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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Hyperpigmentation in Dogs

By Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD, Professor of Dermatology, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison ; Michael W. Dryden, DVM, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Carol S. Foil, DVM, MS, DACVD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine ; William W. Hawkins, BS, DVM ; Thomas R. Klei, PhD, Boyd Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Advanced Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine and Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station, Louisiana State University ; John E. Lloyd, BS, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, University of Wyoming ; Bernard Mignon, DVM, PhD, DEVPC, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Parasitology and Parasitic Diseases, University of Liège ; Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD ; David Stiller, MS, PhD, Research Entomologist, Animal Disease Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University of Idaho ; Patricia A. Talcott, MS, DVM, PhD, DABVT, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Toxicology, Holm Research Center, University of Idaho ; Alice E. Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, Director;Director, Animal Oncology Consultation Service;Pawspice ; Stephen D. White, DVM, DACVD, Professor and Chief of Service, Dermatology, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital; Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis ; Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD

Hyperpigmentation is a darkening and thickening of the skin seen in dogs. It is not a specific disease but a reaction of a dog’s body to certain conditions.

Hyperpigmentation appears as light-brown-to-black, velvety, rough areas of thickened, often hairless skin. The usual sites are in the legs and groin area. Signs are invariably a result of inflammation due to constant friction. It can be primary or secondary. Primary diseases that cause hyperpigmentation are rare and occur almost exclusively in Dachshunds. Signs are usually evident by 1 year of age. Secondary hyperpigmentation is relatively common and can occur in any breed of dog, most commonly those breeds prone to obesity, hormonal abnormalities, allergies, contact dermatitis, and skin infections.

The edges of these abnormal areas are often red, a sign of secondary bacterial or yeast infection. With time, it may spread to the lower neck, groin, abdomen, hocks, eyes, ears, and the area between the anus and the external genital organs. Itching is variable. When it occurs, it may be caused by the underlying disease or by a secondary infection. As the condition progresses, secondary hair loss, fluid discharge, and infections develop.

Diagnosis is by appearance of signs on the animal. In a young Dachshund, your veterinarian will want to eliminate other causes of the signs. A careful history and physical examination will be performed to identify an underlying cause. Skin scrapings are taken to exclude other causes (parasites, for example), especially in young dogs. Impression smears are used to identify bacterial infections. Depending on other signs, endocrine function tests for thyroid and adrenal disease may be used to check for underlying hormonal abnormalities. Skin testing, a food trial, or both may be necessary to test for allergies. Skin biopsies may be made to check for secondary bacterial infections not previously recognized. In most cases, your veterinarian will want to treat any secondary bacterial infections before proceeding with other diagnostic tests.

Primary hyperpigmentation in Dachshunds is not curable. Early cases may respond to shampoo treatment and steroid ointments. As signs progress, other treatment, such as medication given by mouth or injection, may be useful. The concurrent treatment of secondary infections is helpful and is required before steroids are administered. Medicated shampoos are often beneficial for removing excess oil and odor.

In secondary hyperpigmentation, the affected areas will go away on their own after identification and treatment of the underlying cause. However, this will not occur if secondary bacterial and yeast infections are not treated and controlled. Many affected dogs benefit greatly from appropriate antibiotics and medicated shampoos (2 to 3 times per week). Thus, many veterinarians will prescribe such treatments. Owners need to be patient with these treatment programs. The signs of hyperpigmentation resolve slowly; it may take months for the dog’s skin to return to normal.