"Ichthyosis in Dogs

"Ichthyosis in Dogs

Health & Safety

Ichthyosis is a relatively rare condition that affects a dog's skin where there is a distinct thickening of the outermost layer. A dog's paw pads also become that much thicker than they should be when they suffer from the condition. On top of this dogs with Ichthyosis typically have rough skin that's quite scaly or greasy and which tends to coat each hair as well as cover the affected parts of their skin. With this said, in some breeds, like the Golden Retriever, the condition has been reported as being relatively common.

An Inherited Skin Disease

Ichthyosis is an inherited disorder that's thought to be caused by autosomal recessive gene mutation. The condition was given its name Ichthyosis"" because a dog's skin resembles fish scales when they suffer from it. The word ""Ichthyosis"" is Greek for ""fish"".

Signs to Look Out For

One of the most common and obvious signs of there being a problem with a dog's skin is when there is an excessive amount of flaking in their coats. However, other symptoms to watch out for include the following:

  • Areas of hardened skin on a dog's body
  • Hyperpigmentation - the skin looks dirty or black in colour
  • Hard, thick paw pads - this makes it hard for dogs to walk due to the pain

Dogs with the condition can show mild to severe symptoms and although a puppy is typically born with Ichthyosis, it can take up to a year or even longer for the condition to develop. It is also worth noting that a dog's condition can improve or it may worsen as time goes by and it can depend on a dog’s hormonal cycles as well as any stress they might be experiencing which could trigger a worsening in the disorder.

Some Breeds More Predisposed than Others

Although as previously mentioned, it is a condition some breeds appear to be more prone to inheriting than others. After much in-depth research, it was found that the breeds most affected were as follows:

  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Golden Retriever

Living and Managing the Condition

Dogs born with the condition typically have rough skin covered in greasy scales which cling to their coats and skin. Very often, dogs shed the scales in flakes and although a dog's general health is not affected, it is one of those conditions that tends to be extremely unsightly. It is also worth noting that the condition tends to worsen as dogs get older which sees it changing from chronic to quite severe. When dogs suffer from Ichthyosis, they often have other health problems too and this includes a predisposition to developing fungal infections and yeast overgrowths.

West Highland White Terriers are often born with black skin and this starts to crack when puppies are around two weeks old. It then starts to peel away. Their footpads are also that much thicker which results in their entire paws becoming swollen. This can make it hard for dogs to walk due to the pain they experience when suffering from the condition.

Diagnosing the Condition

Puppies born with ichthyosis display typical signs of there being a problem. However, when the condition is seen in mature dogs, there are other underlying causes which should be considered before making a final diagnosis. A vet would need to carry out a skin biopsy both on a puppy that's suspected of suffering from ichthyosis and an older dog to determine if it is the case. They would do this by putting a dog under local anaesthetic and then have the sample laboratory analysed.

Treating Ichthyosis

Dogs suffering from the condition need a lot of help from both their owners and vets to alleviate any discomfort they may be experiencing. This would involve washing their skin with mild seborrheic shampoos and using rinses that moisturise their skin, all of which would be specially prescribed by the vet.

Sadly, if the condition becomes too severe and because it is an incurable skin disorder, making sure a dog suffering from ichthyosis remains comfortable can prove challenging. As such, many owners have the terrible decision of whether it would be kinder to put their dogs to sleep rather than let them suffer.

Testing for Ichthyosis

Breeds that are known to be predisposed to suffering from Ichthyosis should be tested for the condition which can be done by a simple DNA test. Any dogs with the condition should not be used in a breeding programme and it's worth noting that to inherit the disorder, both parent dogs would need to carry the autosomal recessive gene for them to pass it on to their offspring.


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