rodents, rabbits and ferrets.
It is very noticeable in other animals with albinism, particularly nystagmus. Back when I bred rats, I could see this condition in all the ones that had red (ruby) eyes, but back then I didn't know what it was. Nystagmus is categorized with shaking of the head back and forth, which these rats did all the time. I didn't know it was because of their vision problems, I didn't know they had vision problems. This was years ago, before I did any type of research on albinism.
Strabismus is apparently the reason why many Siamese (and other breeds with the same coloration) have crossed eyes. It has actually been scientifically proven that these types of cats do in fact have a form of albinism, commonly referred to as temperature-senstitive albinism. I have included a description of this in my albinsim types section.
Photosensitive (sensitivity to sunlight). The iris allows "stray" light to enter the eye and cause sensitivity. Contrary to a common idea, this sensitivity does not limit people with albinism from going out into the sunlight.
Photosensitivity has been seen in some white Dobes, but not all. ALL albinos are photosensitive, so this is contrary to the stated fact. Which is also the major reason why I do not believe that they are albino. I have some theories on what may be causing some dogs to be photosensitive which I will explain in another section.
Iris color is usually blue/gray or light brown. It is a common notion that people with albinism must have red eyes, but in fact the color of the iris varies from a dull gray to blue to brown (a brown iris is common in ethnic groups with darker pigmentation). Under certain lighting conditions, there is a reddish or violet hue reflected through the iris, which has very little pigment. This reddish reflection comes from the retina, which is the surface lining the inside of th eye. This reddish reflection is similar to that which occurs when a flash photograph is taken of a person looking directly at the camera, and the eyes appear red. With some types of albinism the red color can reflect back through the iris as well as through the pupil.
Note the word similar in the above sentence. It has been said that because the white Dobermans' pupils reflect red in the flash of a camera, then that means there is no pigment in them and that means they are albino. Hmm, well good theory but not a fact. Other dogs with blue eyes do reflect red in the pupils with the flash of a camera. I do not have any photos to show at the moment, but I have seen some on other websites. For example, the page entitled Field Guide to Aussie Eye Defects shows a couple of pictures of dogs with blue eyes. One is a homozygous merle (not albino) and the other is unknown, but the pupils are red. On another page in the same site, this is apparently due to depigmentation caused by the merle gene, but merle is not a form of albinism. I have seen this in pictures of other blue-eyed dogs who are not merle, I just have to relocate them again. My cousin had a blue American Pit Bull Terrier with blue eyes, she thinks they also reflected red in the flash. She is currently looking to see if she has any pictures.
One major abnormality of the eyes in albinism involves lack of development of the fovea (also known as foveal hypoplasia). The fovea is a small but most important area of the retina in the inside of the eye. The retina contains the nerve cells that detect the light entering the eye and transmit the signal for the light to the brain. The fovea is the area of the retina which allows sharp vision, such as reading, and this are of the retina does not develop in albinism. It is not known why the fovea does not develop normally with albinism, but it is related to the lack of melanin pigment in the retinal during development of the eye. The developing eye seems to need melanin for organizing the fovea.
The major abnormality of the eye in albinism involves the development of the nerves that connect the retina to the brain. People with albinism have an unusual pattern for sending nerve signals from the eye to the brain. The nerve connections from the eye to the vision ares of the brain are organized differently from normal. This unusual pattern for nerve signals probably prevents the eyes from working well together, and causes reduced depth perception.
There was supposedly some white Dobes who had given their lives for one type of research. These were dogs deemed too aggressive to be saved. However I question whether or not it was necessary, becuase nothing was said on if any behavior modification was done . Some dogs with aggressive tendancies can go through behavior modification successfully. The research was to see how the optical nerves were connected. If they were abnormal, then that is a dead ringer on them being albino. The results of this testing have not been announced, which leads me to believe that there was nothing unusual about the nerve connections. This would further implicate that the Dobes are not albino, but this is something that they wouldn't want to announce so you can easily see why such results would remain hidden.
Dogs as a whole have poor depth perception so one would have to do some observational research to see if there is a difference between the two. And this would include observing white Dobes without photosensitivity, those with, and those of the other colors. Unfortunately this is research that I cannot do as I don't have access to enough dogs in these categories.