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Hyperpigmentation in Dogs

Have you noticed your dog developing dark patches on their skin? Today, our Greensboro vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of hyperpigmentation in dogs.

Canine Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is an increase in the dark pigmentation of the skin. If you've noticed dark patches on your dog's skin lately, or that parts of your dog's skin look or feel different compared to the rest of his or her body, you may be seeing hyperpigmentation - a reaction of the body to a certain condition, not a specific disease or diagnosis in itself. Many conditions can result in hyperpigmentation on a dog's belly or elsewhere on their body.

Signs & Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation

If you've noticed this color change and are wondering, 'What are these black spots on my dog's skin?', you're not alone. This change presents as light-brown to-black areas. While hyperpigmentation may be the singular symptom of a skin condition, it sometimes appears on areas of the skin that feel rough or velvety to the touch. This may be due to the skin thickening in the areas where the skin feels rough or velvety. 

This issue is a secondary change on a dog's skin. Several factors can cause the skin to change its pigment. If darker skin pigment accumulates on the skin, the skin will grow noticeably darker than the rest of the skin on his or her body. 

You might also note other skin symptoms including itchiness, crusting, redness, scaling, and hair loss. The skin may also be abnormally sweaty or moist. Conversely, it may also be dry to the touch and have dandruff. 

 There are two types of hyperpigmentation: primary and secondary. 

Primary Hyperpigmentation

Primary diseases that may cause hyperpigmentation can occur in any breed but especially in Dachshunds. This type of hyperpigmentation is typically evident by the time a dog is one year old.

Secondary Hyperpigmentation 

A common symptom, secondary hyperpigmentation can occur in any dog breed and is triggered by friction and/or inflammation that leads to additional skin changes such as odor, hair loss, thickened skin, and pain.

Secondary pigmentation is most often seen in breeds that are prone to allergies, skin infections, and contact dermatitis (German Shepherds, Basset Hounds, Yorkshire Terriers, Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Dobermans, Great Danes, Border Collies, and Dalmations), hormonal abnormalities and obesity (Irish Setters, Lhasa Apsos, Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, Golden Retrievers, and Jack Russell Terriers). 

Causes of Hyperpigmentation

Have you been growing more concerned as hyperpigmentation develops and asking your vet (and perhaps the internet), 'What causes a dog's skin to turn black?'

Causes of hyperpigmentation in dogs can vary and typically point to larger medical issues your dog is experiencing, including:

  • Allergies - May lead to hyperpigmented areas on the skin
  • Hypothyroidism - Hyperpigmentation appears in some dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism 
  • Pseudo-Cushing's Syndrome - this endocrine disorder is common in middle-aged and older dogs and can result in hyperpigmentation 
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus - Some dogs with this chronic, fairly rare immune-mediated disease will also have hyperpigmentation 
  • Malassezia - Hyperpigmentation is one symptom of this type of yeast infection
  • Demodicosis - A lesser-known cause of hyperpigmentation, this condition is due to a parasitic mite

Diagnosing Canine Hyperpigmentation

To diagnose hyperpigmentation, your veterinarian in Greensboro will examine your dog for typical symptoms of this skin issue and gently scrape the skin for samples to identify any underlying causes such as infections or parasites.

.A full physical exam may be performed and your dog's medical history reviewed. If your veterinarian suspects allergies may be the culprit, food trials may be done to isolate the cause of your pet's symptoms. 

Diagnostic testing may also be done to ensure the underlying cause of your dog's symptoms has been correctly identified. 

Treating Hyperpigmentation in Dogs

While there is no cure for primary hyperpigmentation when detected early enough symptoms can be managed with steroid ointments and special shampoos. Other medications can be used as symptoms intensify or worsen. If any infections occur, your veterinarian can also treat those. 

Our veterinarians at Guilford-Jamestown Veterinary Hospital are experienced in diagnosing and treating dermatological and other health issues in dogs and cats and are dedicated to developing effective treatment plans. 

If your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with secondary hyperpigmentation, your pup's skin will feel normal again once the underlying issue has been treated. It will also be important to treat any yeast or bacterial infections in addition to hyperpigmentation. 

Antifungal medications or antibiotics may be prescribed to treat yeast or bacterial infections on your pooch's skin. Medicated shampoos may also be recommended for application 2-3 times a week - be prepared for slow progress. Relapse of hyperpigmentation will only be high if the underlying cause hasn't been correctly treated. 

The Recovery Process

As indicated above, progress may be slow, and can take weeks or months before your dog's skin gets back to normal. Your veterinarian will tell you whether any follow-up appointments are required. Most follow-ups will be focused on continuing to treat the underlying cause of hyperpigmentation for your dog. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Do you think your dog is experiencing hyperpigmentation? Contact our Greensboro vets to book an examination for your pup.

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