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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.

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Symptoms of Black Skin Disease in Dogs

Black skin disease is a condition that 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. Symptoms 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 symptoms 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.

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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. Methyltestosterone can be toxic to your dog’s liver. Hormone therapy can cause increased aggression in your dog. 

Other treatments for black skin disease that your veterinarian may choose to implement include prescribing prednisone, cimetidine, ketoconazole, anipryl or leuprolide. These treatments are used to 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 just unsightly to see your dog with hair loss and hyper-pigmentation. 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

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Pit Bull

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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2 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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0 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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pit/beagle

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Black Skin

My dogs skin has progressively gotten black over the last few weeks. I will get her to the vet but they are closed now. She has been on apoquel for a while for allergies

July 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Skin will become dark over time with chronic itching or irritation, and that is probably a sign that her allergies are not quite controlled. That does not seem to be an emergency, and it would be best to have her seen by your veterinarian as soon as they open. As long as she is comfortable otherwise and seems to be doing well, that should be fine. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 25, 2020

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Skin Crust, Black Skin, Discolored Skin, Hair Loss, Itchiness,

Hi! My cavalier King Charles has been suffering from some type of skin ailment. She has these little crusty things all over her skin. They are very easy to pull off, and when you pull them off they come off along with her fur. Underneath her fur I can see that her skin is discolored- it’s like dark gray in many places. I have been bathing her with chlorhexidine shampoo as per the vet’s suggestions. Whenever I bathe her, she looses a lot of the crusty patches but her fur falls out with them. My vet really hasn’t told me what is causing this. Sincerely, Worried about My Dog in Tennessee

July 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, So sorry to hear about your dog. This does sound like your dog has a skin infection. Many times these crust places fall off as the skin under them heals and new skin and hair will grow back. Many times these do need antibiotics to clear up. Your vet can prescribe this medication for your dog. The chlorhexidine baths are a great thing to continue to do to help with your dog's skin. I hope your dog's skin starts to get better soon.

July 22, 2020

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Rev A Roo

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Hair Loss
Hair Loss, Black No Itching
Hair Loss, Black Skin.

Hello. My neutered Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has BSD. He just turned two in July. Will all of his hair eventually fall out? First there was no hair on his front leg then almost overnight he has black patches on his skin. He is also losing hair on his abdomen on the same side

Aug. 11, 2018

Rev A Roo's Owner


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3320 Recommendations

It all depends on the underlying cause (infection, irritation, idiopathic); you should visit your Veterinarian to determine whether there is a cause which may be managed or treated but it is possible in some cases for hair to be lost. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 12, 2018

My 10-year-old German Shepard mix rescue has BSD. It has worsened every year, always starting on the back of her rear legs. We have visited the vet SEVERAL times over the years to no avail. Skin scrappings, steroids, antibiotics, changed foods, absolutely nothing helped. Now, she has very rough blackened skin, practically no hair, weight loss and she feels terrible. I don’t want to put her to sleep......PLEASE HELP!!

Sept. 7, 2018

Barry W.

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Harvey

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Jack-a-bee

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

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I have a 2yr rescue jack Russell xbeagle high energy dog .Weve had him 2 months and was in poor condition you could see all ribs and pelvis .His condition is now good and starting to molt and I’ve noticed looking back on previous pictures his stomach and legs are patchy black and hair in now sparse. Eating well healthy and very energetic.No irritation at all no scratching lumps or bumps wormed ticked and flea treatment every mth

Aug. 4, 2018

Harvey's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Changes to the skin pigmentation may be considered normal in some cases or may be due to an underlying disease process, a visit to your Veterinarian is required to examine Harvey to determine whether this is something to be concerned about or not. Infections, repetitive scratching, hormonal conditions among other causes may lead to changes in skin colour and thinning of the hair. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 5, 2018

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Alayna

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Cocker-Pei

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Itching
Odor
Hair Loss
Itching
Black Skin

We have a 4.5 yr old Cocker-Pei who developed a small black patch on her belly near her navel. She was constantly licking her under belly and scratching her neck. When giving her a bath I noticed a bald black rough patch under her neck that was hidden by her collar wit. I also notice she had similar patches in her front "underarms". The spots do have a faint odor to them. She had been scratching quite often. I have tried various anti-itch products, had scratching has lessened but not fully gone away. Her underbelly from ribcage to rear is completely bare, but pink in color. She does get dark brown, almost black gunk in her ears that I need to clean out quite often. She has a beautiful coat and am concerned the black-bare spots will spread. Any recommendations or ideas of what might be causing her symptoms?

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Pepito

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Chihuahua/JackRussell

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Hair Loss, Brown/Black Skin, Spots,
Hair Loss, Brown/Black Skin, Spots

We have a 6 year old male Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix that was rescued from L.A. and has been with us in Quebec since September. His skin had some darkening on the forehead and on top of his paws when we got him. The darkening and hair loss was gradual (top of head, stomach, chest, throat). He was put on hypoallergenic food with hydrolyzed protein. No improvement. The hair loss got worse. He was then prescribed prednisolone and the hair started to grow again. He got his little moustache and eyelashes back. His skin was a nice pink color. Unfortunately, he couldn't stay on the steroids for an extended period. As soon as the dosage was lowered, the improvement stopped. When the pills where done, the symptoms came back with a vengeance. Darkening of the skin, licking and massive hair loss. His back hair remains beautiful and thick. But his underbody is now hairless and brown. Brown spots on the front on his paws reappeared. He was prescribed Apoquel (which is for allergies) and he is still on his special food. He is loosing his fur in lumps and we are desperate to find a solution. Futher info: Rescued from kill shelter in L.A. California Neutered in the States and treated for lung infection before being flown to Canada

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