Ichthyosis is a disease known for hardening of the skin. This seborrheic condition causes scales to appear on the skin, but it can develop into secondary infections, blisters, onychogryphosis, and hyperkeratosis.

Fortunately, it is a rare disease, so it does not occur very often, but it affects puppies more than adult dogs. Certain breeds are more predisposed to ichthyosis than others, since they carry genes that influence the onset of the disease. Learn more about ichthyosis in dogs, paying special attention to its symptoms and treatment.

What exactly is ichthyosis in dogs?

Ichthyosis is a dermatological problem that usually affects dogs more, although it can also occur less frequently in cats. As a seborrheic disease, it gives rise to characteristic scaly lesions on the skin. However, it should not be confused with seborrhea. These lesions peel on the skin and the pads of the feet, which means that the outer layer of the skin is shed.

It is a rare disease that usually manifests itself from birth, affecting young dogs in their first months of life.

Types of ichthyosis in dogs

Ichthyosis can be grouped into two main types:

  • Epidermolytic ichthyosis: appears in the smallest puppies from birth. Blisters form on the skin.
  • Ichthyosis vulgaris: thick, dry scales appear on the skin. Sometimes it can manifest as very dry skin if it is just a minor case. It can occur after birth or in the first months of life.

Symptoms of canine ichthyosis

During the first months of the puppy’s life, a grayish dander begins to shed all over the skin. In this process, the abdomen is usually the most affected. The skin can be seen with a dry appearance and darken in certain areas, especially on the thighs or the belly. Other symptoms of ichthyosis in dogs are:

  • Thickened skin (specifically, the epidermal granular layer).
  • Hyperpigmentation of the skin.
  • Hyperkeratosis of the foot pad.
  • Hyperkeratosis of the nasal plane.
  • Gray scales on the skin that can flake off.
  • Smelly seborrhea.
  • Onychogryphosis (abnormal increased growth of the nail plate)
  • Secondary infections by the Malassezia fungus.

Causes of ichthyosis in dogs

Ichthyosis in dogs usually has a genetic cause. For this reason, certain breeds pass on the gene associated with ichthyosis more than others.

These breeds include:

  • West Highland white Terrier.
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
  • Golden Retriever.
  • Pinscher
  • Jack Russell Terrier.
  • Yorkshire terrier

Golden Retrievers are the breed most predisposed to ichthyosis and therefore can pass the gene on to their offspring, even if the latter are a mixed breed. Around 50% of Golden Retrievers in Europe carry this genetic mutation.

Diagnosis of ichthyosis in dogs

The diagnosis of canine ichthyosis is based on both a dermatological diagnosis and a histological diagnosis by biopsy. To obtain the correct diagnosis, the following tests will be performed:

  • Cytology: the lesions will be observed and a cytology will be performed for visualization under a microscope. Ichthyosis should be suspected when a young puppy has severe scaling, crusting, seborrhea, and especially hyperkeratosis. If we see gray scabs from birth, it is likely. It must be differentiated from other more frequent dermatological diseases in dogs such as atopic dermatitis.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy of the lesion should be examined, taking a sample of the affected skin tissue to send it to the laboratory. Histology will show if we definitely face this problem.
  • DNA test: Diagnosis can also be achieved with a DNA test by oral smear. As it is a congenital disease, the best way to prevent the disease in the offspring is to avoid the reproduction of carrier dogs. This can be easily accomplished through sterilization. In addition, neutering your pet will help prevent reproductive diseases such as tumors, improve behavior problems such as aggression, and may even improve its life expectancy.

Treatment of ichthyosis in dogs

Ichthyosis has no cure, but symptom management can help control develop a good quality of life. We must bear in mind that the disease is for life, so this treatment will be permanent. If we ignore any of these problems, the injuries will reappear. Treatment will consist of the following:

  • Hydration: Due to the dryness and crusty appearance of the skin, hydration is extremely important. This means that they will need to hydrate themselves internally by drinking plenty of water, in addition to using moisturizing topical products to condition our dog’s skin and coat. Hydrating properties to look for include glycerin, propylene glycol, or urea.
  • Diet rich in fatty acids: Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are key to healthy skin and coat, so they should be consumed in good quantities in dogs with ichthyosis. The diet should be naturally rich in these fatty acids, but your vet can recommend supplements if necessary. Always speak with your vet before administering any type of supplement.
  • Special shampoo: they must bathe with special shampoos for this type of skin and more often than dogs usually need to bathe them, that is, at least once a week. Once the bath is finished, ointments or moisturizers should be applied.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures: Sunburn or extreme cold should be avoided as these dogs have more sensitive skin and could make the condition worse.
  • Antibiotics or antifungals: if they have secondary bacterial infections, antibiotics will be used. If the infections are caused by a fungus like Malassezia, antifungals such as itraconazole or ketoconazole may be prescribed.
  • Keratolytic Agents: If they have developed hyperkeratosis in dogs, this overproduction of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin) must be reduced with keratolytic agents that will stop the excessive production of keratin. We will also need to use emollients and moisturizers to soften the skin.

If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from canine ichthyosis, it is important that you go to the vet with him. Call 932 460 805 and make an appointment with Glòries Veterinary Hospital, our professionals will be happy to assist you.