What is Black Skin Disease?
Black skin disease is most prevalent in Pomeranians, Chow Chows, Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Elkhounds, Toy Poodles and Miniature Poodles. Black skin disease can occur in any breed and any age. Males seem to have a higher number of cases reported than females.
Black skin disease is a common phrase for Alopecia X. It is sometimes called wooly coat syndrome. Dogs that are affected with black skin disease will have a normal coat as puppies and will not generally start showing symptoms of the issue until they are over 2 years old; generally, they will be diagnosed with it by 3 years old.
If your dog is affected with black skin disease, they will begin by losing their long guard hairs first, usually there will be a gradual thinning of the hair on the back of their hind legs and under the tail. Hair loss will also occur along their back, on their stomach and around their genitals. Eventually, the skin becomes bald and is prone to frostbite or sunburn and infection. The skin where the hair has fallen out will begin to darken; this is called hyper-pigmented skin. Black skin disease does not cause itching or irritation.
Symptoms of Black Skin Disease in Dogs
Black skin disease is a condition that typically progresses slowly. If you notice a thinning of your dog’s hair or obvious hair loss, you will need to contact your veterinarian for an assessment. Signs of black skin disease include:
- Gradual loss of hair’s color and lushness
- Gradual and symmetrical loss of the guard hairs
- Increasingly cottony undercoat that is dry
- Symmetrical baldness
- Hyper-pigmentation of the skin
- Change in appetite and/or thirst
Causes of Black Skin Disease in Dogs
It is unclear what causes black skin disease to develop; it has been linked to hormonal imbalances, allergies, obesity and genetic factors. Most dogs will begin showing signs after puberty occurs and most cases reported are males.
Dogs that are diagnosed with black skin disease should not be bred. This can be problematic for breeders since male dogs are commonly used for breeding for the first time around a year old. Symptoms of black skin disease do not appear until between the ages of 2 years and 3 years, that male could have already produced a number of puppies before he exhibited any symptoms of black skin disease. Responsible breeders will thoroughly research their breeding dogs’ bloodlines prior to breeding.
Diagnosis of Black Skin Disease in Dogs
There are no actual tests that can be done to diagnose black skin disease. Instead, diagnosis is made through a series of tests that eliminate other possible causes for the symptoms that have presented.
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and order blood tests, a biochemistry panel, urinalysis and fecal examine to rule out thyroid disease, Cushing’s disease and intestinal parasites. A skin scraping may also be performed to determine that there is not a fungal or bacterial skin infection. A biopsy can be helpful in directing your veterinarian to this diagnosis.
Treatment of Black Skin Disease in Dogs
Black skin disease is purely cosmetic, meaning that it does not cause your dog irritation or pain. Your dog will be much more susceptible to the cold and to the sun. They will easily sunburn and could also be more vulnerable to frostbite. Treatments for black skin disease will differ per dog; there is no set protocol that will work for every dog. The overall goal for treatments is to have your dog re-grow their coat and prevent a recurrence of hair loss.
Spaying or neutering your dog should be the first step in their treatment. Since black skin disease is believed to be genetic, you do not want to breed your dog and possibly produce puppies that will develop the condition. Sterilization may also aid in re-growing the coat because the hormonal changes that will take place after the procedure. The coat re-growth is not always permanent.
Another possible treatment will be oral melatonin therapy. Melatonin is a natural supplement that can be given to improve coat re-growth within 6-8 weeks. Melatonin has not been approved by the FDA, but can be found over-the-counter in tablet form. There are side effects to melatonin such as drowsiness and sedation. You should always consult with your veterinarian prior to beginning any treatments.
Hormone therapy such as methyltestosterone can be implemented. Blood work must be performed periodically to monitor the level of the hormone, as methyltestosterone can be damaging to your dog’s liver over time. Hormone therapy can cause increased aggression in your dog, as well.
Other treatments for black skin disease that your veterinarian may choose to implement include prescribing prednisone, cimetidine, ketoconazole, anipryl or leuprolide. These treatments are someitmes used to try and re-start the growth cycle of hair follicles.
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Recovery of Black Skin Disease in Dogs
Black skin disease does not affect your dog’s overall health; it is a cosmetic problem. The condition can be managed by applying sunscreen when they are outside and by protecting them from frostbite. Speak with your veterinarian about the risks associated with the treatment options and about how to protect your dog if you choose to not try the treatments.
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Black Skin Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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