What is Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease)?
This disorder is rare and appears to be breed specific. It can resemble many other skin conditions such as allergies, dermatitis, and localized reactions. It is most likely present at birth in your dog and can become painful if left untreated.
Your dog may present with thickened pads of his paws, irritated, flaking skin and other symptoms. He may not itch or scab and it does have some differences from other common conditions. This disorder can cause water loss in your dog as his skin is unable to maintain moisture.
Canine ichthyosis is also known as the “fish scale” disease. Your dog will have thickened skin with scaly and greasy patches and flakes.
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Symptoms of Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs
Symptoms are very specific to this condition and while they can mimic other disorders, they are not caused by or related to other disorders. Some of the things to look for are:
- Scaly skin – This symptom is why it is nicknamed the “fish scale” disease
- Thickening of the skin and footpads – His paws may even appear to become enlarged and irritated, possibly causing pain
- Thick, greasy flakes/scales – These will stick to his skin and hair and be difficult to remove
- Limited to rare disorders (congenital or hereditary)
- Genetic testing and skin biopsies are used to diagnose officially
- General diagnosis can be done just with symptoms
- Keratin formation defect
- Been found in specific breeds (Rhodesian Ridgeback and Labrador cross)
- Skin biopsy used to diagnose
- Autosomal recessive traits
- Still young in veterinary medicine
- Breed specific
Golden Retriever Ichthyosis
- Relatively common
- Mild form of scaling
- Areas affected are on a dog’s trunk predominantly
- Diagnosed by 1 year of age
- Can be diagnosed in adulthood
American Bulldog Ichthyosis
- More severe form of ichthyosis
- Puppies have a scruffy coat
- Skin takes on a wrinkled appearance
- Skin lesions are more severe than Golden Retriever ichthyosis
Jack Russell Terrier Ichthyosis and other breeds
- Mutation cause
- Large, thick, parchment paper like scales
- More severe than other types
Causes of Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs
The cause of ichthyosis in dogs is:
- A recessive trait that both parents will have
- The dog will be born with the condition
- Breed specific :Golden Retrievers – most studies have been done on Golden Retrievers
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Norfolk Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier
Diagnosis of Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs
If you suspect that your dog is suffering with ichthyosis bringing him to his veterinarian will be necessary. Your veterinarian will want to know the breed of your dog as this disease can be breed specific. The veterinarian will also want to know when you noticed the signs as they are often present at birth and worsen over time.
To diagnose the disorder, a skin biopsy will be done to determine the exact nature of your dog’s skin issues. It will also be important for your veterinarian to rule out any other possible conditions even though the symptoms are very clear to ichthyosis.
Lastly, your veterinarian can run the ICT-A which is a DNA test made for ichthyosis. This test can definitively identify the disorder or rule it out officially.
Treatment of Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs
Treatment options will be based mostly on maintenance of your dog’s symptoms. While the condition is not deadly, in more severe cases it can be very painful and uncomfortable for your dog. Treatment can be done by using shampoos and rinses for his skin, frequent brushing and grooming and possible medication treatment.
Mild anti-seborrheic shampoos and moisturizing rinses can be used frequently on your dog to help his skin and symptoms. Moisturizers can be used to create a protective layer on your dog’s skin and reduce his water loss.
Frequent brushing can help your dog’s skin to rid itself of the greasy flakes that stick to his skin. This brushing can also allow the tightened skin to loosen up and allow your dog more comfort.
Topical treatments tend to be the best bet and are often oil based. These treatment options provide a protective barrier on your dog’s skin also. The retinoid Isotretinoin has been shown to improve the symptoms of ichthyosis in dogs. This medication can cause eye infections, hair loss, vomiting and other side effects when used.
The rate of relapse is high as there is no cure for this condition. It does tend to wax and wane over time even with treatment. Ongoing follow up with your veterinarian will be necessary.
Recovery of Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs
While some cases of ichthyosis are mild, they can be severe as well. Due to the severity of this disorder, ongoing and lifelong checkups will be necessary. These will be done to ensure there are no secondary infections of his skin and to see if any changes need to be made in his treatment to help prevent ongoing buildup of the scales on his skin.
Due to this being a lifelong condition some owners do choose to euthanize their dog if they are unable to give him a good quality of life. However, your dog can live with this condition if you are willing to be meticulous about his care. There may be times when his symptoms are minimal and when they get worse, so continuous care will be necessary to ensure a good quality of life.
Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog is nearly a year old toy poodle, when we got him we thought he just had puppy dandruff. His skin is flaky and scaly and on his belly it's black. The skin will shed and get everywhere. His foot pads are thick and seem bigger than they should be, he also always smells terrible, even right after a bath. I think he has Fish Scale disease, what do I do to help him? And how severe is it?
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I adopted my 2 year old golden retriever in January. When we got him I noticed a bald spot on his back it was dry and had black spots on it. I checked his whole body thinking they were fleas but it was just dirt that had attatched to the dry skin from him itching. Over the last few month I have noticed these spots more and I thought they were maybe from him itching and biting himself constantly and I’m starting to get worried. They have spread he has 3 or more on his back and around his neck he has a few on his legs and his whole chest is red with these spots. They are dry and flaky.
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We have recently adoption a 3 year old english cream golden retriever. She has this skin disorder. Her skin is black and she has white hair. We have been brushing her frequently. She doesn't seem bothered by her skin condition. However, I have been doing a lot of reading and it mentions oils/lotion to apply. I am not entirely sure how to do this since a golden retriever has so much hair. What about a certain kind of shampoo. Is there anything from a systemic standpoint that would be helpful for her. Fish oil? Let me know if there is anything in addition we could be doing.
There are many different types of skin conditions, it is possible that Layla has seborrhoea sicca where the skin produces an excess of keratinous material leading to dry flakes on the skin. Using a shampoo from your local pet store containing benzoyl peroxidase should help. If you don’t see any improvement, visit your Veterinarian for a diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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