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What is Epidermal Dysplasia?

Epidermal dysplasia can affect any dog of any breed.  It can present itself at any age but commonly begins affecting dogs when young.  Symptoms include pruritus (itchy skin), lichenification, and other skin related abnormalities.  It can appear anywhere on the skin but is most commonly seen on the face, ears, and ventral body.  The cause is associated with a Malassezia overgrowth but also associated with an underlying cause like an allergy.  Treatment is straightforward and easy; if addressed early on, prognosis of recovery is good.  The longer you wait to treat your dog’s condition and the more serious his condition becomes, the more his prognosis declines.

Epidermal dysplasia in dogs is a skin ailment that is closely associated with an overgrowth of yeast known as Malassezia spp.

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Symptoms of Epidermal Dysplasia in Dogs

Symptoms of epidermal dysplasia may include:

  • Pruritus
  • Seborrhea
  • Lichenification (thickening of the skin)
  • Alopecia 

These symptoms are most commonly found here:

  • Ears
  • Face
  • Feet
  • Ventral body surface

Types

Epidermal dysplasia refers to the individual cells of the epidermis and related abnormal development.  It can be characterized by lichenification of the skin, and the presence of seborrhea, pruritus, and alopecia.  It is commonly associated with a yeast infection of the affected area.  It is thought to be congenital in some dogs or a developed issue in others.

Causes of Epidermal Dysplasia in Dogs

It is believed this condition is closely associated with a yeast infection.  Scientists still debate if the changes in the epidermis are from a hypersensitive reaction of the Malassezia spp. yeast or if it is secondary to the skin trauma from the pruritus.  It can develop at any age but most commonly seen developing at an early age.

Diagnosis of Epidermal Dysplasia in Dogs

Your veterinarian will start by performing a full physical exam on your dog.  She will want to note where the lesions are located, if there is an odor to the condition, if it seems pruritic and so forth.  This will also allow her to check him over for other symptoms related to his skin or perhaps as a secondary issue.  

Your veterinarian will proceed with a basic dermatological workup.  She may want to take a skin scraping sample from a lesion to evaluate it under the microscope.  She will check for ectoparasites, such as mites, that can cause itchy skin lesions.  She may then proceed by performing a skin cytology.  She will take a clear piece of tape, stick it to your dog’s skin, stain it with dyes specifically for this testing, and then look at it with the microscope.  She will check for signs of yeast overgrowth associated with this condition.  This can also rule out or confirm bacterial overgrowth that may also be present on the skin.   

While performing her physical exam, if she noticed your dog’s ears were itchy or had debris inside, she will take a sample for testing.  When there is a yeast overgrowth present on your dog, it commonly affects his ears as an ear infection.  The sample will be stained and evaluated under the microscope to check for the presence of yeast and/or bacteria.  The integumentary system is all connected so if he is experiencing an obvious skin issue, it is likely the inside of his ears are also experiencing the issue.

Treatment of Epidermal Dysplasia in Dogs

Depending on your dog’s symptoms and where on his body the epidermal dysplasia is affecting him, his treatment may vary.  Most common treatments include topical treatment against the Malassezia yeast.  This may come in the form of medicated shampoos, medicated ear flushes and actual ear medications.  Oral medications are also prescribed to take care of the issue systemically.  Oral ketoconazole or itraconazole are common medications given to take care of the overgrowth of yeast.  

In some cases, the patient develops a secondary bacterial infection from all the scratching they do.  If this happens with your dog, he will also need an antibiotic to treat it in addition to the yeast overgrowth.  If not addressed and treated with the proper medications your dog’s skin infection will only worsen.  

In addition to treating the presenting symptoms themselves, you also need to try and identify the cause of his symptoms.  In most cases of epidermal dysplasia, there is an underlying cause such as an environmental allergy, food allergy, parasitic allergies, or atopy.  Without addressing the underlying cause, you are only treating and masking your canine’s symptoms.  He will continue to develop the overgrowth of yeast throughout his lifetime if the cause is not corrected.

Recovery of Epidermal Dysplasia in Dogs

If treated accordingly, your dog’s prognosis of recovery is good.  However, there have been severe cases where the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria got so severe the pet had to be euthanized due to complications.  While this is rare, it can happen to any dog.  Typically it is due to secondary complications from the condition and if it was not addressed in a timely manner.  It is in your dog’s best interest to take him to his veterinarian as soon as you notice any type of symptom listed above.  The longer you wait, the more guarded his prognosis of a full recovery becomes.