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Degenerative Skin Disorder (Necrolytic Dermatitis) in Dogs

Superficial Necrolytic Dermatitis in Dogs

Superficial necrolytic dermatitis manifests as the decay and demise of skin cells. Elevated levels of glucagon in the bloodstream, which prompts the generation of blood sugar in reaction to low blood sugar levels, and insufficiencies in amino acids, zinc, and essential fatty acids are thought to contribute to superficial necrolytic dermatitis, whether directly or indirectly. This condition is infrequent in dogs and even rarer in cats.

Symptoms and Types

Typically, this dermatological condition will impact the dog’s muzzle, paws, footpads, eyes, and genital area, resulting in:

  • Scabs
  • Redness
  • Abrasions
  • Ulcerations/sores
  • Discomfort during movement
  • Skin and footpad cracking
  • Hyperkeratosis (thickening and toughening of the skin)


Superficial necrolytic dermatitis is linked to a nutritional imbalance stemming from insufficient amino acids or deficiencies in essential fatty acids and zinc in the dog’s diet. It can also result from metabolic irregularities triggered by elevated serum glucagon levels, liver dysfunction, or a combination of these factors.

Rarely, this skin condition may be associated with a pancreatic tumor that secretes glucagon or with long-term use of phenobarbital and phenytoin medications, which are utilized to manage seizures.

Furthermore, superficial necrolytic dermatitis typically signifies advanced hepatic disease or concurrent hepatic disease and diabetes mellitus.


Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your dog, which includes a biochemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel. You will be required to provide a detailed history of your pet’s health, the onset of symptoms, and any potential health issues that could have led to this condition.

Some blood tests may show abnormal results, such as elevated bile acids in the blood, increased plasma glucagon levels, decreased amino acids, and heightened insulin levels. Levels of sulfobromophthalein sodium (BSP, excreted in bile) may also rise to abnormal levels in the blood.

X-ray and ultrasound imaging typically do not aid in diagnosing glucagon. Nevertheless, an ultrasound might reveal signs of advanced liver disease. Skin biopsies (tissue samples) are crucial for an accurate diagnosis, although only early lesions are suitable for examination.


Your veterinarian will address the underlying disease if feasible and administer suitable medication to alleviate your dog’s symptoms. While most dogs can receive treatment as outpatients, some may require hospitalization. Direct liver failure should be managed with supportive care.

Dogs with glucagon-secreting tumors may undergo surgical intervention for a potential cure, yet these tumors often spread rapidly, making surgical intervention ineffective in reversing their advancement. The majority of such cases are linked to chronic, irreversible liver disease.

Living and Management

Regrettably, most dogs afflicted with this condition will also suffer from severe internal disease, leading to a bleak prognosis. Using a specially formulated prescription shampoo can aid in removing crusts and may offer your dog some relief.

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