It’s common for pet owners to notice changes in their dog’s skin and coat as the dog ages. Some changes are harmless, while others may indicate an underlying health issue. One change that often causes concern is a dog’s skin turning black.
There are a few possible reasons why a dog’s skin may become blackened or darkly pigmented:
Normal Pigment Changes
Some dog breeds naturally develop darker skin and coat color as they age. This is considered normal pigmentation and is no cause for concern. Examples include:
- Poodles – Often darken from light apricot to dark brown or black.
- Doberman Pinschers – May develop dark gray or black skin pigmentation around the muzzle, under the tail, and on the back.
- Yorkshire Terriers – Commonly develop steel blue or dark gray hairs mixed with their normal black and tan coat.
A dog’s skin contains melanin, which darkens after exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Areas commonly affected include:
- Groin area
This tanning effect is similar to what humans experience. The skin eventually lightens after sun exposure decreases.
Prolonged pressure on bony areas like elbows, hocks, and hips can damage the skin. This allows blood to pool underneath, resulting in bruising that turns the skin purplish-black.
Certain skin infections cause staining and blackened skin, such as:
- Yeast infections
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections (ringworm)
Infections require veterinary treatment to resolve.
While rare in dogs, melanomas and other skin cancers can also lead to black skin lesions. Skin cancer typically appears on areas with minimal fur, like the belly, groin, or paws.
Blood Clotting Disorders
Problems with blood clotting can cause bruising and bleeding under the skin. This results in dark patches or spots from the pooled blood.
An excess of the hormone melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) causes darkening of skin in dogs. This may indicate an issue with the pituitary or adrenal glands.
When to See the Vet
Most cases of blackened skin are nothing to worry about. However, it’s important to have your veterinarian examine any significant changes to rule out underlying issues.
See the vet if your dog’s skin turns black and is accompanied by:
- Hair loss
- Crusting or scabbing
- Changes in existing moles or spots
Sudden skin color changes warrant prompt veterinary attention. Skin infections and cancers can rapidly worsen if left untreated.
Causes of Black Skin in Dogs
Let’s explore some of the most common causes of black or darkened skin in dogs:
As mentioned earlier, some dogs naturally develop darker skin as they mature. These pigmentation differences are considered normal for certain breeds.
|Breed||Normal Pigmentation Changes|
|Poodles||Apricot to black skin and coat|
|Doberman Pinschers||Gray or black around muzzle, under tail, back|
|Yorkshire Terriers||Steel blue or gray hairs mixed with black and tan coat|
While scary looking, these changes are no cause for alarm if your pooch is otherwise healthy. Make sure to point out any skin differences at your dog’s next veterinary visit.
As in humans, sun exposure causes dogs’ skin to tan. Areas with minimal fur are most impacted, including the:
- Inner thighs
The skin eventually returns to its normal color once sun exposure decreases. You can apply dog-safe sunscreen to prevent tanning in dogs with light skin or thin coats.
Skin infections that produce blackened skin include:
- Yeast: Reddish brown patches that are itchy and scaly.
- Bacteria: Oozing sores with black crusts.
- Fungus (ringworm): Circular, spreading lesions with hair loss.
Skin infections require prescriptions from your vet to clear up, which may include:
- Anti-fungal medication
- Antibiotic medication
- Antibacterial shampoo
- Topical creams
Be sure to follow your vet’s treatment instructions carefully to fully eliminate the infection. Seek prompt care if you suspect a skin infection in your dog.
Skin Cancer (Melanoma)
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that causes pigmented bumps or lesions. Signs to watch for include:
- Black or dark brown growths on the skin
- Changes in the size, shape, or color of existing moles
- Spreading black spots
- Sores that don’t heal
Melanoma typically develops on areas with minimal fur, like the paws, nail beds, and belly. Seek immediate veterinary care if you notice any unusual growths on your dog’s skin. Early detection is key for successfully treating canine skin cancer.
Pressure sores, also called decubitus ulcers or bedsores, happen when prolonged pressure damages the skin. Common locations include bony areas like the:
The constant pressure restricts blood flow, causing the skin to bruise and die. This results in open sores that can turn black as blood pools under the damaged skin.
Pressure sores require repositioning and padding to allow the area to heal. See the vet right away if your dog develops these painful sores.
Blood Clotting Disorders
Problems with blood clotting show as unexplained bruising. A simple cut that won’t stop bleeding is also a red flag.
Possible clotting disorders include:
- Von Willebrand disease – a genetic issue seen in Dobermans
- Hemophilia – an inherited disorder
- Thrombocytopenia – low platelet count
- Rodenticide toxicity
- Liver disease
Consult your vet for proper diagnostic testing and treatment if you suspect a clotting disorder. Prompt therapy helps minimize complications.
Hormone disorders can cause skin darkening in dogs. One culprit is excessive production of melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) from the pituitary or adrenal glands.
Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, is a common canine hormonal disorder that may lead to increased MSH and skin pigmentation changes. Diagnostic testing helps determine if an endocrine disorder is responsible.
Diagnosing the Cause
To properly diagnose skin discoloration in dogs, your veterinarian will gather details about your pet’s health history and perform a physical exam. They will note the location of color changes and look for any abnormalities.
Your vet may recommend the following tests:
- Skin scraping: Microscopic examination to check for parasites.
- Fungal culture: Identifies a fungal infection like ringworm.
- Biopsy: Microscopic evaluation of skin cells to check for cancer.
- Blood work: Assesses overall health and identifies issues like infections or hormone imbalances.
Your vet will choose the most appropriate diagnostics based on your dog’s specific signs and symptoms. Follow their recommendations to pinpoint the underlying cause.
Treatment depends on the reason for your dog’s skin turning black. Some options your vet may recommend include:
- Antibiotics for bacterial infections
- Antifungals for ringworm
- Steroids to reduce inflammation
- Chemotherapy for melanoma
Follow all medication instructions carefully and complete the full course as directed.
For superficial issues limited to the skin, topical creams, ointments, and shampoos may be prescribed, such as:
- Antifungal shampoos
- Antibacterial cleansers
- Hydrocortisone ointments
Always follow label directions and avoid ingestion when applying any topical skin products to your dog.
Surgery is warranted for removing cancerous skin lesions or growths. Your vet will discuss options like cryosurgery, curettage, or full tumor excision depending on the type and extent of skin cancer present.
Address Underlying Causes
It’s important to identify and manage any underlying conditions contributing to skin discoloration in dogs, such as:
- Hormone disorders
- Joint problems causing immobility
- Anxiety leading to excessive licking
This provides the best chance of resolving skin changes and preventing recurrence. Your vet can make specific recommendations based on your dog’s health evaluation findings.
Home Care and Prevention
Alongside professional treatment, there are things you can do at home to care for your dog’s skin condition and prevent further problems:
- Grooming: Brush frequently to exfoliate skin and reduce shedding. Use a gentle oatmeal shampoo.
- Nutrition: Feed a high quality diet. Supplement with omega fatty acids for skin health.
- Sun protection: Limit midday sun exposure. Apply dog-safe sunscreen before outdoor activities.
- Pressure relief: Provide soft bedding and regularly reposition immobile dogs.
- Anti-itch solutions: Discourage licking and scratching to prevent infection.
- Weight control: Maintain ideal body weight to prevent skin folds.
Avoid harsh shampoos or topical products unless specifically recommended by your veterinarian. Work closely with your vet to ensure your dog’s skin returns to (or remains at) optimal health.
When to See a Vet
Schedule an appointment with your vet if your dog develops any skin changes, including:
- Hair loss
- Changes in existing spots or moles
Skin infections and cancers can worsen rapidly if left untreated. Prompt veterinary assessment and treatment provides your dog with the best prognosis.
Certain signs warrant emergency veterinary care, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Extreme swelling of the face/muzzle
- Loss of consciousness
- Inability to walk
Don’t wait to see if symptoms improve – seek immediate medical attention if your dog shows any of these signs.
Prognosis for Dogs with Black Skin
The outlook for dogs with blackened skin depends on the underlying cause:
- With normal pigmentation, no treatment is required and the prognosis is excellent.
- For sun-induced tanning, skin color should return to normal when sun exposure is limited.
- Skin infections have a good prognosis when treated properly.
- Melanoma prognosis ranges from fair to guarded depending on disease stage.
- Pressure sores have an excellent prognosis when pressure relief and padding are provided.
- Blood clotting disorders may require lifelong management but generally have a good long-term prognosis.
- Hormonal diseases can be managed with medications and have a fair to good prognosis.
Routine vet exams help catch any skin abnormalities early when they are most treatable. Follow all of your veterinarian’s recommendations to give your dog the best possible outcome.
Most cases of blackened skin are not a major cause for concern, especially when properly evaluated and treated. With the right care, your dog can maintain healthy, normally pigmented skin.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about dogs with black skin:
Why did my dog’s nose turn from pink to black?
This is likely caused by sun exposure and tanning. A dog nose can go from pink to black as melanin pigment develops in response to UV light. Limit sun exposure and apply dog-safe sunscreen to prevent the nose from darkening further.
My dog has black spots on his belly – could it be cancer?
Dark spots or patches on a dog’s belly could potentially be cancerous growths. However, they may also be normal pigmentation. Take note of any moles or spots when grooming your dog. See your vet promptly about fast-growing, bleeding, or changing skin lesions – don’t wait. Early detection is key for successfully treating canine skin cancers.
Why does my dog have black flaky skin? Could it be ringworm?
Yes, black flaky skin may indicate ringworm – an infectious fungal skin disease. Ringworm causes circular lesions with crusty edges and hair loss. Diagnostic tests like fungal cultures can confirm ringworm. See your vet for proper medication to treat the infection. Be sure to disinfect your home thoroughly.
My dog has a black scab on his elbow – what should I do?
Black scabs warrant close examination to determine the cause. They may signal an infection, pressure sore, skin cancer or other issue. Don’t attempt to remove any scabs on your own. Instead, make a vet appointment to have your dog properly assessed. Proper treatment can then be initiated based on the underlying cause.
Changes in a dog’s skin color, especially blackening, will naturally raise concerns for pet owners. However, in many cases it proves to be benign pigmentation or sun tanning. Close monitoring for other symptoms helps determine when veterinary assessment is required. Schedule an appointment with your vet if your dog develops any unusual skin growths or discoloration. Early detection and treatment provides the best chances for resolving dermatologic issues and maintaining your dog’s optimal health and skin condition. With proper care and attention, dogs with blackened skin often have an excellent prognosis.