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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

A Pup of a Different Color: Hyperpigmentation in Dogs

It certainly is a little alarming to see color changes to your dog’s skin. Pigment changes in people can be caused by things like cancer, so when your little white dog starts developing dark skin, it is only natural to be concerned. 

At the Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic, knowing a pet’s skin is our job. Hyperpigmentation in dogs is something that we see frequently, and we are happy to help pet owners understand.

Pigmentary Primer

Just like with our skin, dark pigment in a dog’s skin is the result of melanin production. It is normal for dogs to have more melanin in certain areas of their skin. Generally, darker areas of skin produce darker fur. Some breeds, such as the arctic breeds, have dark skin as well.

When normally pale skin starts to become darker, this is called acanthosis nigricans. Anything that causes trauma and/or inflammation to the skin cells themselves can cause thickening of the skin and increased pigment production in that area.

The inner thighs, underbelly, and limbs are areas more typically affected. The areas may also be hairless or itchy depending on the underlying cause. Hairless breeds may experience hyperpigmentation due to their skin being less protected. 

Pigmentary changes may be isolated or progressive and spread from their starting point. 

Causes of Hyperpigmentation in Dogs

Hyperpigmentation in dogs is usually not a disease or problem in and of itself. There are several reasons why hyperpigmentation in dogs may occur. 

Common secondary causes of hyperpigmentation in dogs include:

  • UV exposure
  • Skin allergies
  • Pruritus/itching
  • Skin infections
  • Inflammation secondary to skin parasites
  • Hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome
  • Medication effects
  • Physiological changes

Secondary causes of hyperpigmentation in dogs can often be treated if identified. It is very important to make an appointment with us so that we can get to work establishing a correct diagnosis.

Less often, hyperpigmentation in dogs occurs due to a primary cause, such as a genetic skin disorder like that occasionally seen in Dachshunds. 

Keeping An Eye On It

After we identify and properly treat the underlying reason for the hyperpigmentation, the affected areas may slowly improve or resolve. Typically, however, unless the areas are itchy or otherwise uncomfortable, areas of darkened skin are nothing to be worried about. 

Pigmentary changes in your pet can be a little alarming, but they are really a great signal to you that something’s not quite right with your pet’s skin. It’s usually nothing life threatening or even dangerous, but rather a sentinel for you to recognize that it is time to come and see our expert dermatology staff

posted in:  For The Dogs