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What is Alopecia X or Black Skin Disease in Your Dog?

What is Alopecia X or Black Skin Disease in Your Dog?

Alopecia X (also known as Black Skin Disease) is the progressive thinning and, if left untreated, eventual balding of a dog’s coat. Where hair loss occurs, the underlying skin often turns dark or black (called hyperpigmented skin), hence the name ‘Black Skin Disease’.

Black Skin Treatment here

What is Alopecia X or Black Skin Disease in Dogs?

Your dog will lose their long guard hairs first. Usually there’ll be a gradual thinning of the hair on the back of their hind legs, and under the tail. Hair loss will also occur along their back, on their stomach, and around their genitals. Eventually, the skin becomes bald.

Although some vets characterise Alopecia X as a ‘cosmetic’ condition, because it doesn’t cause pain or irritation, when a dog loses their coat as protection it means their skin is now vulnerable to the environment. They can get frostbite, sunburn, chills or infection. 

You may find that your dog doesn’t smell like their normal self. Instead there can be a strong, unpleasant odour.

This condition is known by other names, such as adrenal sex hormone imbalance, woolly syndrome, coat funk, pseudo-cushings, hair cycle arrest (HCA), follicular growth dysfunction of plush coated breeds.

Although it can occur in any breed, Alopecia X is most commonly seen in Pomeranians, Chow Chows, Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Elkhounds, Toy Poodles and Miniature Poodles.

It’s a non-inflammatory hair loss skin condition.

"Over 4 months ago patches started, initially just one. Two vet visits later, they think ‘it’s possibly Alopecia’."

"Over 4 months ago patches started, initially just one. Two vet visits later, they think ‘it’s possibly Alopecia’."

He doesn't seem to be itchy or try to scratch them, he now has 4-5 patches across his back. His fur is still soft to the touch.

Alopecia X treatment

Early Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia X

Typically, black skin disease progresses quite slowly but this can vary dog to dog. In addition, it does not generally cause itching, redness or inflammation of the skin however because it leaves the skin venerable, secondary skin conditions or allergies can then develop which do cause your dog to itch or their skin to become red or inflamed.

Some symptoms of Alopecia X or Black Skin Disease are:

  • A gradual loss of hair’s colour and lushness
  • A gradual and symmetrical loss of guard hairs
  • The coat that’s left could be characterised as “woolly lamb” - dull, dry and brittle in appearance
  • The remaining undercoat may feel “cottony”
  • Symmetrical baldness, hair loss typically, but not always, starts on the rear end and amy extend to the back, sides and neck
  • Canine Hyper-pigmentation (darkening) of the skin
  • Sometimes this is accompanied by itching, but generally not
  • Generally, but not in every case, your dog will otherwise be in good health, with normal appetite and energy levels. Very occasionally, a change in appetite and/or thirst is detected

Alternatively, you may have noticed that your dog’s got some black or rust-coloured spots speckling the skin around the belly, genitals and teats. This indicates a very early stage of black skin disease in dogs  and evidence that there’s an infecting agent - possibly a yeast or fungus, bacterium, or follicular mite.

Signs commonly appear after a dog’s reached puberty, usually after the ages of 2 or 3. It seems to be predominantly male dogs who suffer from it.

The disease generally has a slow progression, although this varies from dog to dog. Although it doesn’t cause itching, inflammation or redness, secondary skin conditions or allergies can develop because the skin’s vulnerable. This can then cause your dog to itch, or for their skin to become red and inflamed.

"Our dog recently had to be shaved for a procedure but has developed Black Skin Disease / Alopecia"

"Our dog recently had to be shaved for a procedure but has developed Black Skin Disease / Alopecia"

We are using Dermagic to get the hair to grow back

dermagic treatment

What Causes Alopecia X in my Dog?

The word Alopecia means ‘hair loss’. Alopecia X is a mysterious disease. The exact cause is still unknown - hence the X. Some theories suggest it’s triggered by hormonal imbalance in dogs - specifically related to sex hormones and the adrenal glands - allergies, obesity, or genetic factors. 

Signs commonly appear after a dog has reached puberty. It seems to be predominantly male dogs who suffer from it. It’s often seen in dogs that have been neutered or spayed, which is thought to lead perhaps to hormonal disruptions.

Studies have ruled out a number of factors as causes, including growth hormone deficiency; castration responsive dermatosis; pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism, and abnormal steroidgeneisis. 

More recent studies are concentrating on genetics and hormone receptors on the hair follicles. Some people think that the fact that dogs have an alkaline skin pH - lacking the protective acid mantle that humans have - makes them susceptible to bacteria.

Sometimes Alopecia X is confused with Cushings Disease but only shares the symptoms of hair loss on the trunk and hyper-pigmentation, and none of the other systemic signs. That’s why it’s sometimes known as pseudo-Cushings.

If your dog suffers from Alopecia X, the recommendation is they shouldn’t be bred from, as they’re likely to have offspring that will also suffer from the disease.

What Happens Next?

If you notice your dog has any of the above symptoms it’s important to get a vet’s appointment. As alopecia can be a symptom of other illnesses, other conditions that can be more serious need to be ruled out (such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Syndrome, cyclic flank baldness, telogen defluxion). 

In the meantime, protect your dog from the cold by putting a coat or sweater on when it’s cold, or sunscreen if it’s hot. Use special dog sunscreen and apply to exposed skin to prevent sunburn. Don’t use human products on pets, unless your vet has specially recommended them.

Until you’ve seen the vet, refrain from bathing your dog more than normal, even if they’re smelling. This can encourage the disease and make their skin itch.

There’s currently no definitive test for Alopecia X. It’s diagnosed through a process of elimination of other conditions, plus breed and history will be taken into account.

It’s likely your vet will suggest a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry profile, thyroid test and skin biopsy.  

In addition, your vet might take skin scrapings to rule out fungal and bacterial infections, and skin surface cytology to check for parasites or secondary skin conditions. Other hormone tests are also likely, as well as the possibility of an abdominal ultrasound and urinalysis. 

All these tests will come back normal if the condition is only Alopecia X. If an adrenal sex hormone test is done, it might show abnormalities which might not necessarily be connected to the hair loss.

Once your vet has confirmed a diagnosis you can discuss a dog hair loss treatment plan.

Your vet may want to test every 3 to 6 months in order to monitor for other endocrinopathies.

"I tried several other products before, nothing worked and Alopecia was getting much worse on our pomeranian. Openly saying he started to look like coming from trash bin. After two months of application of Dermagic Skin Rescue Lotion, his hair started to grow from sides, week by week getting better. Now it is 4 months from the start of the cure and 80% of the problematic area si cured and I can say that he looks great again. My expectation is that it would need another 1 or 2 months to have full result. New hair has nice density and is very fluffy. I am really grateful for such cure. Thums up!"

dermagic treatment

Can I Prevent my Dog From Alopecia X?

As the exact cause is uncertain, prevention is challenging. However, maintaining overall good health through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper grooming practices can contribute to your dog's well-being.

Some theories suggest that neutering your dog may help, although this hasn’t been clinically proven.

Treatment Options: How Can I Help My Dog?

Treatment for Alopecia X can differ dog to dog, often dependent on what has triggered it.   

No treatment works for every dog, but there are measures which can manage it very effectively. Although it is unsightly and can cause uncomfortable side effects (e.g. sunburn, secondary infections etc), Alopecia X does not in and of itself harm your dog, so the overall goal for treatments is to have your dog re-grow their coat and prevent a recurrence of hair loss.

Common treatment options include

  • Hormone Therapy - This can be very effective; however, it’s a long process that requires multiple vet visits and close monitoring of your dog’s hormonal balance and organ function via repeated blood tests. A hormone such as methyltestosterone can damage your dog’s liver over time, and cause aggression in your dog.

  • Steroids - Prednisone, cimetidine, ketoconazole, anipryl or leuprolide. These treatments are sometimes used to attempt to re-start the growth cycle of hair follicles, but again, can cause issues associated with steroids, such as making skin more fragile and increasing aggression.
  • Melatonin Supplements - Melatonin is a natural supplement that can be given to improve coat re-growth. However, a side effect of this is drowsiness and sedation.  If your dog’s been prescribed melatonin supplements for dogs, regrowth ideally will happen within 6 to 8 weeks. 

  • Light Therapy - Used under vet supervision, phototherapy is a complementary therapy that can promote hair growth and reduce inflammation.

  • Topical Lotions/Shampoo - These can be very effective in tackling the issue of hair loss. They can then be used to maintain a healthy coat. At Zoomadog we recommend Dermagic products. 

Dermagic products were developed by an organic chemist whose own dog had such bad skin issues and baldness the vet was recommending she be euthanized. The founder experimented until she found a formula that completely healed her dog, whose hair totally grew back. 

We receive excellent feedback from our customers who have used these products. The shampoos and topical lotions are made from all natural ingredients. They provide natural remedies for dog skin issues. 

If your dog is suffering from Alopecia X, using the Dermagic System is recommended. It’s a four-step process which tackles the acute problem, and then helps your dog maintain a healthy coat. The maintenance program is less intense.

As Dermagic’s a natural product, rather than pharmaceutical, results won’t be instant. You should notice a difference after a couple of weeks. It’s interesting to note that the founder of Dermagic isn’t a proponent of steroids for Alopecia X/Black Skin Disease as she believes they disrupt the natural immune system.

What Breeds and Ages Commonly Suffer From Alopecia X?

Although it can occur in any breed, Alopecia X is most commonly seen in breeds with double coats, including Pomeranians, Chow Chows, Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Elkhounds, as well as Toy Poodles and Miniature Poodles.

The onset of Alopecia X typically occurs in adulthood, around the age of 3 to 5 years.

Help Around The House

  1. Gentle Grooming: Be cautious with grooming to avoid stressing the remaining coat
  2. Comfortable Bedding: Provide a soft and comfortable bed
  3. Nutrition: Check with your vet whether a grain-free diet might help your dog recover more quickly from Alopecia X, especially if yeast is implicated in their condition. If their current food contains a lot of fillers that might cause allergies, consider changing the brand.
  4. Supplements  - Omega 3 supplements can help reduce inflammation and contribute to overall skin and coat health
  5. Avoid Stress - Minimise stressors that could exacerbate the condition.

Be aware that if your dog has bald patches of exposed skin or very thin hair, they’re much more vulnerable to the sun or the cold. Skin can become very fragile, especially if your dog is receiving steroids, so sunburn is common. 

You can apply a special dog sun cream to exposed skin to prevent this however, make sure to use a sun cream which is specially formulated for dogs.  Avoid using human products on pets unless your vet has specifically recommended them.

Conclusion

Alopecia X can be a perplexing condition, and look distressing. Although one focus is on managing the cosmetic impact - ie.. ensuring your dog doesn’t get frostbite, sunburn or skin infections - the main goal should be getting the coat to re-grow and avoiding a recurrence of hair loss. 

Medical treatments aren’t generally a ‘cure all’ or ‘one size fits all’ for Alopecia X. They allow the hair cycle to start again, but the cycle will resume for one cycle only. Your dog will likely lose his hair again and this can happen between 1 month or 3-5 years later.

Using skin lotions, such as Dermagic for dogs, although time consuming and a commitment, can keep the condition under control, and maintain re-growth of the hair.

Dog Alopecia X or Black Skin Disease - Causes, Prevention and How to Help

Black spots on your dog most commonly start on the belly or sensitive areas, but can begin elsewhere. Black Skin Disease can also include dramatic hair lose known as Alopecia X, commonly seen in Pomeranians. This can be worrying, but no fear! You need to apply Dermagic twice a day and soon your dogs black spots will fade away and the hair will start to grow again. We recommend using twice daily for the first week and daily thereafter until your dogs coat and skin are back to normal. Keep the area covered to help reduce your dog licking and to keep it away from the suns harmful rays. If you are new to Dermagic, we recommend starting with the Dermagic System Offer.

Read Further on Alopecia X

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