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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 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.

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Written by Darlene Stott

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 05/12/2017, edited: 04/05/2021

Black Skin Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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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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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

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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0 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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Pearl

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black cur

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Itching

wondering about best diet/food/homeopathic remedies/supplements. feeding her iams dry dog food for lg breed. she likes to drink alot out of the toliet. no chemical used. she like iams cat food better.not encouraged. wearing an entresto collar. no fleas but alot of ticks. abd/throat/inside of legs black skinned min hair. no inflamation. throat/neck was.started wiping her down with 1/2 strength cider vinegar. much impoved. but fatigue +. improve with feeding her a cooked beef liver. itches, smells yeasty., weight loss noted. please advise.

July 30, 2018

Pearl's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It can be difficult to control itching and the formation of black skin in some dogs, it is important that fleas & ticks are controlled and think about using a topical spot on over a flea collar. There are some products from companies like Nzymes which people have been raving on about but I have no specific experience with them. It is just a case of finding the cause for the itching and eliminating or controlling it if possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.nzymes.com

July 30, 2018

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tinkerbell

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Shih Tzu

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7 Years

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Fair severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Black Skin, Hair Is Falling Out

My son in laws dog has black skin disease. We are visiting and bringing our Shih Tzu, can our dog catch it from his dog? Is this disease contagious? I am worried that our little dog will catch it

July 19, 2018

tinkerbell's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Without knowing what is causing the skin problem for your son-in-laws dog, it is hard for me to say whether it is contagious - there are many causes for darkening of the pigment in dogs skin, and many are not contagious. It may be a good idea for him to take his dog to see a veterinarian and figure out what is causing the problem to see if it is contagious.

July 19, 2018

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Lala

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Pomeranian

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

I have an 9 year old female pom. About 4 months ago her groomer shaved her, miscommunication. About a month later I noticed a black spot about quarter size on her left hindquarter. Vet said bacterial infection and gave meds. It is still not going away and she now has a similar spot starting on the other hind quarter and near her tail. Thyroid test was ok. She gave more meds. Could this be black skin disease? Did being shaved cause this? We have aldo been battling double ear infections for 6 months! Thanks for any insight

July 19, 2018

Lala's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Some breeds including Pomeranians are more prone to black skin disease than other breeds; I cannot say whether this is black skin disease or if the grooming was the instigating cause. A sample should be taken for a culture to determine if there is a bacterial or fungal infection present so that treatment may be directed appropriately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 19, 2018

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sharley

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West highland terrier

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8 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Black Grimmy Looking Under Belly I

have a west highland terreir 8 years bath him and skin starts turning blackish color inside of her ears get a greasy blackish residue in them . she starts smelling really bad . we will give her a bath and within a couple days . the blackish stuff starts showing up again and starts smelling again. what can we do??

July 8, 2018

sharley's Owner

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1 Recommendations

Black greasy ears may be due to infections or parasites, you should be cleaning them out with an over the counter ear cleaner to see if there is any improvement; if the issue continues you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination and treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 8, 2018

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