What is sebaceous adenitis?
This is a perplexing condition in which the sebaceous glands in the
skin become inflamed for unknown reasons, and are eventually destroyed.
These glands normally produce sebum, a fatty secretion that helps
prevent drying of the skin.
vary with the severity of the condition, and between different breeds.
How is sebaceous adenitis inherited?
It appears that the disorder is inherited as an autosomal recessive
trait in the standard poodle; however the wide variation in clinical
signs suggests that inheritance is not straightforward, and breeding
What breeds are affected by sebaceous adenitis?
is most often seen in the standard poodle, vizsla, Akita,
and samoyed. The condition has been diagnosed in many other
breeds as well (see resource 1 below).
For many breeds and many disorders, the studies to determine the mode
of inheritance or the frequency in the breed have not been carried out,
or are inconclusive. We have listed breeds for which there is a
consensus among those investigating in this field and among veterinary
practitioners, that the condition is significant in this breed.
What does sebaceous adenitis mean to your dog & you?
Sebaceous adenitis is usually first noticed in young
adult dogs (1 to 5 years of age). The condition can appear differently
in different breeds, and there is also marked variability depending
on the clinical severity.
One form of the disorder is seen in long-coated breeds -
the Akita, samoyed, and (most-studied) the standard poodle. Typically
affected standard poodles have dry scaly skin with patches of hair
loss along the top of the head, back of the neck, and back. Silvery
scales tightly adhere to tufts of remaining hair. Very mildly
affected standard poodles have a normal hair-coat, but abnormalities
typical of the condition are seen on microscopic examination of skin
biopsies. More severely affected dogs will have areas of thickened
skin ("hyperkeratosis"), extensive hair loss and often a musty or
odour. Secondary skin infections often occur as well.
The second form of sebaceous adenitis occurs in short-coated breeds
such as the vizsla. There is a moth-eaten appearance to the
haircoat with mild scaling, affecting primarily the trunk, head, and
Sebaceous adenitis is primarily a cosmetic disorder - that is it
affects the appearance of the dog rather than his/her general health.
The condition tends to be most severe in the Akita, resulting in
chronic secondary bacterial infections, weight loss, and fever.
How is sebaceous adenitis diagnosed?
Your veterinarian may suspect this disorder based on your dog's
clinical signs. To differentiate this condition from other skin
disorders, many of which are also associated with increased scaling, a
skin biopsy is necessary. This is a simple procedure done with local
anesthetic, in which your veterinarian removes a small sample of your
dog's skin for examination by a veterinary pathologist. The biopsy will
show changes in the skin consistent with this condition.
How is sebaceous adenitis treated?
This disorder requires long term management, which can be frustrating
for both owners and veterinarians because the response to treatment is
highly variable. There may be periods of spontaneous improvement or
worsening of the condition, independent of treatment.
Your veterinarian will likely try a combination of approaches, to
determine with you what will be most effective for your dog. Most
important is the regular use of anti-seborrheic shampoos to remove
scales and dead hair, together with fatty acid dietary supplements.
be all that is required in mildly affected dogs. Additional treatments
include spraying the dog with a mixture of propylene glycol and water
to help restore lubricants to the skin and the use of oral essential
For the veterinarian: Retinoid therapy and cyclosporine have
been used with variable results in refractory cases. Contact
the Genodermatosis Research Foundation (GRF) for the most current
recommendations on therapy.
Although the genetics have not been determined, the condition does
appear to be inherited in those breeds studied. It is thus preferable
to avoid breeding affected dogs of any breed, their siblings, and their
The Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals (GDC) operates an
open registry for sebaceous adenitis in the standard poodle. All dogs
that have been used or are intended to be used for breeding purposes,
or any dog with a diagnosis of sebaceous adenitis, should
be registered through an annual skin biopsy. Bear in mind that
subclinically affected poodles (meaning that they have no clinical
signs, even though a skin biopsy shows that they have a mild form of
the disorder) may produce clinically affected puppies.
The GDC (http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/gdc/gdc.html)
provides registration forms, instructions for veterinarians regarding
biopsies, and a list of participating pathologists. Registration
requires evaluation of two 6-mm skin biopsies by a participating
dermatopathologist, who will send the results to the submitting
veterinarian and GDC for their computer files.
In sub-clinically affected dogs (those with a normal haircoat),
histologic lesions consistent with sebaceous adenitis may not be
evident in a particular biopsy sample. Thus a pathologist's report of
"normal" does not guarantee that the dog is unaffected, but rather that
the skin biopsies examined showed no evidence of the disorder. By
having the poodle biopsied and registered annually however, the owner
all that s/he can to ensure the animal is suitable for breeding, and
has contributed information to the registry to decrease the incidence
of this disease in the standard poodle.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS DISORDER, PLEASE SEE YOUR VETERINARIAN.
Campbell, K.L. 1997. Diagnosis and management of keratinization
disorders in dogs. ACVIM - Proceedings of the 15th Annual Vet.
Medical Forum. pp 220-222.
Dunstan, R.W., Hargis, A.M. 1995. The diagnosis of
sebaceous adenitis in standard poodle dogs. In J.D. Bonagura and
R.W. Kirk (eds.) Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XII Small Animal
Practice. p 619-622. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto.
Research Foundation (GRF), 1635 Grange Hall Road, Dayton, OH, 45432
Copyright © 1998 Canine
Inherited Disorders Database. All rights reserved. Revised: October 30, 2001.
This database is funded
jointly by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at the
Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, and
the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
Reprinted with kind permission of
Alice Crook, DVM Coordinator, Sir James Dunn
Animal Welfare Centre
Atlantic Veterinary College University of Prince Edward Island
By Judy King
Adenitis is a hereditary autoimmune skin disease whose mode of
Inheritance is believed to be simple autosomal recessive, requiring a
single Defective gene from both sire and dam. SA is not sex linked. A
genetic disease of this type cannot be cured, but can be treated and
most definitely can
be bred away from.
SA has been diagnosed in many
breeds including Airedale, Akita, Chow Chow, Collie, Dalmatian,
Dachshund, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Lhasa
Apso, Maltese, Miniature Pinscher, Old English Sheepdog, Pomeranian,
Poodle, Samoyed, Springer Spaniel, St. Bernard, Vizsla, and Weimaraner,
as well as in mixed breeds. Sebaceous Adenitis is most frequently
seen in younger dogs but does effect dogs of senior age as well. A
of a SA dog may or may not show clinical symptoms, being what is known
as subclinically affected, meaning that some inflammation may exist but
has not progressed to destruction of the glands and the subsequent loss
of hair. They may have been described as having some skin allergies,
they are carriers none the less.
In SA the
sebaceous glands that adjoin the hair follicles become inflamed and
gradually are destroyed. Symptoms of SA can resemble allergies and
can often go improperly diagnosed for some time. The most common
are excessive dandruff (scaling) and hair loss, which can be from
to severe. The hair loss is usually patchy, giving a moth-eaten look.
Itchiness is not indicative of SA, but can accompany secondary skin
which can flare up and are often accompanied by a musty odor. The
includes antibiotics when secondary skin infections are present.
Accurate diagnosis requires
punch biopsy. A local anesthetic is injected into the site to be
biopsied (usually near the withers or affected area). When the area is
numb, a tiny 6mm Baker's biopsy punch is used to remove a tiny plug of
skin. Usually only one to two sutures are needed to close the biopsy
site. The sample will then be gently placed (without squeezing) in
formalin and sent for evaluation by a dermatopathologist.
In Akita's, systemic illness
(weight loss and fever) appears more common and is suspect as being
indicative of a secondary underlying disease/condition. However, this
is not to say all SA-affected Akita's have accompanying ill health.
Many owners have claimed relative ease of maintenance of their
SA-affected Akita, provided they stay on top of the situation by
careful monitoring the condition of the skin and the overall appearance
of their Akita's health.
is no cure for SA but with good care, the affected dog can be
comfortable, healthy, happy, and capable of giving and receiving love
just as before developing SA. Dogs with SA can live happy lives free of
pain and suffering. Treatment is relatively inexpensive, the most
difficult aspect of SA usually being a cosmetic one. Some recommend oil
baths, rubbing well
into the skin a non-perfumed oil (baby oil, bath oil i.e., Alpha Keri,
and Redken products have proven beneficial) to ensure saturation and
it to soak into the skin for about an hour. The oil loosens the scales
and lubricates skin compromised by the absence of sebaceous oil glands.
detergent is good for removing the oil, and often requires several
shampoos. Finish with a mild dog shampoo and creme rinse. Repeat this
procedure bi-weekly or monthly as needed. Some dogs grow new hair after
treatment; others do not. The hair loss and regrowth is cyclical. Many
Akita owners have disclaimed this treatment, not having seen
significant improvement, preferring instead to gently brush affected
areas a few times a week with a very soft bristle brush, thus removing
the scales that harbor bacteria, which can lead to secondary, skin
infections. How can we rid our breed of this disease? We now understand
with certainty the mode of inheritance. We can strive to breed away
from this disease by using the objective diagnostic protocol on
register affected dogs with the GDC (Institute for Genetic Disease
Control in Animals), P.O. Box 222, Davis, CA 95617; Phone:
916-756-6773. We can participate freely with the Open Registry for SA
and share our knowledge of the mode of inheritance with other breeders
and owners. Last, but
not least, (and the point of this page) you can contribute to SA
research by purchasing the '98 Challenge Pin. Funds from the sale of
the '98 pin are dedicated toward SA research. To receive updates about SA
research, subscribe to Progress in SA Research, published by GRF
(Genodermatosis Research Foundation). Write to 1635 Grange Hall Road,
Dayton, OH, 45432 USA or phone 513-426-7060 for subscription
information. Please note: The author gives
permission for and encourages distribution of this article for
back to top
By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla
Image Viewer. Sebaceous adenitis is an uncommon skin disease of
dogs that is genetically inherited and runs in families. Poodles,
Akitas, Samoyeds and Vizlas are at increased risk for this condition,
but it has been reported in other breeds and in mixed breed dogs.
The exact cause is not known,
but it may be caused by an attack of the immune system against the
sebaceous glands responsible for the production of sebum (oil) on the
skin. As a consequence, the skin becomes dry and scaly and loses the
hair (alopecia). Some dogs may develop skin infection as a consequence
the abnormal skin oil and may become itchy because of the skin
infection. Skin infections manifest with odor, papules (red bumps) and
The disease starts on top of
the head and spreads to the rest of the body. It starts when
dogs are one to three years of age and tends to get progressively worse
Screening can be done in dogs
belonging to breeds at increased risk for this disease to identify
individuals carrying the disease. Biopsies taken from clinically normal
skin may already reveal changes suggestive of the condition. Dogs
carrying the disease should be excluded from breeding programs due to
the genetic nature of this condition.
Other skin diseases
may look similar to sebaceous adenitis and must be ruled out by
Demodicosis is a much more
common condition that could also cause hair loss and scaling. For this
reason, skin scrapings are done to rule out this type of mange.
Many dogs with sebaceous
adenitis have a concurrent skin infection. Cytology – tape impressions
of the skin stained to reveal bacteria and yeast – should be done to
determine the type and severity of the skin infection.
The final diagnosis
of sebaceous adenitis is made by histopathology, so skin biopsies are
normally taken. Since the changes seen with this condition may not be
present in all the areas, it is important that several biopsies are
Stitches are places in the biopsy sites to ensure fast and proper
There is no definite cure for
this condition. However, several topical and systemic treatments can be
tried to decrease the clinical signs.
You may need to bathe your
dog several times a week using medicated shampoos to soothe the
skin and remove the excessive scaling. You will also have to use
medicated shampoos (Oxydex) to help speed the recovery from skin
Systemic medications are
given to eliminate skin infections and normalize the sebum production.
The most popular medications used for this condition are retinoids.
They are quite expensive and have the potential for serious adverse
effects. They are teratogenic, which means they have the potential to
cause fetal malformation in pregnant animals, thus they should not be
used in breeding animals. As they accumulate in the fat for a long
time, the teratogenic effect persists for several months after the
discontinuation of the therapy. This type of medication should be tried
for at least two months before
assessment of the efficacy is made. The most commonly used retinoid is
For dogs that do not respond
to retinoids, other medications may be tried. Cyclosporines have
been effective in a few refractory cases. This medication is
immunosuppressive, which means it suppresses the reaction of the immune
system, and therefore has the potential to increase the risk for
bacterial infections. Your dog should be closely monitored for adverse
effects including vomiting, diarrhea, liver and kidney disease.
Sebaceous adenitis is an inflammatory disease of the sebaceous
(oil) glands leading to the destruction of the glands. Vizlas, Akitas,
poodles and Samoyeds are predisposed and the exact pathogenesis has not
been established. It seems to be a genetically inherited defect and
young dogs are usually affected.
In Poodles, it is believed to be an autosomal recessive mode of
inheritance due to the fact that 25 percent of affected dogs may be
sub-clinical. Several theories have been formulated to explain this
According to one theory the disease is auto-immune in nature and the
sebaceous glands are targeted by the immune system and destroyed.
Another theory is that the destruction of the sebaceous glands is
secondary to a disease of keratinization, which leads to obstruction of
the duct and ultimately disappearance of the glands.
It is also hypothesized that both the adenitis and the keratinization
defects are secondary to an imbalance in lipid metabolism.
Related Symptoms or Ailments
Bacterial folliculitis (superficial pyoderma)
Disease of keratinization
Endocrinopathies (diseases of the endocrine system)
Deep skin scrapings should be done in any dog with these clinical signs
to rule out demodicosis.
Veterinary Care In-depth
Open Image Viewer
The early lesions include alopecia (hair loss) with excess scaling and
brittle hairs. The top of the head, the dorsal planum of the nose,
dorsal neck and dorsal midline are commonly affected areas.
Sebaceous adenitits has a cyclic pattern in some dogs with periods of
improvement and worsening. Symptoms are slightly different according to
the type of hair coat:
In short coated breeds (Vizlas), circular areas of alopecia with fine,
white, non-adhering scaling are commonly the first manifestation of the
disease. Infections are not common in these dogs and itchiness is
usually not present.
In poodles, the scales are tightly adherent and follicular casts –
accumulations of keratinous debris around the hair shaft seen
protruding from the follicle – are visible.
In Akitas, seborrhea oleosa is usually the first sign. Greasy, yellow
follicular casts are common.These animals tend to get systemically ill.
Concurrent epilepsy has been reported in some dogs. Secondary bacterial
infection is common, causing itchiness.
In Samoyeds the most severe sign is alopecia on the trunk with
Diagnosis of sebaceous adenitis is made by histopathology, and several
biopsies may be needed to make a final diagnosis. Biopsies should be
taken from affected and non-affected skin. Subtle early lesions are
most useful to document active inflammation.
Secondary bacterial infection and Malassezia dermatitis are commonly
present at the time of initial evaluation. Cytology is important to
determine the type and severity of the infection. Infections should be
before skin biopsies are taken to minimize secondary non-specific
Pathological changes of the tissue vary according to the stage of the
At the beginning, a nodular inflammation targeting the sebaceous glands
is evident. Discrete nodules of histiocytes, neutrophils and
lymphocytes are seen at the site of sebaceous glands. One disease that
similar to the inflammatory stage of sebaceous adenitis is the sterile
pyogranuloma syndrome. However, in the latter, the inflammation is less
focused on the sebaceous glands and clinically it has raised firm
rather than with scaling and alopecia.
As the disease progresses, the inflammation decreases until sebaceous
glands are no longer evident.
When biopsy samples are submitted, pathologists should be made aware of
the suspicion of sebaceous adenitis so that multiple biopsy sections
are prepared and special attention is paid to the number and shape of
the sebaceous glands.
Treatments include anti-seborrheic shampoos, emollients, essential
fatty acids, antibiotics for the secondary bacterial folliculitis, and
Keratolytic shampoos are helpful in mild cases. The most commonly used
include a combination of sulfur and salycilic acid. Alternately,
antibacterial products like benzoyl peroxide in combination with sulfur
(OxyDex) may be beneficial.
Topical propylene glycol (50 to 75 percent) diluted with water is also
effective to decrease the scaling. It is used as a spray once or twice
Soaks with baby oil have also been reported to help in severely
affected dogs. Dogs need to be shampooed several times to remove the
oil from the skin.
Essential fatty acids at high doses
Evening primrose oil at 500 mg twice daily orally
Eicosapentaenoic acid at 180 mg per 10lb of body weight daily
Retinoids in refractory cases, due to their ability of modulating
epidermal growth and differentiation. Retinoids should be given for
a minimum of two months. Outcome cannot be predicted on the basis of
clinical signs or histologic findings and a prognosis cannot be
determined on the basis of whether sebaceous glands are evident
Toxicity in animals seems to be less severe than in humans. Adverse
effects include: vomiting, diarrhea, erythema, keratoconjunctivitis
Isotretinoin (Accutane) has been reported to be very successful in
Vizlas with sebaceous adenitis. Isotretinoin has marked sebostatic
activity. It decreases the proliferation of basal sebocytes and it
suppresses sebum (oil) production. Other retinoids have been reported
to be only
Cyclosporines (Sandimmune) have been used in a few cases with
good success. In some dogs, good clinical response is observed in spite
of absence of sebaceous glands histologically. Although cyclosporine
has immunosuppressive properties (strong inhibitory effect on
this drug also has inhibitory effects of keratinocyte proliferation,
may be beneficial in some cases. Adverse effects include: vomiting,
diarrhea, gingival hyperplasia, kidney toxicity, liver toxicity and
increased incidence of bacterial infections.
Systemic antibiotics may be necessary for four to six weeks.
This condition is genetic and can be prevented by identifying
affected animals and carriers and eliminating these animals from the
This is a lifelong condition, thus chronic maintenance therapy (both
topical and systemic) is necessary.
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The Sebaceous Adenitis Email Support Group
The above information is simply
informational. It's intent is not to replace the advice of a
veterinarian nor to assist you in making a diagnosis of your pet.
Please consult with your own veterinarian for confirmation of any
diagnosis. Your pets life may depend on it.