Black Crusty Skin in Dogs

Summary:

"Black crusty skin on dogs is also known as Alopecia X and psuedo-Cushings.The cause is unknown but is believed to be either hormonal or hereditary. In intact canine males, neutering has often been recommended, although there is only a 40% rate of success. There are several treatment options available, although it can't be determined which treatment will be effective for each dog."

Overview of Black Crust Skin Disease

There are other names for the Black Crusty Skin Disease, such as: alopecia X (alopecia is another name for hair loss) and pseudo-Cushing’s Syndrome. Canine black skin disease is suspected to be an inherited disorder, but that is not known for certain. It can be a difficult disorder to diagnose and treat.

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Symptoms of Black Skin Disease in Dogs

Symptoms of dog black skin disease include severe hair loss and darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation). Dog black skin disease often begins with loss of hair.

Some breeds are more susceptible to the condition than others, including the Alaskan Malamute, Poodle, Chow Chow, and Pomeranian. Male dogs are more susceptible than females.

Diagnosis

Many, though not all, dogs with canine black skin disease have abnormally low levels of growth hormone. This can be determined with blood tests. If this is the case with your dog, it will help to determine the course of treatment.

If there is black skin on your dog and growth hormone levels are normal, other causes must be investigated, as it can occur even when growth hormone levels are normal.

Thyroid problems and tumors on the adrenal gland (Cushing’s disease) can cause similar symptoms. Your vet will need to do blood tests to rule out these causes of black crust skin dog disorders. However, if these things are ruled out, your dog may be diagnosed with canine black skin disease even if his growth hormone levels are normal.

Treatment of Black Skin Disease

Of course, the treatment of black crusty skin dog disorders depends on the cause of the disease. If it is canine black skin disease and growth hormone levels are low, treatment with growth hormone is indicated. Treatment with growth hormone can lead to diabetes, however, so careful monitoring of blood sugar is necessary.

In some cases, black crusty skin dog disease seems to be related not to growth hormone but to sex hormones, and getting your dog neutered or spayed will help solve the problem. It’s a good idea to neuter your pet anyway, so this is a good thing to try before resorting to medications.

If your dog has been neutered or spayed and the level of growth hormones are normal, the condition is more of a cosmetic problem than a health concern. Vets often recommend leaving it alone. It isusually not itchy and will not bother your dog. Even with several treatment options available as noted below, not all dogs will respond to treatment.

Prescription treatments may include:

  • Mitotane
  • Trilostane - normally given at a dose rate of 3-4mg/kg per day for several months
  • Ketoconazole
  • Prednisolone - not recommended by many clinicians
  • Growth hormone - can be expensive 
  • Testosterone
  • Melatonin - administered normally at an initial dose of 3-6mg twice daily (bodyweight can be a factor). Based on clinical progression over several weeks to months
  • Alpha-tocopheryl

If blood tests find that the problem is related to thyroid problems or Cushing’s disease then treatment for those conditions are, of course, needed. A natural remedy such as Cushex may provide some support, as it contains ingredients associated with improving adrenal gland health and function. Also, you can try giving your dog melatonin, found at health food stores, which may help hair to regrow. Give a 3 mg tablet daily. Be aware, however, that this may have a sedating effect on your dog.

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Reference

Unusual Endocrine Dermatoses in the Dog and Cat
Rory Breathnach MVB, PhD, MRCVS
University Veterinary Hospital, University College Dublin
Belfield, Dublin, Ireland