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Pomeranian Black Skin Disease ( BSD)

Understanding BSD

BSD is a type of fur loss. Only the Pomeranian breed is susceptible to this certain type of fur loss. Those who have dealt with this before dread hearing the term. However, it is important for Pom owners to know about Pomeranian BSD, otherwise known as Black Skin Disease.

When a Pom has this, it is a gradual loss of fur. The stages of it normally occur as so:

1. The puppy or dog will have odd patches of fur that looks distinctly different than other areas. The fur will be short and often has the appearance and texture of wool.

2. Those spots will begin to thin out.

3. The fur, over the course of a few weeks to a few months, will continue to fall out until it reaches the point of those areas being completely void of fur and only skin remains in those areas.

4. Despite the name, the dog’s skin does NOT always turn to a black color. If it does turn black it can often slough off to some degree with the use of certain products.  In some cases, the skin will remain pink. Being exposed to sunlight, without proper protection, can then lead to permanent color changes to the skin, making it appear black.

BSD is also sometimes in correctly referred to as Alopecia X which simply means “unexplained fur loss". The cause of Black Skin Disease BSD is somewhat unknown - more research needs to be done-, however it is a very specific type of fur loss, which is easily recognized and really does not fall into the category of Alopecia, since it is a particular type of disorder and is not completely unexplained.

Onset of BSD in Pomeranians

Owners of Poms that have BSD often think that their dog is going through the Puppy Uglies, (a rather short phase of fur loss in which the puppy fur falls out and is replaced with a gorgeous fluffy adult coat) when in fact the dog is showing the 1st signs of BSD.

Many studies still need to be done regarding Black Skin Disease in Pomeranians, however from current studies the average age of a Pom that begins to show signs is 2 years old. However, owners must keep in mind that a Pom may be 3 months old, 1 year old or 4 years old when it happens. 
BSD beginning stage
This photo is of a Pomeranian that is just beginning to show signs of BSD. As you can see, no actual fur loss has occurred yet. The way it works with most Pomeranians is with the 1st signs here...The dark fur is very short, the white fur is "normal", fluffy and full. The tan fur is very "woolly" and has an odd texture. Within a few months, all of the lighter fur will be gone.
BSD final stage
This is the final stage of BSD for this Pom. Dogs affected by this health condition will get to this stage at varying times; for some it can be as fast as a few months, for others it can take a year or two. Some Poms will lose all fur and some will lose fur - completely - in certain sections. As you can see, all of the fur is gone from the belly and chest. Only bare skin remains. Fur on the shoulders is very thin. This Pom is NOT in pain....However, at this stage the Pom needs to wear a soft sweater in cool or cold weather...And in the sun, the Pom needs to have sun screen gently applied at least 15 minutes before going outside.
Important Facts

1. BSD is NOT painful for a Pom, this is different than other fur issues.  A Pom may or may not have itching; often the shampoos and conditioners that you will use for this will take care of any itchiness. Most Pomeranians do not have any discomfort other than feeling cold due to fur loss (see next item) and from small sores that can develop on elbows and other contact points (always have your Pom on a blanket or flat mat as opposed to the bare floor - and a quality dog bed for sleep).

2. Exposed skin must be covered with protection from the weather and the sun. When it is cold out, one must put a soft coat or soft sweater on the Pomeranian to help him regulate his body temperature as he will not have his normally thick, dense coat to do so. When a Pom is out in the sun, it is very important to gently apply sun screen to any exposed areas of skin. If not, the skin can quickly become sunburned, causing pain, blisters, etc. Allow the sun screen at least 15 minutes to soak in before you allow your puppy or dog into the sun.

3. It happens to male and female Pomeranians at the same rate.
4. There is no cure for BSD, however, there are several things that an owner can do to help. (More on this in a bit)

5. Many people ask us if BSD can cause the hair on a Pomeranian's face to fall off. It is extremely rare. In severe cases, the entire body will be bald yet the fur on the face will remain, albeit thin and short. 
Ruling Out Other Causes

While the signs of BSD are often very easy to spot, it is very important to rule out other causes. An experienced, trusted veterinarian should perform the following testing:

• A blood panel
• A urinalysis
• Thyroid testing
• Adrenal hormone testing
• A skin biopsy
This will rule out other causes such as allergies, mites, mange and other issues.
BSD with Blue Poms

When a blue Pomeranian loses his fur, some mistakenly believe the cause is BSD when it is, in fact, Blue Alopecia. With Poms that have the blue gene, the chances of fur loss being Blue Alopecia and not BSD is high. It is important to understand that the blue gene also is present in lavender dogs since lavender is a diluted blue.

In cases like this, the Pom should still be tested (tests are listed above) to rule out other causes. Here is what happens with Blue Alopecia…

If a Pom has a combination of lavender or blue fur mixed with another color (usually white), the white will remain “normal” and the colored fur will either thin out dramatically, grow to a very strange texture (usually like an SOS pad or woolly texture and stick out in odd directions or fall out completely.
Treatment for BSD

There are a couple of treatments that work to some extent for some affected Pomeranians:

1) While it is not completely guaranteed to work, it is suggested by veterinarians to have a Pomeranian spayed or neutered if they are diagnosed with BSD. There are some studies that have linked this condition to a sex hormone imbalance however this is still being studied. 

2) Another possible help is melatonin. This does not often work or fully, but it cannot hurt and it sometimes helps. It is oral melatonin that is used for this.

Melatonin can be obtained in 3 mg tablets at most health food stores or vitamin retail outlets. The proper dosage of melatonin for Pomeranian hair loss is 1 mg per day. Since most tablets come in a 3 mg size, you will want to obtain a pill cutter for proper dosing. 

Approximately 30% of dogs will show some response within 12 weeks. Therefore, one gives the medication for at least 3 months to see if it is helping. If fur regrowth occurs, one continues the medication until hair growth seems to have plateaued. After maximal hair regrowth has been achieved, the dose is gradually tapered down to a weekly dose over several months. Some dogs can ultimately discontinue medication though one should know that if one discontinues the medication and the fur falls out again the condition may not be melatonin responsive a second time.

Since melatonin is technically a nutritional supplement, rather than a prescription medication, the FDA does not insist on the same quality control it does for drugs. There may be tremendous differences in the amount of melatonin contained in pills between brands. At the present time a specific brand has not been recommended by any studies that have been done.

Treatment that has fully worked for some Pomeranians:

Please note that even though some Pom owners have found great success with these products, results will vary with each dog. With that said, you'll be amazed with this before and after photos of a Pomeranian that began losing her hair around the age of 3 years old and after extensive testing was diagnosed with Alopecia X (unknown fur loss). This may have been BSD, as there was black skin that slowly sloughed off, exposing pink skin underneath. Have a look at these before and after photos showing the results of treatment after a period of 3 months:
BSD before photo
Before: This is 4 weeks after beginning treatment. This Pom had some black areas that had sloughed off during the 3 month process of using the product. As you can see, the coat is barely there. Mercedes, photo courtesy of owner Shirl Thomas 
BSD after treatment photo
After: 3 months after using the produce every day - faithfully. Look at how lovely the coat looks now. It is soft like puppy fur. With continued use, it remained this way. If the treatment is stopped, the fur may fall out again. Mercedes, photo courtesy of owner Shirl Thomas 
Again, it should be noted that every Pom is going to respond differently to products; however as you can see little Mercedes' coat grew in quite wonderful and it is truly amazing that her owner was able to bring it back after how thinned out it was. While it does not show in the 'before' photo, there were areas of black skin that began to slough off as the product was applied. If your Pom has any open sores, do seek the advice of your veterinarian before using this product.

One of the great things about the line of the treatment products that worked for this Pom - and many others- is that it is non-toxic and contains only natural ingredients. The shampoo & conditioner contain: peppermint, melaleuca (which means tea tree oil), lavender, chamomile and rosehip seed extracts. The healing lotion contains: aloe vera gel (organic whole leaf), Vitamin E, rosemary essential oil, sesame oil and a special sulfer (healing mineral). These all work in combination to heal the skin, reduce flaking (and associated itching), aid in combating bacteria and fungi issues, work to remove skin pathogens, stimulate hair follicles & growth and reduce swelling.

These are chemical free, non-toxic products; therefore while each Pom will respond differently we would say that you don't have anything to lose and this just may be a method to help a Pom's thinned out or balding coat grow back in again.
For severe cases such as shown above, you will want to use 3 products: 

1 - The shampoo.  Important: Do NOT opt to use the shampoo bar! Only use this liquid shampoo. While the solid bar is a tad less expensive, it is too abrasive for a Pomeranian. Shampoo with this liquid shampoo 1 time every 4 weeks. 
2- The conditioner. Following the shampoo, condition with this (1 time every 4 weeks).
3- The most important element, the healing creme/ rescue lotion. This will work best if you follow these directions:

    1- Massage this into the skin (wherever the coat is thinning) 2 times each day for 7 straight days.

    2- After this 1st week is complete, massage it into the skin (wherever the coat is thinning) 1 time each day. You can safely use this non-toxic product for months. If this does work for your Pom and you reach a point where the coat has grown back in, continue to use every other day for a few weeks. Then, you can cut back to once per week.  Keep a close eye on the skin & coat to spot any future issues.

Note: You will want to make sure that once applied and massaged onto the skin that the cream does not rub off. Slipping a cotton shirt on your Pom will be important- you may want to go 1 size up from the size your Pom normally wears so that the fabric covers more of the lower back and/or rear legs. 
*** You can find all recommended grooming products in the Pomeranian Specialty Shoppe 
More Help and Trials

Scientists have been studying Pomeranian Black Skin Disease for quite some time. The University of Tennessee has done some great trials regarding this… and there are some good alternative treatments. While one should not get their hopes up (BSD is considered a condition that cannot be cured)…it cannot hurt to try treatment options since there is a chance of improvement.

In the PetPom Book there is a chapter dedicated to BSD and if your Pom is suffering from this, you will find our information very helpful, including more photos and more information on trials and alternative treatments. 
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