Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs

Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Lethal Acrodermatitis?

The Bull Terrier is a cross between a Bulldog and a Terrier with a thick, muscular body and oval (egg shaped) head with a sloping muzzle. They like being active and come in 13 different colors. The white Bull Terrier is the only one to have the genetic disposition that causes lethal acrodermatitis. It is a progressively wasting disease that is usually seen at a young age and is lethal within a few months. There is no effective cure for lethal acrodermatitis, but there are some therapies and medication that can be used to help slow down the process and give your dog a better quality of life.

Lethal acrodermatitis is a serious inherited skin condition of Bull Terriers that usually causes death before the dog reaches two years of age. It only affects those Bull Terriers with white skin and fur because of the lack of pigment. This disease causes severe retardation of growth, thick skin and painful blisters on the muzzle, eyes, nose, ears, feet, and mucous membranes which eventually leads to pneumonia and death. The most commonly affected areas are the muzzle, ears, feet, legs, and groin. Most breeders can recognize the disease in the puppy by the time it is six to eight weeks old because it is less than half the size of the other puppies in the litter and has flat, splayed feet with dermatitis.

Symptoms of Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs

If your dog has lethal acrodermatitis, the signs will most likely be evident by the time he is about three to six months old. Some of the most often seen complaints are:

  • Thickened skin on legs and feet
  • Painful eruptions on toes
  • Pustules and lesions on face
  • Blisters on mucous membranes (lips, nostrils, mouth, genitals, throat)
  • Slow growth
  • Standing with legs splayed apart
  • Deformed and broken nails
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Difficulty eating
  • Numerous bacterial infections
  • Frequent nasal discharge
  • Pneumonia (high body temperature, coughing, breathing difficulty)
  • Death

Causes of Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs

This is an autosomal recessive trait that is only seen in Bull Terriers with white skin and fur. In lethal acrodermatitis the skin thickening gets so severe that the dog is unable to walk or eat normally and secondary bacterial or yeast infections are a common side effect. Eventually, infection and wasting progresses to such an extreme that the dog will die or the owner decides to euthanize.

Diagnosis of Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs

The veterinarian should automatically suspect lethal acrodermatitis if your dog is a white Bull Terrier because animals with this disease lack pigment. However, a full physical will need to be done along with diagnostic testing and radiographic imaging. The veterinarian will first need to know your dog’s medical history and whether he has had any recent illnesses or injuries as well as any medications your pet may have been given lately. You should also tell the veterinarian if you have tried a new food recently and if your dog’s appetite has been abnormal. A physical examination will be done and your dog’s vital signs will be checked. The veterinarian will do a skin assessment and will look at the overall appearance of your dog’s physique. 

Diagnostic tests will most likely reveal abnormal liver enzymes, including decreased activity of alanine transaminase (AST) and serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP) as well as a decreased lymphocyte blastogenic response. Histology will show inflammation in the outermost layer of skin. Blood tests, including a complete blood count, blood cultures, and a chemical profile usually indicate increased cholesterol, decreased zinc and copper, lymphocytes (white blood cells), and gamma globulins. Radiographs (x-rays) will need to be done of the chest and abdomen to check for bronchitis, pneumonia, and lesions on the mucous membranes in the intestinal tract. Often, the veterinarian will want to perform an MRI, ultrasound, and CT scans as well.

Treatment of Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs

There is no cure for lethal acrodermatitis, but there are treatments that can improve your dog’s quality of life and possibly slow the progress of the disease.

Special Diet

Natural foods high in zinc and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are good choices for your dog. Some of the choices your veterinarian may suggest are fish, flaxseed oil, soybean oils, sunflower oils, liver, chicken, salmon, beef, and veal.


Supplements of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and zinc can both be added to your dog’s diet as well. Some veterinarians offer injections of these supplements but they should only be administered by the veterinarian.

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Recovery of Lethal Acrodermatitis in Dogs

As the name implies, this disease is almost always fatal. In rare cases, a dog can live for several years with lethal acrodermatitis, but the quality of life must be considered. If your dog is in constant pain and suffering, the most humane thing to do is euthanization.

Lethal Acrodermatitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


Bull Terrier




8 Months


6 found this helpful


6 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
All Lad Symptoms
Hello! I am Sure my dog has lad. Can You Tell me when Time is there to euthanize? Its difficult for me to do decision. He has no Pain But often Bad Influenza.... I Dont want him to die with Pain....But also dont want to put him to sleep if it probably Ends„ok“ one day...and He Maybe Just dont Wake up again that Special day He will die......How and when do lad dogs die naturally?

Jan. 4, 2018

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

6 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. I'm not sure what 'lad' is, so cannot comment on how these dogs may pass away. If Quasi is 8 months old, he is very young to have a terrible disease. It would be best to have this conversation with your veterinarian, as they are familiar with his situation, his disease, and will know more what to expect and if he can have any quality of life, or if you will need to make that decision for him. This is a hard decision for anyone, and you veterinarian will be able to guide you as to things to watch for that might tell you that he is suffering. I'm sorry that this is happening to Quasi.

Jan. 4, 2018

Hi dr king! LAD is lethal acrodermatitis. Maybe You can help now 😊 Greetings Hermine

Jan. 4, 2018

Quasi's Owner

There is now a dna test for lad Also I have seen brindle dogs affected by lad

Feb. 8, 2018


Dear Quasi's Owner: I am a former bull terrier owner who had Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD). Her name was Pearl. She was the sweetest and most gentle dog we have ever owned. I am just now discovering the actual diagnosis of her pain and suffering. Most of the veterinarians we went to (4 in total), always came to the conclusion that it was Atopic Dermatitis. She was on numerous steroids, special diets, topical creams, pills, ear drops, etc. I cannot even tell you how much we spent on medical bills to make her time a little more comfortable. After three and a half years of watching her health decline, we finally made the terribly hard decision to allow her to stop suffering. Our veterinarian was so kind and made arrangements for her burial since she was nearly 50lbs. At the time, we didn't know that she was suffering so severely because she was a gentle and quiet dog. Her symptoms eventually go so severe that she would shutter every time we would stroke her back to pet her. It literally hurt her for us to touch her. The decision to put her to sleep was THE HARDEST decision that we have ever had to make as a pet owner. I have had other dogs pass naturally due to old age, but now knowing that Pearl was laid to rest, finally out of pain, we know that we made the most humane decision. It is awful to watch your family member suffer and not know how to fix it, but it does bring comfort to know that we finally made the right decision after living in denial for so long. I hope this post helps a bit. Good luck to you and your sweet pup. Sincerely, Fellow Bull Terrier Friend

March 24, 2018

Bull Terrier F.

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