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Ichthyosis in Dogs

dog getting a shampoo


While ichthyosis may not be a very familiar word, it is a condition that affects some dogs. Whether you have not heard of it or have a dog suffering from this condition, here is what you need to know. What it is, which dogs it affects, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated.

What is Ichthyosis in Dogs?

According to VCA Hospitals:

Ichthyosis is a very rare skin condition in dogs that is the result of a recessive genetic mutation. The mutation prevents the outer layer of skin from developing properly. Affected skin is rough and covered with thick, greasy flakes that stick to the hair. The term “ichthyosis” comes from the Greek word for fish, as the skin of these dogs resembles fish scales. In addition to the flakes and scales on the body, there may be areas of thickened skin with increased pigment, as well as thickening of the foot pads.

As you can see, not every dog is typically affected and it is quite rare. Yet, it is something to be aware of if you own any of the breeds affected or have seen symptoms in your own dog.

Which Dogs Does It Affect?

Not all breeds seem to be as affected by ichthyosis. Yet, some breeds do get this condition more often and it is mainly seen in specific dogs rather than dogs as a whole.These breeds include:

It has also been seen in Golden Retrievers, the American Bulldog, and other dogs. The above list are the most common where ichthyosis is present.

How Do Dogs Get Ichthyosis?

While there is no 100 percent true answer on why certain dogs get ichthyosis, it is thought that there is an inheritance factor due to an autosomal recessive gene. Many studies however, are inconclusive and there is not enough research to make an expert statement on the reason for this condition. Yet, this is a fairly solid theory that does have backing.

How Does It Affect Dogs?

The good thing is that this does not affect a dog’s health. It does affect the skin and can be painful. Most dogs with this condition show signs at birth with having abnormal skin. This gets worse as the dog ages.

The skin is rough and covered with thick greasy scales, some of which tightly adhere to the skin and hair, and some of which are shed in flakes.

The effects on the dog’s skin can become severe with cracked and peeling skin. These changes are chronic and an example of what a puppy will look like is with the West Highland Terrier. If they are born with ichthyosis, the skin will be black. This will show up by two weeks of age and may cause the skin to flake, peel, and crack. Another area it shows up on is on the feet pads. This can make the pad look enlarged and may be painful for the dog.

How is Ichthyosis Treated?

First, the veterinarian will need to be sure that what is present is indeed ichthyosis. While puppies show more clear signs of it, older dogs may be checked for seborrhea to rule it out. Other conditions to rule out include allergies, dermatitis, and localized reactions. Since there are so many factors in an adult dog that may affect the skin, everything should be ruled out before making a determination.

How the diagnosis is determined is with a simple skin biopsy. The vet will use a local anesthetic so that the dog is not in pain while he removes a tiny sample of the dog’s skin to send to a pathologist. The pathologist can determine if it is indeed ichthyosis. This is sometimes done at the same visit depending on pathology.

Once this condition is determined, the treatment can be hard on owners. The dog must have moisturizing rinses and frequent mild anti-seborrhea shampoos. Other treatments include topical treatments that help form a barrier on the dog’s skin. The topical treatment has had good results but can cause side effects like vomiting, hair loss, and eye infections.

Grooming is important and should be included as part of the shampoo and moisturizing regimen.

For some dogs, the condition is so chronic and severe that the owners sometimes make the decision of euthanasia. It is best to discuss your dog’s needs with your veterinarian to see what their opinion is.

Since this is a chronic condition that worsens with age, dogs with ichthyosis should not be used for breeding purposes. This is due to the condition being hereditary where it may be passed on to a litter.

Caring for Your Dog

If you do have a dog suffering from ichthyosis, you have to make the decision (along with your vet) as to your dog’s care. Is the condition severe? Do you have the steadfastness to keep up with your dog’s frequent baths and treatment? Does your dog have mild symptoms or seems to be in pain? Those are just a few of the questions you will need to ask yourself. Some dogs can live a long and happy life – it just depends on the severity of the ichthyosis.

We realize that vet bills can be expensive so when you only want the best for your dog, pet insurance gives you peace of mind knowing your dog has the car it needs.

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