Ichthyosis (Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs

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Overview of Canine Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis, also known as “Fish Scale Disease” is a rare skin condition seen in both dogs. One of the so-called “scaling” (or “keratinization”) disorders characterized by an abnormality of the top layer of the skin, this disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. It’s referred to by the unsavory moniker of “fish scale” disease due to its near-accurate description of the condition.

A variety of versions of ichthyosis are said to exist. These tend to vary by breed. Each form of the disease may take on different patterns in terms of progression of symptoms and location of lesions.

The West Highland White Terrier and the Golden Retriever are the breeds most predisposed to this disease.

It has also been described in the:

What to Watch For

Affected animals (dogs, primarily) suffer a thickening of the skin. Rough skin under a greasy, scaly haircoat is typical of ichthyosis. Some severely affected animals can experience painful swelling of the footpads, in particular.

Dogs are born with this condition and experience a worsening of symptoms with age. In West Highland White terriers, for example, dogs are born with black skin that cracks and peels within two weeks of life.

Diagnosis of Fish Scale Disease in Dogs

Diagnosis is achieved via history and clinical signs observed on the physical examination.

Additional testing to exclude other disorders may include basic skin testing (scrapings, impression smears, etc.) and skin biopsy.

Treatment of Fish Scale Disease) in Dogs

Treatment is undertaken symptomatically. Examples of treatments may include:

  • Supplements (oral fatty acids, for example)
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Topical phytosphingosine and propylene glycol sprays
  • In some isolated instances, glucocorticoids and oral cyclosporine have been used with success to alleviate symptoms somewhat.

Ultimately, however, this disease is considered highly untreatable.

Prevention of Ichthyosis Disease

All dogs affected with Fish Scale Disease and their first-degree relatives should not be included in breeding programs. Apart from this basic concession, there is no other known means of prevention.


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Veterinary Cost

The cost of diagnosis and treatment tends to remain low for most cases due to the inability of even the most expensive drugs to improve an ichthyosis-affected pet’s condition. $30 to $50 in shampoos and other topicals comprise the typical monthly expense for this condition. Oral antimicrobials to treat secondary skin infections may sometimes be necessary. In these cases, another $20 to $100 every month may be factored into the expense.

Pet insurance can cover conditions including such as Ichthyosis Disease.


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