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Hyperpigmentation in Dogs

What Is Hyperpigmentation in Dogs?

Hyperpigmentation in dogs refers to a darkening and thickening of the skin, often manifesting as black spots, splotches, or patches.

It’s essential to understand that hyperpigmentation itself is not a disease but rather a reaction that frequently accompanies chronic inflammation linked to an underlying medical issue.

Should you observe any alterations in your dog’s skin color or texture, it’s advisable to have them evaluated by a veterinarian to identify the root cause.

While hyperpigmentation doesn’t typically necessitate immediate attention, it’s crucial to ensure that any underlying medical conditions contributing to it are properly addressed. This proactive approach will help prevent further skin damage in dogs.


The primary symptoms of hyperpigmentation in dogs include changes in skin color and texture. Hyperpigmentation can initially appear as small areas of rough, light brown or black skin, which may later expand in size.

Affected areas often lack hair and are commonly found on a dog’s legs, armpits, or groin. If there’s an accompanying skin infection, these dark patches may be surrounded by red skin. Over time, hyperpigmentation can extend to other areas such as the lower neck, abdomen, ankles, rear end, eyes, or ears, often exacerbated by itching or friction related to the underlying cause.

Failure to identify and address the underlying cause may lead to worsening skin issues like extensive hair loss, secondary infections, or skin lesions.


Causes of hyperpigmentation in dogs can be categorized into primary and secondary forms. Primary hyperpigmentation, which is rare and specific to certain breeds like Dachshunds, typically emerges before puppies reach one year of age.

Secondary hyperpigmentation results from inflammation or friction on the skin and can affect dogs of any breed, although certain breeds predisposed to particular underlying conditions are more susceptible.

Common triggers for hyperpigmentation include:

  • Obesity, prevalent in breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, Dachshunds, English Bulldogs, Cairn Terriers, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, and Rottweilers.
  • Hormonal abnormalities, including hypothyroidism, frequently observed in breeds like Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, and Irish Setters.
  • Cushing’s disease, commonly affecting breeds like Miniature Poodles, Dachshunds, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, and American Staffordshire Terriers.
  • Allergies, often seen in breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Basset Hounds, Jack Russell Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Irish Setters, and Yorkshire Terriers.
  • Contact dermatitis, which can affect breeds like Border Collies, German Shepherds, Dalmatians, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers.
  • Skin infections caused by bacteria or yeast, frequently observed in breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Standard Poodles, Shar-Peis, American Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, English Bulldogs, Labrador Retrievers, and American Pitbull Terriers.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), commonly seen in breeds such as Afghan Hounds, Beagles, Collies, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Old English Sheepdogs, Standard Poodles, and Shetland Sheepdogs.
  • Demodicosis (parasitic skin mites), with juvenile onset more common in breeds like English Bulldogs, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Shar-Peis, Dogue de Bordeaux, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Boxers, while adult onset is frequently seen in Shar-Peis, Shih-Tzus, West Highland White Terriers, Boxers, and Border Terriers.


Veterinarians typically diagnose hyperpigmentation by examining the characteristic dark skin lesions. In cases where primary hyperpigmentation is suspected, other potential causes must be ruled out first.

For secondary hyperpigmentation, determining the underlying cause involves a comprehensive approach. Your veterinarian will gather a detailed medical history of your dog and conduct a thorough physical examination. They may also perform skin impression smears and scrapings to analyze material collected from the skin’s surface and deeper layers, checking for bacterial, yeast, or mite infections. In instances where lupus is suspected, a skin biopsy might be necessary.

Blood and urine tests may be conducted to screen for hormonal conditions like hypothyroidism. If Cushing’s disease is suspected, specialized blood tests and abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to assess the adrenal glands, which produce substances such as stress hormones.

If allergies are believed to be the cause, a comprehensive dermatology evaluation, which may include skin testing, cultures, a hypoallergenic food trial, and dermal skin testing, might be necessary.


The treatment approach for secondary hyperpigmentation hinges on addressing the underlying cause. For instance, hypothyroidism may be managed with thyroid supplements, while Cushing’s disease may require oral medications.

In cases where obesity contributes to hyperpigmentation, a weight loss regimen comprising a tailored diet and exercise regime may be initiated.

For more severe presentations, injectable or prescription medications like allergy medication, steroids, and immune-modulating drugs might be necessary. In instances of concurrent skin infections, oral medications such as antibiotics or antifungals are typically administered initially, before addressing the root cause.

Early-stage skin inflammation may benefit from topical treatments like medicated shampoos, steroid ointments, and anti-itch creams, sprays, wipes, or mousse. Medicated shampoos are ideally used two to three times per week, with optimal results achieved when the lather remains on the skin for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. Between baths, additional topical treatments can be employed to soothe the skin and maintain cleanliness and dryness.

While there isn’t a quick fix for most cases, treatment necessitates patience and time. Regrettably, there’s no definitive cure for primary hyperpigmentation in Dachshunds. Nevertheless, managing the symptoms can significantly enhance your dog’s comfort.

Living and Management

Recovery and management of hyperpigmentation in dogs often involve potential relapses over time, depending on the underlying cause. Regular veterinary check-ups and strict adherence to treatment instructions, including administering medications and topical treatments precisely as prescribed, are crucial for effectively managing your dog’s symptoms.

The process of returning your dog’s skin to normal may span from weeks to months. However, it’s important to note that in certain instances, a dog’s affected skin may not fully revert to its original coloration.


Preventing hyperpigmentation in dogs is challenging as many causes are beyond preventive measures. However, obesity, a contributing factor, can be avoided by offering well-balanced, portion-controlled meals to your dog, limiting treats, and ensuring they receive regular exercise.

Hyperpigmentation in Dogs: FAQs

When should I become alarmed about my dog’s hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation should always raise concerns. It’s advisable to schedule a veterinary appointment to determine if there’s an underlying medical issue. While some causes are easily treatable, others may require ongoing care and regular check-ups.

Is hyperpigmentation in dogs a serious condition?

Fortunately, most instances of hyperpigmentation in dogs are not considered serious, and the diagnosis typically doesn’t affect your dog’s lifespan or overall happiness.

Can I treat my dog’s hyperpigmentation at home?

Treatment options at home may vary depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s hyperpigmentation. However, it’s essential to have your dog examined by a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, discuss with your vet about potential treatment options that can be administered at home.

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