Ichthyosis in Dogs

By Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP

Medical Conditions, Pet Services

I have a young Cavalier King Charles spaniel who developed thickened foot pads that became very stiff and hard. The rest of his skin is thickened and feels greasy to the touch. His veterinarian did a skin biopsy, and I have been told he has a condition called ichthyosis. What is this disease, and how did he get it?

ichthyosis_in_dogsIchthyosis is a very rare skin condition in dogs that is the result of a recessive genetic mutation. The mutation prevents the outer layer of skin from developing properly. Affected skin is rough and covered with thick, greasy flakes that stick to the hair. The term “ichthyosis” comes from the Greek word for fish, as the skin of these dogs resembles fish scales. In addition to the flakes and scales on the body, there may be areas of thickened skin with increased pigment, as well as thickening of the foot pads.

Breeds that have been recognized with ichthyosis include:

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

Is ichthyosis treatable? Is it curable?

Ichthyosis worsens with age, and some dogs are more severely affected than others. The diagnosis is confirmed via skin biopsy. Once a dog is diagnosed with ichthyosis, the symptoms may be controlled with frequently applied medicated shampoos and rinses. Ichthyosis is chronic and incurable. Unfortunately, severely affected dogs may ultimately be euthanized due to their disease. Affected dogs, their parents, and their siblings should not be used for breeding.

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