Ichthyosis in dogs

Ichthyosis in dogs is also known as “fish-scale disease” and is an uncommon genetic disorder that affects the skin in dogs. This medical situation is the consequence of a recessive hereditary pattern of mutation that keeps the external layer of the skin (epidermis) from developing and growing properly. Influenced skin is harsh and secured with greasy flakes that adhere to the hair. The term “Ichthyosis” originates from the Greek word for “fish”, as the skin of dogs suffering from Ichthyosis looks like fish scales. There might be Patches of thick, dark skin in addition to the thickening of the footpads.

This disease isn’t really dangerous for the dog but can be irritating and uncomfortable.

Ichthyosis in dog breeds

There are particular breeds of dogs that are affected by this disease. Affected breeds are as under:

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

Symptoms of Ichthyosis in dogs

Ichthyosis in dogs is classified by the following symptoms but the confirmation of the disorder must be verified by different tests required for the diagnosis of this disease.  The extent of severity of the symptoms vary with hormonal changes and stress.

  • Extreme hyperkeratosis
  • Cutaneous scaling
  • Skin flakes
  • Immensely dry skin
  • Thickened footpads and it can lead to swelled paws
  • Plaques
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Can cause dehydration since the skin is unable to retain the moisture
  • Dandruff

Causes of Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis in dogs is an autosomal recessive hereditary disorder. It means that the diseased would not show the symptoms if it carries a mutated Ichthyosis gene on one of the homogenous chromosomes. A dog with a mutated gene at one homogenous chromosome is a carrier and would not show any severe symptom. But carriers are responsible for transferring the risk of the disease to their offspring. If two carrier dogs breed every pup has a 25% chance of having Ichthyosis.


The veterinarian does a simple DNA test, also known as ICT-A DNA test, to get the genetic insights. Usually, mouth cells on the cotton swab are taken as the DNA sample. Results usually come after a few days and confirm the genetic status of the dog. If a dog is neither a carrier nor diseased then it can be used for breeding or mating purposes.

Treatment of Ichthyosis

Since Ichthyosis is a genetic disease and that too without a cure, one can only improve the situation through careful maintenance.  Although the disease itself isn’t fatal yet it can be quite painful and uncomfortable for the dog. Moreover, it is emotionally excruciating for the owner to see his/her pet suffering. Maintenance includes particular shampoos and rinses, regular grooming, available medication, brushing, and other recommendations by the veterinarian.


Anti-seborrheic shampoos and moisturizing skin products are best for the Ichthyosis in dogs. Moisturizing products form a protective layer on the skin and prevent water loss. Since the skin doesn’t retain moisture in this case, dogs can encounter dehydration and dry environments can worsen the situation.


Brushing through the hair can get rid of the greasy flakes and loosen up the tightened skin that comforts the dog.


Although a permanent cure is not available right now, some medications do help in the symptoms separately. Most of the medication available in tropical and oil-based that protects the skin from the environment and keeps it moisturized. Retinoid based compounds or Vitamin A, famous for the development and grooming of skin, is notoriously used in these medications. These medications can have some side effects including hair loss and eye infections. Keep in mind that there are high chances of relapse since the disease is incurable.

Why is my dog’s skin scaly?

Franky, dry skin can be owing to several possible reasons which can include lice, Demodex, scabies, Dandruff, Ichthyosis, and others. A proper diagnosis is the first priority in such cases and thus a trip to veterinary sciences should be on the topmost place in the task list. So, if you notice that the skin of your, ever so lovely, a pet dog is drier than usual dogs then do rush him/her to Doctor.

Can Ichthyosis be treated?

Ichthyosis in dogs manifests itself since birth. The puppy shows abnormally dry skin with flanks that may shed or remain stuck to the skin. Moreover, the actual tragedy is that the situation tends to get worst with passing time. Since this disease isn’t curable yet, the owner feels hopeless about such a condition. But the condition can be improved by the use of special shampoos, conditioners, and other products externally.

Unfortunately, when this disease reaches an extreme level, dogs might be needed to euthanized. It should be noted that the parents, siblings of the dog suffering from Ichthyosis, and that dog itself should be avoided at all costs for breeding. Moreover, carriers can be identified and should not be used for breeding purposes.

How common is Ichthyosis in golden retrievers?

According to the research, more than 50% of Golden retrievers in Europe are carriers of Ichthyosis. Resultantly a breeder can use dogs without knowing about the genetic make-up of the breeding dogs since there isn’t an apparent symptom to recognize the carriers. It will transfer the mutated gene to 50% of the puppies.

What triggers Ichthyosis?

As it’s a genetic disease thus mutated gene expression triggers the disease. A single gene from one parent has a milder form of Ichthyosis. If an offspring acquires genes both from the parents then the disorder manifests itself severely.

Ending Note on Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis in dogs demands a regular checkup with constant care. Usually, people get fed up due to the demand for a high-quality lifestyle and look after that this disease demands. Although the dog won’t die due to this disease yet they go for euthanization, which is wrong in many ways. A moisture maintaining routine with hygienic lifestyle can make the pet live its lifetime and thus, going for euthanization just because of one’s own laziness is definitely a question mark on the conscience of humanity.

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