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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
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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.

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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.  

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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.

Black skin disease can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog has black skin disease or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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Black Skin Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Golden Retriever

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Hot Spots After Grooming

After dog grooming dog didn't smell clean and was itching her back leg making a raised sore bleed. I took her back to the vet for a rewash and she smells better. I treated her at home with a cooling gel for hot spots which helps her to not bite the skin. She still has one raised sore after 3 weeks. Have not been into the doctor yet.

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. That spot looks like it might be infected, and may need medications. If the problem is still happening, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment.

Oct. 12, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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5 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Black Face

Why is my white dogs face turning black on the sides

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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5 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. There can be pigment changes as dogs age, but skin can also darken as a response to chronic inflammation. There may be a bacterial or fungal infection going on or a parasite that is causing this. If this is something that is continuing to happen, it would probably be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian, as they can look at the skin, do some simple tests, and see what might be going on. They will be able to get treatment as necessary or let you know that this is normal if it is not a problem. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

Aug. 3, 2020

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