Black skin disease, also called alopecia X and pseudo-Cushing's Syndrome, usually appears when a dog is between one and five years old, and causes severe hair loss, hyperpigmentation or darkening of the skin, and occasionally a foul odour. It affects male dogs more frequently than females; Pomeranians, malamutes and chows are particularly susceptible The cause is unknown, but researchers suspect a genetic link. Other possible factors include hormone imbalances, allergies and fungal infections. Mild cases are merely unsightly and require no medication; severe cases feature thickening of the skin and infection, and should be treated. Whether your dog's alopecia is mild or severe, there are steps you can take to help him recover.
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Things you need
- Shampoo containing benzoyl peroxide
- Shampoo containing chlorhexidine
- 3-mg. melatonin tablets (with vet's OK)
- Handheld hair dryer (optional)
Find a veterinarian who is familiar with black skin disease, and has experience with diagnosis and treatment. It takes an experienced veterinarian to diagnose this disease, as black skin disease can masquerade as Cushing's Syndrome, various skin infections or hypothyroidism.
Schedule a vet visit to determine diagnosis, possible causes and treatment. This is normally done by checking thyroid levels, doing a blood count and performing a skin biopsy.
Follow the medication and treatment schedule prescribed by your vet. You may need to schedule regular visits for hormone injections for your dog, or you may need to give him pills at home. If your dog is reluctant to swallow pills, try concealing them in a chunk of cheese.
Neuter or spay your dog, if you haven't already done so. This strategy can be very effective for dogs in which the problem is hormonal, sometimes resulting in complete regrowth of hair. There is strong evidence that the tendency towards black skin disease is a genetic mutation, carried by the X chromosome and continued through breeding.
Bathe your dog two or three times a week, using a benzoyl peroxide shampoo, then following with a chlorhexidine shampoo. Make sure the dog is completely dry after his bath; yeast and fungal infections that may contribute to black skin disease thrive in humid environments.
Control your dog's weight through healthy diet and exercise. Obesity is often a factor in black skin disease.
Ask your vet about giving your dog melatonin, a nutritional supplement found at health food stores. According to a newsletter released by Mar Vista Animal Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., about half of all dogs with black skin disease will show improvement in six to eight weeks.
Tips and warnings
- Many owners of dogs with alopecia report good results from shampooing with an antibacterial dishwashing detergent.
- To completely dry the dog off after his bath, try a hair dryer set on "cool."
- Growth hormone, given subcutaneously to dogs suffering from growth hormone-responsive alopecia, can cause diabetes. Make sure your dog's glucose levels are checked regularly.
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