With rare exceptions, the breed of dog does not indicate skin color. Some uncommon breeds, such as the Mexican Hairless Dog, American Hairless Terrier, Chinese Crested Dog, and Shar-Pei, all have black skin. However, for the common breeds, skin color varies from dog to dog.
Dogs come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. But have you ever wondered why some dogs have pink noses and some black? Why do some dogs have pink skin under their fur and some don’t? What causes the color of your specific dog? The answers are genetics and pigment.
Dogs have black skin or pink skin based on their breeding and genes. A quick look at the color of your dog’s nose leather and pads will let you know quickly what color of skin he or she has under that thick coat.
Dogs with pink skin will have a white coat, while most other colors of dogs will have black skin. Melanin is what we call the pigment responsible for the color of your dog’s skin. If your dog is getting patches of darker, thicker skin, this can be a sign of hyperpigmentation.
If your dog has excess melanin, this is called hyperpigmentation. What are the symptoms and how could this affect your dog? Let’s have a look…
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is not a disease but a condition which causes abnormally darker and thicker patches in your dog’s skin.
When any “trauma” to the skin occurs, the skin works to repair itself. If the skin has recurring damage or irritants in one area, it builds up excess layers to protect itself. So if your dog is continuously licking, scratching, or biting an area of skin, this can lead to darker, thicker patches of hyperpigmentation. These patches usually appear first on the legs and in the groin area.
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
The primary cause of your dog’s hyperpigmentation may be rooted in one of the following underlying problems:
- Hormonal abnormalities
- Contact dermatitis
- Skin infections
- Sun damage
- Acne scars
- Bacterial infection
- Skin parasites
Some dog breeds, such as the Chinese Crested or Mexican Hairless, which are intentionally bred to produce less hair, may have a tendency towards symptoms common to a hyperpigmentation condition. Their skin is naturally more sensitive and less protected than their furrier friends.
Treatment of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is usually not severe. It is important to know if the condition is non-progressive and will go away on its own or if it is progressive and requires treatment. If you notice the patch of skin on your dog is infected, it is important to treat the dog before the infection spreads.
Indicators that the skin may be infected are:
- Skin lesions
Depending on what is causing the irritants or inflammation, your dog may need topical treatment, oral treatment, or steroids.
It is best to see a vet specializing in dermatology to decide what may cause hyperpigmentation in your dog. A lack of iron or low protein in a dog’s diet can also result in hair loss. With appropriate treatment and a little time, your dog should be happy, healthy, and looking good!
Black Skin Disease
Another variation of hyperpigmentation is called Black Skin Disease. This is usually a more permanent genetic condition. What are the causes and symptoms of Black Skin Disease? Let’s discuss.
Black Skin Disease’s official name is Alopecia X. This uncommon skin condition characteristically involves hair loss (alopecia) and hyperpigmentation resulting in bald, black skin. Black Skin Disease is also known under the names:
- Adult-Onset Growth Hormone Deficiency
- Growth Hormone-Responsive Alopecia
- Castration-Responsive Alopecia
- Adrenal Hyperplasia-Like Syndrome
Black Skin Disease in dogs presents as the gradual loss of the coat’s natural color and texture. Black velvety-looking patches of skin may appear in small patches on the skin and continue to spread until the dog experiences widespread hair loss and thick skin.
As a result of hair loss, your dog’s skin will be more sensitive to the elements. You should guard him from being overexposed to the sun or cold.
Black Skin Disease is purely cosmetic, and though it may affect your dog’s appearance, it should not cause your dog pain.
It is thought to be a genetic condition, and dogs with Black Skin Disease should not be bred.
What are The Causes of Black Skin Disease?
An adrenal imbalance of the sex hormones coupled with reduced melatonin production in the body causes black Skin Disease. It can affect both male and female dogs.
The hormonal imbalance affects the hair follicle growth while the low melatonin stimulates the production of an overabundance of pigment, which causes the black skin appearance.
What Breeds Are Most Affected?
Black Skin Disease most often occurs in dogs around one to two years of age. Some breeds that are predisposed from their genetics and more likely to get Black Skin Disease include:
- Chow Chows
- Siberian Huskies
- Miniature Poodles
- Alaskan Malamutes
While a higher percentage of these breeds have Black Skin Disease than other breeds, any dog can inherit this disorder.
Diagnosing Black Skin Disease
Other conditions can mirror many of the symptoms of Black Skin Disease, such as Cushing’s disease and Hypothyroidism. To decide if your dog has Black Skin Disease or some other condition, a skin biopsy is imperative. The biopsy will also rule out skin allergies and infections.
Other tests that your vet may request to pinpoint the diagnosis are:
- Thyroid test
- An adrenal hormone test
If the tests do not point to another underlying condition, your vet can begin a trial-and-error process to find an effective treatment for your dog.
Treatment of Black Skin Disease
The cause of Black Skin Disease is not known, and there is no one successful treatment for every case. The goal of treatment is usually to help your dog regain its fluffy coat and is cosmetic only.
The vet may have to try several treatments to find a match for your dog’s situation. Some treatments may include:
- Shampoo treatment
- Steroid ointments
- Oral retinoid therapy (related to vitamin A)
Spaying or neutering can be doubly beneficial. This prevents this recessive gene from spreading and may also help your dog’s hormones find balance.
While treatments may help your dog regain its lush coat, many dog owners choose to forego treatment options.
Black Skin Disease does not affect the dog’s overall health, and many treatments can be expensive, ineffective, or can cause unwanted side effects and other health problems.
If your dog shows other symptoms such as loss of appetite and depression, there may be other issues going on.
That’s a Wrap
Dog breeds come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The melanin in the skin is the deciding factor of the color of your dog. Sometimes genetics and melanin team up in your dog’s body to produce hyperpigmentation or Black Skin Disease.
While the symptoms may be alarming, these conditions are not severe or life-threatening. Hyperpigmentation may need some treatment to guard against infection, while Black Skin Disease is usually only a cosmetic disorder.
A vet who knows your dog will be invaluable in helping you find the best care and treatment for your dog.
Hopefully, after some tests and possibly some trial and error, your dog will find the treatment he needs. Even if your buddy remains a little hairless, your dog can still benefit from a happy and healthy life.
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