Ichthyosis in Dogs

It may be unusual to hear about a condition called “fish scale disease,” but ichthyosis (AKA fish scale disease) is a real condition that some dogs might face. Ichthyosis is a very rare skin disorder that can impact a dog’s comfort and quality of life. In this article, we’ll delve into ichthyosis in dogs, including what it is, the causes and symptoms, how it’s diagnosed and treated, and which dog breeds are more prone to developing this condition.

What Is Ichthyosis in Dogs?

Ichthyosis is a severe skin condition that affects dogs and humans alike, causing their skin to become dry, scaly, and thickened. The name “ichthyosis” is derived from the Greek word “ichthys,” meaning fish, and references the fish-like appearance of the affected skin. 

Causes of Ichthyosis in Dogs

Ichthyosis is primarily caused by genetic mutations that affect the skin’s ability to shed skin cells properly and retain its moisture. What scientists have found is that these mutations keep the body from creating a natural lipid that is present in the skin. Thus, the skin is unable to form the components of the natural and protective barrier. 

Fish scale disease is present from birth and will typically worsen with age. Being an inherited disorder, it’s passed down from parent dogs to their puppies. Responsible breeding practices can help reduce the likelihood of passing on this condition.

Because it is a genetic condition, some dog breeds are more predisposed than others, including:

  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Jack Russell Terriers

However, ichthyosis can affect any breed or mixed breed. Affected dogs and their genetic relatives should not be used for breeding to prevent future generations from suffering from the disease. 

Symptoms of Ichthyosis in Dogs

Dogs with ichthyosis often display symptoms that are easy to spot. The outer layer of  skin flakes away in larger pieces that resemble fish scales or large dandruff. This scaly skin can appear white or grayish, and it might cover large areas of the body. 

The skin may feel rough with thick, greasy flakes that stick to both the skin and hair. In some cases, the skin of the face might be spared, but the skin on the rest of the body and the paw pads are visibly affected. You may also notice large cornflake-like flakes on the hair coat or crinkly, rice paper-like skin on the belly.  

A more specific breakdown of symptoms includes:

  • Dry, flaky skin that resembles fish scales 
  • Thickened, rough or darkened skin
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Odor from coat
  • Hair loss
  • Thickening of footpads

Diagnosing Ichthyosis in Dogs

If you suspect your dog has ichthyosis, it’s important to consult a veterinarian. Diagnosis usually involves a combination of physical examination, a detailed medical history, and several dermatologic tests including skin biopsies. 

A skin biopsy involves a veterinarian removing a small amount of skin and submitting it to a pathologist for microscopic examination. These tests help rule out other skin conditions and confirm the presence of ichthyosis. Genetic testing may also be available, and your dog might be referred to a veterinary dermatologist for a more specialized diagnosis and treatment. 

Ichthyosis in Dogs Treatment

While there is no cure for ichthyosis, managing the condition can greatly improve a dog’s quality of life. Treatment for ichthyosis in dogs focuses on keeping the skin moisturized, protecting the skin’s natural barrier, and managing the discomfort of the itching and dryness. Treatment also includes management and prevention of any secondary bacterial or yeast infections. 

Your veterinarian may recommend regular bathing using medicated shampoos, followed by the application of creams or lotions. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help improve the skin’s condition. Topical treatments tend to be the most common form of treatment, but your veterinarian might prescribe oral medications to reduce inflammation and itching.

It’s also important to remember that this chronic, congenital disorder is present at birth and will require lifelong management. Regular checkups with your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist will be required and can cost a couple hundred dollars per visit.

How to Prevent Ichthyosis in Dogs

There is no way to prevent canine ichthyosis; however, responsible breeding practices and awareness can help reduce the prevalence of this condition within certain dog breeds, promoting better health and well-being for our beloved furry friends.

Ichthyosis might be a challenging condition to manage, but with proper veterinary care, affected dogs can lead comfortable lives. If you suspect your dog has ichthyosis, seek professional advice promptly to ensure an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.

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