As a dog ages, their body goes through all kinds of changes, their skin included. One of those changes that you may see is the development of age spots. These dark spots are typically harmless, but they still warrant a proper diagnosis and careful monitoring.
What are age spots on dogs?
Age spots are also known as liver spots or solar lentigines. These are flat, darkly pigmented patches that can appear on skin as a dog ages due to the accummulation of pigment called melanin. These spots tend to show up in the lighter haired areas of the body, such as the belly, ears, and nose. Keep in mind that if your pup has a thinner hair coat, age spots may show up anywhere.
Should I be worried if my dog develops age spots?
It’s natural to be concerned when you notice something’s changed about your dog. A lot of skin conditions and problems look alike, so it’s essential to know exactly what is going on with your dog’s skin to help ease the worry but to also catch something that could be a problem.
Some potentially harmless skin changes may include age spots as well as skin pigmentation changes, freckles, or even benign growths. However, if you notice any of the following, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian:
- Rapid growth or change in appearance, such as color change, size, or textural changes
- Irregular borders or shapes
- Bleeding or oozing from the spot
- Redness or inflammation around the spot, or any signs of discomfort like scratching or chewing
How to diagnose age spots on dogs
Diagnosing age spots can only be properly done by a veterinarain. Even if your dog has a previously diganosed age spot and another pops up that is very similar, don’t assume. Instead, see your vet. Pictures and notes are helpful but your veterinarian will want to look at the spot directly too.
Additionally, they may want to perform diagnostic tests:
1) Cytology: This involves a gentle sampling of surface skin cells on the spot in question. The veterinarian may use a swab or a glass slide to collect a sample and then they review the slide under a microscope.
2) Skin scraping: This test goes a little deeper, using a scalpel blade to scrape off surface layers of skin to get to deeper layers. The samples will also be reviewed under a microscope.
3) Needle aspirate: Using a large bore needle, the veterinarian will insert the tip within the skin under the questionable spot. They use a syringe to then “suction” cells out of the middle of the spot. These are also reviewed under the microscope to see which cells make up the spot.
4) Skin biopsy: For larger spots or those that couldn’t be diagnosed with the previous three tests, there is the option for a skin biopsy. This is a little more involved but will provide a better and deeper samplying of the tissue. Sedation or anesthesia are required and the sample is usually sent out to a lab for review.
Additional tests may need to be performed depending on what is found. Your veterinarian may recommend blood work, skin cultures, or imaging to get the full diagnostic picture.
Is there anything I can do at home to help?
If your vet diagnoses your with dog with a true age spot, breathe easy. These spots are harmless and warrant no treatment. However, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook completely. Instead, you should continue to monitor your dog’s existing spots and any new ones for the following:
- Size: Use a flexible measuring tape, a ruler, or calipers measure the size of the spot the first time you see it. Record it somewhere safe, like in a note in your phone, and mention it the next time you visit the vet. If you notice changes before your next scheduled visit, measure again and compare to the previous numbers
- Shape: Using a camera and the measuring tape, take a picture of the spot noting any specific shapes or patterns along the edges. For a low-tech option, you can use a clear piece of tape and a sharpie, or a piece of tracing paper if the spot is dark enough. Keep this photographed or traced image to compare to the spot in the future if there are any changes.
- Color: Using a camera, take a picture of the spot in different lighting, such as under soft yellow lighting, fluorescent lighting, and outdoor daylight. Use these as a reference point in the future if you think you’ve noticed changes. Take additional pictures to show your veterinarian what changes you’ve observed.
This documentation will be helpful during your visit to the veterinarian and can even aid in diagnosis. The notes can be incorporated into your dog’s medical records for future reference.
How do I know for sure that it is not serious?
The only definitive way to determine whether your dog’s age spots are benign or potentially serious is to consult with a veterinarian. Share the changes you’ve documented (using the suggestions above) and stick with any of your veterinarian’s recommendations for diagnostics. Regular check-ups and early detection can play a vital role in your dog’s overall health and well-being, keeping your dog’s vet fully informed is a great way to be involved in their care.
Should you treat age spots on dogs?
In most cases, simple age spots in dogs do not require treatment, just careful observation. Since they are typically harmless and pose no health risks, your veterinarian may advise you to leave them untreated. But stay vigilant – what seems like an age spot in general might be something else that’s less obvious and if changes like growth or sudden discomfort appear, it may be something that needs to be removed surgically.
When you should seek veterinary attention about black or brown spots on the skin
If you notice any of these indicators of change, it’s essential to seek veterinary attention promptly:
- Sudden appearance of additional new spots
- Changes in the spot’s size, shape, or texture as described above
- Swelling or redness around the spot
- Itching, irritation, or bleeding from the spot
Frequently Asked Questions
How do age spots differ from other skin conditions?
Age spots are usually simple in appearance and thought to be benign. In contrast, other skin conditions might cause more obvious discomfort, and you may see swelling, discharge, or noticeable changes in appearance over time. Skin conditions with notable discomfort or changes are not likely benign and should not be taken lightly.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
What are the pigmentation warning signs to look out for?
Warning signs for skin spots or lumps include rapid growth or changes in appearance, irregular borders (edges that look feathery, fluffy, or anything other than smooth or rounded), bleeding, or inflammation around the spot.
Can I prevent my dog from getting more age spots?
Age spots can be a natural part of the aging process, and there aren’t necessarily prevention measures you should take, unless you have a dog bred to be hairless (or a dog who has lost hair due to another health condition). If your dog has an atypical coat (hairlessness or hair loss), consult with your dog’s veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist to learn how to protect their uncovered skin.