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Black Skin

Maltese Black Skin

Overview

There are many owners that are concerned about either their Maltese developing areas of black spots on various parts of the body or those that have noticed that formally darker areas are growing darker or larger.

This section will address those concerns and straighten out the facts regarding this sort of issue.

We will go over:
  • What areas of the Maltese should be black
  • Why and how black spots can appear
  • Health issues that can cause black spotting
  • How to fade and remove black spots from your Maltese

Areas That Should be Black

One of the most desirable traits of the Maltese breed is the wonderful opposition of the pure white coat and the deep, dark black points and halos. These areas 'should' be black:
  • Eye rims
  • Nose
  • Lips
  • Paw pads
In show, a Maltese should have these areas of skin be a deep, dark black color. The black that surrounds the eyes are called halos.The nose should be a rich black without any lighter discoloration.  Paw pads and lips should be black as well.

When There are Black Spots on the Body

Normal color of Maltese skin:

To understand this, we must first look to the element of pigmented VS non-pigmented skin. With canines, if the skin holds any color other than white, the puppy or dog has pigmented skin. 

Not all Maltese have non-pigmented skin. This does not necessarily mean that the skin is black; it may be have a light yellow or tan tinge. This may not be noticeable unless you lift all hair sections and inspect the skin under proper lighting conditions. 

That lightly pigmented skin can turn black:

In MOST cases, when a Maltese puppy or dog has skin that is turning black, it is a matter of these pigmented areas - whether these be little freckled areas or large patches that were previously lemon or tan - having a change from the lighter color to the darker black color.

Therefore, it is not usually a matter of non-pigmented (white) skin suddenly changing to black; it is instead lemon or tan (that you may have never noticed due to it being very light) already pigmented skin darkening to a black.

And if this happens, it generally occurs as a Maltese matures:

This can happen at any age; a young puppy may develop black spots or an older, senior dog may begin to develop them. Though, in general, it is owners of 1 to 2 year old Maltese dogs that begin to notice this change.

In many cases, it is first noticed during bathing when the coat is wet and can be quite alarming if an owner does not know that it (in most cases) is not terribly uncommon (but can be prevented or reversed). 

Black skin in the show ring:

In regard to skin under the coat developing a black spotting, this element is neither faulted nor preferred in most show arenas; though some feel that black skin pigmentation (that is not due to any sort of health issue) is a good sign of strong pigmentation that only serves to enhance the desirable black points and halos as mentioned above.

An example of how this may work, is that some owners/ handlers may (dishonestly) darken the eye rims with liner and while a professional judge can quickly spot this, pushing the hair aside on the back part and seeing black pigmentation assists to confirm and quantify the existence of true, black points.

There are two main elements that can cause this to happen:

If a Maltese does not have a medical issue (more ahead), the blackening of the skin is often due to 1 of 2 things:

1- Genetics. Black skin pigmentation is a trait (just like size, bone structure, etc.) that is passed down. Traits can be passed down from up to 5 generations back. And, traits can skip generations and this is something to keep in mind when a puppy has traits that neither dam nor sire possesses. 

2- Sun exposure. Exposure to the sun often causes darker pigmentation. In fact, it is not uncommon for a Maltese dog's nose to fade a bit during darker winter months only to darken again in the summer. 

Along these lines is the element that being outside - or even laying in a sun-soaked room - can cause black spots to start appearing. These can be anywhere, but are often seen on the stomach. 

Please note that if this trait is present and strong in a Maltese dog, even without sun exposure, it is going to emerge. If a Maltese is predisposed to black pigmented skin, this will develop regardless of outside elements.

Next, we will cover possible medical reasons for black spots, and then go over way you can prevent or resolve non-health related black spotting. 

Skin and Health Conditions That Can Cause Black Spots

While we have talked about areas of black skin not being uncommon with the Maltese breed, there are quite a few health conditions that owners should be aware of. 

As you will see, with most of these conditions, there are other signs such as raised skin. Therefore, if a Maltese puppy or dog has black skin that is NOT raised or altered in any way, it is often due to the normal skin pigmentation changes as mentioned above.

Here is a list of the most common health issues that cause black skin:
•  Apocrine sweat gland cyst - This would present as a few small, round darkened lumps. With many dogs, the lumps are actually a dark blue that can be mistaken for black. These are most often found on the dog's legs, neck and/or head. It is diagnosed with a biopsy and the lumps are removed surgically.

•  Basal cell tumors - A raised darkened lump on the skin; most often located on the chest, head and/or neck. This is a slow growing cancer that is diagnosed with a biopsy and removed surgically.

•  Bowen's disease (Squamous cell carcinoma) - A rare disease in which black, thick, and raised lesions change into ulcers that crust over and bleed. These may be present on just about any area of the body: head, neck, chest, shoulders, around the mouth, belly and/or genital areas. This is diagnosed with a biopsy and treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation.

•  Cushing's Disease - Unfortunately, this is not uncommon with the Maltese breed. This is a condition in which there are hormonal disorders that cause high levels of cortisol to appear in the bloodstream.  

Not all Maltese dogs with Cushing's have black areas of skin. For many, there are areas of skin discoloration, however it can be a dark pink or a brown.

Other signs of Cushing's include:
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Changes in appetite (decrease or increase)
  • Hair loss
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Skin lumps
  • Crusting on the skin
This is diagnosed with blood and urine tests and treated with steroid based medications such as prednisone.

Summary of Health ConditionsAs you can see, with these conditions that have black skin as one of the signs, there are other symptoms as well; most notably raised spots. Therefore, if you notice that any black spots on your Maltese are raised, this is your sign to bring your puppy or dog for a complete checkup.

Steps to Prevent and/or Lessen Areas of Black Skin on a Maltese

The following applies to black spotting that is purely an aesthetic issue, and not due to any skin or health issue. 
The best method to fade or eliminate black spots is to prevent direct sun exposure. BUT, there are a few points to keep in mind since there are several wrong ways to go about doing this. 

1) The first thing to keep in mind is that black points and halos are a desired trait of the Maltese breed and it is sunlight that can play a huge role in keeping those areas black. 

Since a lack of sun can cause the nose to fade above all other black points, many owners purposely encourage exposure to sunlight - even if this simply includes a bit of rest time in a sun-room during the winter season.

Therefore, if you try to limit sun exposure in an effort to decrease black skin on the body, it will often have undesirable outcomes, which includes nose fading.

2) Limiting sun should also not mean limiting outdoor activities since daily outdoor exercise is important to keep a Maltese healthy and strong. 

It helps a dog to maintain a proper metabolism, keeps bones and heart healthy and in many cases offers a dog the opportunity to release pent up energy which leads to being better behaved when inside the home. 

Just as important, it provides a great bonding experience for owner and dog, allows a Maltese to practice socialization skills, and is the time to train and perfect heeling techniques.

Therefore, staying indoors is simply unhealthy and the benefit of black skin fading does not outweigh all of the benefits of a dog exercising outside.

Keeping all this in mind, you will want to block sunlight from reaching a Maltese's skin (but not his nose), while still bringing him outside as often as normal (typically two walks per day, plus any additional outdoor, supervised playtime). This is best accomplished by using a really good leave-in coat product with SPF sun protection. 

A leave-in is recommended at any rate for proper grooming; however, if you use one with SPF and do so on a regular basis, this will help those black spots fade down.  

There are two types of sunscreen that are best for Maltese with black spots:

A spray. You will want one that sprays on with a continual mist, that will protect both skin and coat. We recommend Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray for Pets, and this can take the place of your Maltese's normal coat spritz. 

This is the only FDA Compliant Pet Sunscreen. Since only human products have official SPF ratings, this has the equivalent of 30 to 40 SPF, which is great for canines. Epi-Pet also smells fantastic and is a nice, non-greasy formula that leaves the coat healthy and the perfect amount of silky. 

If your Maltese goes out daily and you normally give baths every 3 weeks, you'll want to use this every other day, lightly misting over all body areas, including the stomach (sun reflects off of ground surfaces and hits a dog's underbelly). 
Wipes. Another option are canine sunscreen wipes. These are great if you just want to protect certain areas (like the belly), are great for touch-ups, and are good for when you and your Maltese are on the go. For this, Petkin Doggy Sunwipes are a good choice; they come in small 2-count packages. 

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