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Yorkie’s Black Skin & Elephant-Looking Paws Untreated for Years

August 7, 2011

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Yorkie With Itchy Skin Can’t Get to Sleep at Night

“Gucci’s skin has always been like this.  The other vet gives him steroid pills that help the itch and help him sleep at night.  We’ve tried changing his food, special baths, vitamins.  Nothing helps,” said Gucci the 6-year-old Yorkshire Terrier’s mom.

Doc Truli has heard this same opening statement literally hundreds of times over the past many years.  A dog like Gucci needs a veterinarian who will provide a step-by-step thorough logical approach to his problem.  With the guidance of an invested, caring doctor, you can sort through the weeds of the problem and come out with a healthy situation in the end.

Skin Problems are so Common, You’d Think We’d Be Good at This By Now

50% of a veterinarian’s appointments are for skin problems.  Usually the dog has not had a bath in months.  Or years.  And the family cannot get a handle on why skin infections recur.  That one is easy to fix.

50% of a veterinarian’s appointments are for skin problems.

Much more often, the family researches on the “interwebs,” (as you are now, unless you are a regular VirtuaVet reader for enlightenment and debate purposes) and tries everything logical before they go to the veterinarian.  Most people get all mixed up, try things in an ineffective order, or think they are trying the right approach when actually they are not.  And then, sometimes, they actually have a complicated problem that will require several follow-up veterinary visits and professional plan adjustment.

The Trouble With Gucci

The whole body view of bald, itchy, dry thick grey skin and a muzzle: chronic dermatitis makes you moody.

Gucci in all his splendor

First, let’s investigate what’s wrong with Gucci, the Yorkie.

The vet starts with the physical description of the problem.  In this case, Gucci looks like many Yorkies who have the same problem.

Skin Description

  • Hyperpigmentation (Black dis-colored skin)
  • Hyperkeratosis (thickened skin)
  • Scaling and flaking
  • Erythema (redness to the skin, like an unhealthy blush from inside the skin)
  • Pruritis (itching)
  • Chronic (been present more than 1-2 weeks)

    Ths Yorkie's front legs exhibit "elephantitis," a skin condition with bald skin, grey thick crusty, flakey texture and hard folds of skin like on an elephant's legs.

    Elephantitis on a Yorkie's front legs

Diagnostic Skin Tests

Most veterinarians know what’s wrong with Gucci just based on the pictures.  However, the skin tests are valuable to find common complicating factors that would otherwise be missed and would make healing impossible or difficult.

  • Skin scrape cytology: this is a test where the technician takes mineral oil and squeezes an affected area of skin and scraps a blade on the skin at a 35 degree angle until the capillaries burst and some bleeding occurs.  Why do we torture dogs this way?  To diagnose concommitant demodex mite infection.  If demodex is present, then the skin will heal and then get bad again right away.
  • Skin culture and sensitivity: growing a small sample of excrete from the skin on a Petrie dish to identify bacteria and what antibiotics kill it.  This test is especially useful for a pet whose owner has been to a hospital, works in a hospital or corrections facility, or who has been diagnosed with MRSA infection.  The dog could harbor the MRSA and give it back to the human.  The two of them could end up infected forever this way.
  • Skin Tape Cytology: Surface skin cells are taken by tape or a tacky special microscope slide and stained and examined.  There are lice and surface mites, even ear mites can sometimes walk onto the skin on the body and complicate recover if they are not treated.
“If it looks like yeast, treat it like yeast.”
  • Yeast test:  Hah!  Fooled you!  Even though you probably read the picture captions and you know this is an allergic dog with secondary chronic yeast dermatitis, the yeast cannot always be proven with testing.  A skin tape cytology might pick up yeast from the skin surface and provide “yeast counts.” Many times, the yeast is living in the deeper layers of the skin.  We do not practically biopsy and remove a piece of skin from an everyday patient, so the rule the dermatologist for dogs teach is: “If it looks like yeast, treat it like yeast.”

Chronic Yeast Dermatitis in Dogs

Yeast is everywhere in the environment.  It’s not like the house is filthy, or the dog is filthy, or Gucci’s mom was irresponsible. It’s not like the yeast that people get that grosses everybody out.  Although it does grow and attack because of an unhealthy, weakened physical condition of the body in people and pets. In fact, Gucci’s mom went to the veterinarian regularly to help Gucci.

Endocrine Weaknesses

Chronic yeast grows on a dog when the immune system does not do its job and fight off the yeast.  Usually an endocrine imbalance like hypothyroidism or hypoadrenocorticism allow the yeast to grow.  If your dog seems to fit the whole body symptoms of these diseases, or is over 5-7 years old, your veterinarian will probably recommend blood testing for these conditions.

Hyperactive Immune System = “Allergy”

Yeast also grows when the immune system is tied up being allergic.  Allergies are very, very common in dogs.  Some dermatologists estimate up to 50% of our dogs suffer from atopy, which is a fancy term for allergies to inhaled allergens like dust mites, grasses, pollens, dander, insects, molds, etc.

Therefore, since yeast dermatitis in a young dog usually is allowed to take a foothold and grow because of allergies, many veterinarians will prescribe prednisone, or other steroids , and maybe topical anti fungal treatments.  Sometimes the yeast is under the sin, but not obvious, so the et will prescribe steroids for the allergy.  Then the yeast will grow more and , if the pet parent does not seek additional advice, then the yeast will spread and make the pet ever itchier in a vicious, uncomfortable cycle.

Common Dog Breeds Affected by Yeast Dermatitis (in Doc Truli’s Experience)

  1. Chinese Shar-Pei
  2. Yorkshire Terrier
  3. Cocker Spaniel
  4. Shih Tzu
  5. Lhasa Apso
  6. English Bulldogs
  7. American Pit Bull Terriers
  8. Miniature Dachshund
  9. Bassett Hounds
  10. Bloodhounds

Top Home Dog Skin Care Mistakes

  • Choosing food from a market and not the vet’s.  The only truly hypoallergenic diets are available through the veterinary office.  Almost all the diets marketed to the public will play with the wording.  Like saying “sensitive skin,” instead of “Hypoallergenic.”  If you call the 1-800 help number on the bag, they will readily tell you they are not hypoallergenic.
Top ingredient to look for to know a food is not hypoallergenic: “Poultry fat.”
  • Feeding one of the five top dog food allergies (United States):
    • Beef,Chicken, Corn, Soy, Egg
    • In Australia, it’s Lamb, instead of Beef.  “You become allergic to what you’ve eaten the most,” says Doc Truli every day.
  • Using antihistamines.  Each antihistamine drug works for only 10% of the dogs.  You do not know if your dog will stop itching, or just become tired.
  • Bathing in a flea and tick shampoo.  Very irritating.  And washes off any potentially effective topical flea and tick treatments.
  • Using low quality questionable “dog” vitamins from a pet store, instead of high quality vitamins.
  • Using “oil for the skin,” but not Omega three fatty acids with 180mg of the EPA subcomponent per 10 pounds of dog per day.
Doc Truli Tru Tip
Honestly–most of these allergy yeast dogs get better when fed a balanced, home-cooked diet of healthy food after appropriate yeast treatment, and housing in a scent-free, chemical free home.  Unfortunately, many people do not cook for themselves, so if they try to cook for the dog, they are so deficient in technique, picking quality ingredients, and clean-up and basic sanitation, that a veterinarian in the United States usually will not recommend this natural approach because it will get screwed up or worse, someone will end up providing even worse for their pet than food from a bag.

Gucci’s Solution

(These treatment guidelines are provided to guide you and your veterinarian.  To bolster your confidence in a comprehensive approach and to encourage you to ask for a referral to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist if needed.  These guidelines do not include drug names and dosages in order for you to try and treat at home and save money in the short term by torturing your dog with a home-made plan.)

Gucci needed allergy treatment, yeast treatment, and symptomatic treatment to keep him from scratching himself raw.  The treatment included oral anti-fungal medication (strong and filtered through the liver, so liver blood testing to monitor.)  This oral anti-fungal medication takes 4-12 weeks to work.  It works much better of the body is nourished as well.

Gucci mom switched him to an all-natural home-cooked diet under the care of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.  he started taking Omega three fatty acids and vitamin as prescribed by Doc Truli (for doses and prescription, see your local veterinarian).

After treatment, Gucci felt so much better he did not need the muzzle anymore!

Happy Yorkie

He received soothing prescription medicated baths twice weekly for a few months.

For his allergies, when we switched to the home-made diet, he healed so well, we took no further action.  However, if we had, we would have performed allergy testing to find out what environmental allergens bothered him and treated those through allergy desensitization shots or NAET acupuncture technique.

(Please note: VirtuaVet, Doc Truli, and Boston Brain Bank LLC list links to these companies for research purposes.  Doc Truli does carry products from these companies in her practice, but she is not endorsed by them, nor is she implying they are better than anyone else or that they will solve all of your problems.  Jus’ so ya know.)

Further Reading

How to perform an allergy elimination diet

Pet Allergy Investigation Checklist

7 Comments leave one →
  1. melma permalink
    February 5, 2017 12:07 pm

    Black skin on your dog is from a systemic yeast infection. Our little guy’s skin was black and he was completely bald on his belly, chest, all four legs, and ears. After an intense elimination diet we are only able to feed him ground lamb. This stopped the itching and once we started using coconut oil the real healing began. We added coconut oil to his meals, massaged it onto his skin, and used it as drops in his ears daily. After four months his skin is no longer black and his hair has grown back. His eyes are no longer goopy, he doesn’t smell and his hair is glossy. He is so much happier! He had one little set back when our granddaughter fed him a few cheerios. Any carbs and he itches like crazy. We wasted so much time/money at the vets on antibiotics and steroids, when it was so easy to change our dog’s diet and use coconut oil.

    • March 27, 2017 11:27 pm

      Dear Melma,
      Thanks for sharing your story. I would add that a veterinarian diagnosing the problem is necessary. There are other reasons for black skin. I suggest anyone experiencing what I call “the holding pattern” where the vet just keeps refilling meds, gets a different vet. Either see a doggy dermatologist or add a Traditional Chinese Medicine trained vet to your team. Also- many vets prescribe steroids and antibiotics when they also have diagnosed yeast. If you are going the Conventional medicine route, you need anti-fungal medication topical and/or oral to get rid of the yeast. It breaks my heart to see dogs taking antibiotics for a yeast only infection. The yeast is a kind of fungus.

      I suspect your dog had grain allergy. Lamb solved your food allergy component. The food allergy caused him to be so predisposed to the yeast. The coconut oil has anti-yeast properties. It is usually not “easy” for people to change the dog’s diet and use coconut oil. There are so many factors involved with skin disease. I love your success, though! THank you for sharing your wonderful results.

      Doc Truli

  2. October 25, 2011 10:19 pm

    My yorkie is 6 years old and I have taken him to different Vets trying to find out what is wrong and how it can be treated. He has warts to come up on him, even between his toes. He has got medium size black spots all over his skin. If anyone knows what I can do, please help.

  3. Katy permalink
    August 20, 2011 3:24 am

    Hello! I stumbled upon your site through google while searching for information about black spots on my 1 year old male yorkie’s stomach. I’ve just recently noticed them and I am concerned about whether or not this is normal. The spots on his stomach look like the ones featured in your photos of hyperpigmentation but he has no discolored skin save for the spots. The spots themselves are small, black, and pinprick sized, surrounded by a faint circle of raised skin and there are 5-6 of them scattered around his stomach/midsection. They do not seem to bother him and he does not itch anywhere… I can’t seem to find any info online so I will greatly appreciate any and all advice!

    Thank you so much,

    • August 25, 2011 9:50 am

      Dear Katy,
      Spots like you are describing just aren’t an “online fix-it” kind of thing! The skin reacts to attack from diseases and you are seeing the reaction. The pattern is similar for different diseases, and that’s where a veterinarian’s hands-on services really help you.
      Please see a vet.
      Doc Truli

  4. August 7, 2011 3:45 pm

    Terrific post! I have known so many people who have gone through this type of skin-guessing-merry-go-round with their vets. I also have been through some of this with mine, but never to this extent. I’m going to post this around.

    I apply my knowledge of food allergies (because I have a ton) to try to keep Barnum’s homemade diet diverse. I rotate my own diet and his. For him, with grains and veggies, this is easy. I even rotate between salmon oil (mostly) and free-range eggs and coconut oil.

    But it’s difficult with meat. He mostly gets beef and chicken, though I can occasionally score some pork, lamb, turkey, duck, or fish that isn’t too expensive. (But it’s rare, and he really doesn’t like duck or fish!) Do you think, given that he’s getting natural, unprocessed (and raw) meat, and different parts of the animal (organs and different muscles), that this will help prevent an allergy to chicken and beef? Or should I make more of an effort to diversify the meat?

    • August 7, 2011 10:32 pm

      Dear Sharon,
      It’s such a pleasure to hear from you again!
      It sounds like you are doing tons to prevent a weakened allergic-type immune system. Food allergies seem unlikely in Barnum’s future.
      Doc Truli

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