Q: My Golden Retriever has started growing black pore-like specks on his skin. They first started from the inner legs to the groin and stomach, and are now growing around the ears and chest. This has resulted in a dull and darkened fur coat. My vet has tested and found these specks to be harmless. I tried to lightly scrub them off during bathing, but they became raw and red. Is there any way to remove them?
A: From what you have described, I would be suspicious that this skin change is actually melanin pigmentation, much like freckles in people (caused by solar radiation). Skin cells in dogs will react to any chronic irritation by developing increasing levels of pigment, and the skin will change colour slowly, to a dark brown or blackish hue. It begins in areas that have the most exposure (areas that have no hair cover) like the groin, armpits, stomach, but can appear anywhere the dog has skin irritation. It may start as small patches, like freckles, but as it progresses, it can become a full area of colour change. This is generally a sign that your dog has a low level skin problem or allergy, and is probably licking, chewing or scratching at these areas. The changes are not dangerous, but they do suggest you may need some treatment for skin allergy. If you can control or remove the source of irritation, then the skin can change back to normal over time, but it will take many months or years.
One other possibility is a condition called Impetigo (what we commonly call “blackheads”). This is caused by infection and blockage of the sebaceous ducts (oil glands) in the dog’s skin, and will appear as multiple black dots in the skin, with varying degrees of redness and swelling. If this is the problem, then using topical medicated shampoos or a combination of hydrogen peroxide (3 percent food grade) and tea tree oil can assist to control the bacteria. Do not scrub too hard, as you may inflame the skin and further spread the problem. I also advise using a pro-biotic supplement in the diet, which can assist to remove the unwanted bacterial colonisation.
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