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Why have black spots started appearing on my dog's skin?

Dark Patches on Dog Skin

If your dog is beginning to develop dark patches on their skin, they may be experiencing a condition known as hyperpigmentation. Read on to learn more about conditions that can cause a dog's skin to turn black and treatment options for hyperpigmentation. 

Why is my dog's skin turning black?

The standard definition of hyperpigmentation is an excess of pigmentation in a bodily part or tissue. If your dog has begun to develop these areas of darkened skin then they may be experiencing hyperpigmentation.

While hyperpigmentation is not a condition on its own, it is an indication that your pup may be suffering from an underlying health concern. Many conditions can cause hyperpigmentation on your dog's belly and other areas of the body. 

What are the symptoms associated with hyperpigmentation?

If you've noticed that areas of your dog's skin have changed color and are wondering, 'What are these black spots on my dog's skin?', you're not alone. Hyperpigmentation appears as light-brown to black areas on the skin. While the discoloration cannot be an indicator of health concerns on its own, there may also be patches of skin that are a different texture along with other possible symptoms.

Hyperpigmentation is a secondary change to a dog's skin, which may change pigment due to many factors. If a darker pigment accumulates on the skin, this area will grow noticeably darker than the rest of the skin on your pooch's body. 

Other skin symptoms such as redness, scaling, crusting, itchiness, and hair loss may also start to appear, and the skin may be abnormally moist or sweaty. Conversely, it may grow dry to the touch and dandruff may become a problem. 

If your dog experiences hyperpigmentation, it will be one of two types:

Primary Hyperpigmentation

While primary diseases that may cause hyperpigmentation can occur in any breed, they are prevalent in dachshunds. You will likely notice this type of hyperpigmentation on your dog before they reach a year old.

Secondary Hyperpigmentation 

Secondary hyperpigmentation is a common symptom and can occur in any dog breed. It is triggered by inflammation or friction that leads to additional skin changes including thickened skin, odor, hair loss, and pain. 

Veterinarians and pet parents most often see secondary hyperpigmentation in breeds that are prone to skin infections, contact dermatitis and allergies (basset hounds, German shepherds, Irish setters, Yorkshire terriers, great Danes, Dobermans, Labradors, Dalmations and border collies), obesity and hormonal abnormalities (Lhasa apsos, Labrador retrievers, basset hounds, Irish setters, Jack Russell terriers, golden retrievers, and pugs). 

What could be causing my dog's 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?'

Hyperpigmentation is often a symptom of another condition which makes it important to reach out to your vet and have your dog examined.

Some of the conditions that can cause hyperpigmentation include:

  • 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

How is the cause of hyperpigmentation diagnosed?

To diagnose hyperpigmentation, your veterinarian 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 in an effort to isolate the cause of your pet's symptoms. 

Your vet will likely perform diagnostic testing to ensure that they have accurately diagnosed your dog's condition.

What are the treatments for 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 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. 

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

Will my dog's skin return to its normal color?

As indicated above, progress may be slow and it 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-up visits 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

At AnimERge we provide advanced dermatogy services for dogs with complex skin conditions and allergies. Contact our Somerset County vets today to learn more and book an examination for your canine companion.

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