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What Is Hyperpigmentation In Dogs?

Hyperpigmentation is when a dog’s skin becomes thicker and darker.

It is not an illness or disease but more of a dog’s reaction to specific conditions.

It is similar to an allergic reaction in humans, but can be permanent.

Hyperpigmentation comes in two forms, as either a primary or secondary condition. The primary form of pigmentation can occur as young as one year old.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hyperpigmentation in Dogs?

dachshund running

Hyperpigmentation is most common in Dachshunds

The typical symptoms of hyperpigmentation are:

  • Skin Discoloration – Typically black or brown in color
  • Thickened or Roughened Skin
  • Discoloration around the leg and groin area where it is most visible
  • There could be a reddening around the area which is discolored
  • Hair-loss in the affected areas

What Is Primary Hyperpigmentation?

Primary pigmentation is the rarer form and typically occurs in Dachshunds.

Primary hyperpigmentation will generally occur by the time your dog is one year old.

It is generally a breed-specific health problem and runs mostly in Dachshunds.

What Is Secondary Hyperpigmentation?

Secondary hyperpigmentation is very common in all breeds of dogs.

Though it is typically seen in breeds that are:

  • Overweight
  • Have Hormone Irregularities
  • Have Skin Infections

The following breeds can also be affected by secondary hyperpigmentation:

Secondary hyperpigmentation can be triggered by any kind of inflammation or friction of the area. This can cause the thickened skin, changes to the skin, a foul odor and the loss of hair. The inflamed areas could also be red around the edges.

With the secondary type, it is even possible that the hyperpigmentation could spread throughout the body. This is sometimes brought on by another infection or even an undetected underlying disease.

What Are The Causes?

There could be many causes of hyperpigmentation and it is usually indicative of an underlying medical condition.

One of the most common causes is hypothyroidism and 1/3 of dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism will show signs of hyperpigmentation.

Some dogs with lupus will get the discoloring.

Allergies are another common cause.

Cushing’s Disease in older dogs and is known as Pseudo-Cushing’s disease can sometimes cause hyperpigmentation.

Yeast Infections can cause skin discoloration.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam to try to figure out the cause.

Skin scrapings of the area are usually taken to determine if it is parasites or some other infection that is causing the discoloration.

Depending on the symptoms, further endocrine tests might be necessary to see if there is any type of thyroid or adrenal disease, particularly in younger dogs.

Sometimes a food trial will be necessary to see if there are food allergies or even topical allergies.

Even skin biopsies could be taken to see if your dog has seborrhea which is a skin related condition that causes your dog’s fur to be greasy and flaky.

Hyperpigmentation Treatments

There is no cure for primary hyperpigmentation especially as it occurs in Dachshunds.

Some dogs, however, might respond to formulated shampoos or ointments with steroids. However, this is only when the condition is cosmetic.

With secondary hyperpigmentation, the areas that are affected will typically clear on their own once the underlying condition is addressed.

If the condition is caused by a bacterial or yeast infection, those issues need to be treated first. Apple cider vinegar is a common treatment for bacterial or yeast infections in dogs.

Typically medicated shampoos or antibiotics can help treat the infections. Your veterinarian will determine the best route.

Your dog’s skin will eventually clear but it takes some time, even a few months.

In order to keep your dog’s skin clear, it is important to keep seeing your vet until the cause of the hyperpigmentation is fully resolved and the underlying issue is treated properly.

But, don’t worry!  Your dog will recover from hyperpigmentation unless the treatment for the underlying condition is not properly addressed.

Return to the Dog Health Problems glossary.

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