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
• What causes skin to turn black
• Red flags to look out for
• Steps that you can take to prevent/ lessen this darkening
• When this is normal VS when this is a medical concern
Since so many owners are looking for answers in regard to why a Maltese has black skin, let's dive right into this.
Which Areas 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
• 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 discoloring. Paw pads and lips should be black as well.
With this said, not all Maltese have dark pigmentation on these areas of the body. Those that do not may have either lemon or tan pigmentation. The appearance of lemon, tan or black is in the bloodline; this is a genetic trait that can be passed down through generations; it may also skip 1 or 2 generations.
Body - 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.
What Causes a Maltese Dog's Skin to Turn Black
To understand this, we must first look to the element of pigmented VS non-pigmented skin. With canines, if the skin - or any areas on the skin - hold any color other than white, the puppy or dog has pigmented skin. With some Maltese, this may be lemon (which is a soft yellow) or tan (which ranges from a very light beige to a deep, darker brown) and as mentioned above. Many Maltese with the appropriate black points and halos will indeed have pigmented skin that is lemon or tan.
You may not even notice that your Maltese has pigmented skin and assume that it is the non-pigmented white. However, if you look at the ear base leather or lift hair in different sections of the coat, you may then notice that it does indeed exist.
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
that lemon or tan (that you may have never noticed due to it being very
light) already pigmented skin darkening to a black.
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.
cases, it is first noticed during grooming when the coat is wet and can
be quite alarming if an owner does not know that it (in most cases)
IF a Maltese does not have a medical issue (more ahead), the blackening of the skin is often due to 1 of 2 things:
Genetics - As we touched on earlier, black skin pigmentation is a trait
(just like size, bone structure, etc.) that is passed down. Traits can
skip generations and this is something to keep in mind when a puppy has
traits that neither dam nor sire possesses. Traits can be from
grandparents… and can actually be brought down from 5 generations back.
Sun exposure - Exposure to the sun 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 the dog's skin to blacken.
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.
Medical Reasons for Black Skin Developing on Dogs
While we have talked about areas of black skin not being uncommon with the Maltese breed, there are quite a few medical 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- A rare disease in which black, thick and raised lesions change into ulcers that crust over and bleed. May be present on just about any are of the body: head, neck, chest, shoulders, around the mouth, belly and/or genital areas. This is diagnosed with a biopsy and treated with anti-cancer medications 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 are:
• 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.
See Also: Health
Summary of Medical Conditions
As you can see, with these medical 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 the black skin of your Maltese is raised, this is your sign to bring your puppy or dog for a complete checkup.
As stated above, black skin that is raised up and above the normal level of skin is a sign of a medical problem and is your cue to bring your Maltese for a complete checkup. Here are other signs that this may be something other than normal skin color changes:
Hair loss - If the coat starts to thin over areas of black skin, this is most certainly a red flag. Thinning hair or balding areas point to a skin disorder.
Raised skin - Even if a Maltese has flat areas of black skin under the coat, there may be a separate issue if there are any freckle or mole sized black areas that are raised.
Irritation - If a Maltese paws at/ chews at areas on the body, this points to either itchiness or irritation; both signs that warrant a checkup.
Tip - During grooming, when you are giving your Maltese a bath and the coat is soaking wet which allows the body to be quite visible, take that opportunity to look over the entire body for any signs of lumps, bumps or other issues on the skin.
Steps to Prevent and/or Lessen Areas of Black Skin
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, many owners purposely encourage exposure to sunlight - even if this simply includes a bit of rest time in a sunroom during the winter season.
Therefore, if you try and limit sun exposure in an effort to decrease black skin on the body, it will often have undesirable outcomes, which includes the nose fading.
Limiting sun also means limiting outdoor activities and daily outdoor exercise is so important to keep a Maltese healthy and strong. It helps a dog to maintain a proper weight, keeps bones and heart healthy and in many cases offers a dog the opportunity to release pent up energy which allows the dog to be 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.
As long as there is no medical reason for the black skin (as noted above), there is no cause to be concerned about this and it is not necessary or recommended to take any steps to reverse the coloring. With this said, if black spots on a Maltese dog's stomach for some reason is undesirable to his owner, applying a sunblock to that area 15 to 20 minutes before heading outside will certainly work to block the sun's rays and allow a fading to occur.
Most owners already use a leave-in conditioner to keep the coat healthy and protected from split ends (See the Maltese Specialty Shoppe) and the continued use of this grooming product will block the sun from reaching the skin to a small degree.
With any medical issues being ruled out, it is quite normal for a Maltese to have skin that turns black. And in fact, it can be a sign of strong pigmentation that rules the black coloring of the nose, lips, eye rims and paw pads which are preferred with this breed.
Rest assured that this is extremely common with the Maltese breed and that many owners have puppies or dogs with this sort of skin coloring. So whether it be large areas that make your Maltese resemble a Dalmatian when he is wet from a bath… or smaller freckles that develop, it is just one more endearing trait to embrace.