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Ichthyosis in Golden Retrievers: Vet Explains the Signs, Causes & Care

Written by: Dr. Kim Podlecki DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

Ichthyosis in Golden Retrievers: Vet Explains the Signs, Causes & Care


Dr. Kim Podlecki  Photo


Dr. Kim Podlecki

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Skin conditions in dogs are a common hot topic these days. Many dogs experience allergies, skin infections, itchiness, discoloration, hair loss, etc. But what about the condition known as ichthyosis? What is this disease, what are the causes, and what can you and/or your veterinarian do for your dog?

Specifically related to Golden Retrievers, there are current ongoing studies as to the prevalence of this disease, but it appears to be over-represented in goldens, Jack Russells and bulldogs. Keep reading for more on ichthyosis in Golden Retrievers.

What is Ichthyosis?

Ichthyosis occurs when the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis) does not properly develop. This condition will result in scaling and eventually progress to large areas of thickened, black-colored skin in addition to the scaling.

Here comes the science! The skin normally has 3 layers—subcutis, dermis, epidermis—with the epidermis being the outermost layer. The epidermis is responsible for protection against noxious and foreign substances, and helps protect the other layers from exposure to these things and the elements. The epidermis is composed of four different types of cells and is connected to the dermis (the middle layer of skin) by the basement membrane. The outermost layer of the epidermis, called the stratum corneum, is the first line of defense of your skin.

With ichthyosis, the stratum corneum does not form and/or develop correctly.

skin disease on dog
Image Credit: pummyoohoo, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Ichthyosis?

Initially, you may just think your golden has dandruff because you’ll notice small, white scales close to the skin. However, as the condition progresses, the scales will become pigmented (colored gray to black) and can range in size. These flakes will stick to the fur and often come with a greasy feel to the skin.

Your dog will typically not be itchy, licking, or otherwise irritated with the condition, which can lead to either misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all for years. However, dogs with ichthyosis can be more prone to getting secondary yeast and/or bacterial skin infections. The infections can be very itchy, further complicating the diagnosis.

Typically dogs will not get scales on the head, legs, paw pads or nose—the main areas of the body affected are the neck and trunk of the body. However, as the disease progresses, you may notice thickened paw pads and patchy pigmented areas of skin over the body.

What Are the Causes of Ichthyosis?

In Golden Retrievers, ichthyosis appears to be an inherited disease caused by a genetic mutation. This mutation prevents the stratum corneum (outermost layer of the epidermis) from forming properly. Because the disease is inherited, it’s important you speak to your breeder about testing they may have done in any of their dogs prior to working with them. If you plan to breed your Golden Retriever, it’s your responsibility to pursue testing not only in your own pet, but also the dog you are planning to breed yours with. Keep in mind, it is irresponsible to breed affected goldens.

If your veterinarian suspects that your Golden Retriever has ichthyosis, they may recommend a skin biopsy to get a definitive diagnosis. If you plan to breed your Golden Retriever, there is genetic testing available to identify if they carry the responsible gene(s). These are specialized tests and need to be submitted by a veterinarian to an animal genetics laboratory offering the appropriate test.

vet checking up on sick Golden Retriever
Image Credit: StudioByTheSea, Shutterstock

How Do I Care For a Golden Retriever with Ichthyosis?

First and foremost, you should seek veterinary advice for any skin condition with your dog. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about what your dog’s skin condition may be from, and how to treat it.

Many people mistakenly misdiagnose their own pet with food allergies, without any knowledge of other possibilities. Your dog may have food allergies—but they may also have fleas, a skin infection, environmental allergies, a thyroid problem, and many other conditions causing their abnormalities. If you notice any scaling, color changes to the skin, hair loss, itching, excessive shedding, or other abnormalities to your Golden Retriever’s skin and coat, please speak with your veterinarian about treatment and diagnostics.

We do not recommend slathering your pup’s skin and coat with any type of oils, lotions, or creams. Some of these may make the condition worse, especially if there is an infection present. Not to mention that most dogs will not tolerate this and constantly roll, lick, or chew to try and get these products off of their skin. This may cause unwanted further problems. Absolutely, under no circumstances, should you use eczema or other human skin condition treatments on your dog. These may contain products harmful to your dog.

Once a diagnosis of ichthyosis has been made, your veterinarian will help you manage any scaling or skin thickening with prescription shampoos, conditioners, mousses, and veterinary-specific products. The underlying ichthyosis will always be present. But your veterinarian will help lessen the symptoms and treat secondary infections, help with the lipid barrier of the skin, and monitor any progression or worsening of the disease.

How Long Will My Golden Retriever Have Ichthyosis?

Ichthyosis is a chronic, incurable disease. Once your golden has been diagnosed, it is something he/she will deal with for their lifetime. It does not usually affect their longevity and they should live a normal length of life. Your veterinarian may prescribe prescription shampoos and other products formulated to help with skin hydration and protection, but the underlying ichthyosis never goes away.

Because the disease is genetically linked, it is recommended that any affected dogs not be bred. If you purchased your Golden Retriever from a breeder, and they develop ichthyosis, you should contact the breeder and let them know. Affected dogs need to inherit a gene from both of their parents, who themselves may not show signs of the disease.



Ichthyosis is a skin condition that is most commonly seen in Golden Retrievers. It causes flaking of the skin, because the outermost layer of skin does not develop normally. A skin biopsy is needed to definitely diagnose the condition, as it can be difficult to distinguish ichthyosis from many other skin diseases. Once your dog is diagnosed, he/she will have the condition for their entire life. Your veterinarian can help keep your dog comfortable by controlling scaling, secondary infections, and the hydration status of their skin.

Featured Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

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