By Michelle Knowles
Sebaceous Adenitis, or SA, is a skin condition that can be found among all dog breeds and is not considered common.
SA is associated with inflammation in the skin and, in some cases, a secondary infection or an underlying systemic issue, with the eventual damage or death to the sebaceous gland. This can severely decrease the amount of oil available on the pet’s skin, leaving it dry, brittle and unable to perform its function. While there are rare cases of remission, treatments performed are for the lifetime of the pet.
SA seems to be more prevalent in certain breeds of dogs like Standard Poodles, Akitas, Huskies and, in some instances, Havanese and other breeds. It can sometimes, but very rarely, be found in rabbits, horses and humans. And is also extremely rarely found in cats, but there is very little research on the feline side of the condition and long–term studies are few.
SA comes in a long and short coat form and it is thought to be caused by an auto–immune response, defects in the keratinization process or lipid metabolism, or an inflammatory response in the sebaceous glands themselves, but there is uncertainty as to what actually causes the condition. There is also evidence to link SA to genetics and heredity, and animals that present with SA should not be used for breeding purposes.
SA starts with a noticeable change in the texture and even color of the coat in a few places, and spreads to other parts of the body. Other symptoms can include: intense scratching, clumps in the coat, hard dry patches on the skin, alopecia or hair loss, blocked follicles, a hardened substance around the roots sometimes called a “frond”, bacterial and/or fungal infections, a noticeable odor, and dandruff or scaling that falls from the coat. Diagnosing SA is done by cytology of the skin, scrapings, trichogram or biopsy in order to reveal the extent of the gland death.
Accepted treatments consist of internal medications such as Cyclosporine, Vitamin A supplements and Tetracycline, along with topical administration of oils, antibacterials and antifungals, either together or separately. The goal is to preserve the sebaceous glands that are left and to support the glands that are dormant, as well as keep the skin well–oiled so further damage does not occur.
Currently, most veterinarians prescribe the use of a 1–2 hour soak in mineral oil followed by dish liquid soap to remove the excess oil. However, in my opinion, better results can be achieved by using nourishing oils that give back the nutrients that the skin and follicles need for health and new growth. These oils can be used separately or together, and provide more “food” to the skin than mineral oil. There is less of an oily residue when using nourishing oils.
When using a protein conditioner as a base, you can then add one or a combination of avocado oil, argan oil, marine collagen, baobab oil, jojoba oil and camellia oil. Coconut oil is not recommended as it can be comedogenic. You can also add plant mineral liquid (sold at health food stores, not at the local garden center) to boost and support the immune system and fulfill the requirements of the skin. This mixture should be used in the oil soaking part and should be left on a damp coat for 1 to 2 hours. Bathrobes, towels and other cosmetic wraps work well to retain heat and moisture during the process.
If there is no secondary infection present, shampoo afterwards with a mild shampoo that will not strip the oils. If a secondary infection is present, use the appropriate shampoo or combination of shampoos for this issue and let sit for no more than five minutes after massaging it into the coat. Rinse well then use a less oily version of the oil soak mixture to use as a final conditioning rinse. This therapy should be given once per week for 4 to 6 weeks, or until there is improvement in the skin and hair texture, and then every 2 weeks to maintain.
As you can probably guess, this is a very time–consuming process and must be repeated at regular intervals, so many owners seek out the services of a professional groomer. Most owners rely on having these specialized treatments done at a salon or vet hospital, as trying this at home is messy and the owner is inexperienced at holding a slippery animal for any length of time.
Make sure that you are working under the orders of the pet’s veterinarian, and refrain from discussing concerns the owner may have about internal medications and other internal issues. This is for legal as well as for practical reasons and is a good rule of thumb to follow to keep your liability risk as low as possible.
Sebaceous Adenitis is a complex condition that will need to be treated for the lifetime of the pet. Make sure you are charging for your time as well as the products that are needed to complete this therapy. Therapies can bring you closer to the wonder of working with pets that truly need your care and concern, and can be very rewarding for the groomer, the pet owner and, ultimately, the pet.
- Scott DW, Miller WH Jr, Griffin CE: Muller and Kirk’s Small Animal Dermatology, 6th ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co., 2001: p. 1140–1146.
- Rosser E, Dunstan R, Breen P et al.: “Sebaceous adenitis with hyperkeratosis in the standard poodle: a discussion of 10 cases.” JAAHA, 1987; 23: p. 341.
- Gross T, Ihrke P, Walder E, Affolter V: “Sebaceous adenitis.” In: Skin diseases of the dog and cat, Clinical Histopathological Diagnosis. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005, p. 186–88.
- Frazer M, Schick A, Lewis T, Jazic E: “Sebaceous adenitis in Havanese dogs: a retrospective study of the clinical presentation and incidence.” Veterinary Dermatology, 2010, 22, p. 267–274.
- Rosser E: “Sebaceous adenitis.” In: Kirk RW, Bonagura JD, eds. Current Veterinary Therapy XIV: Small Animal Practice. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 2009, p. 449–453.
- Linek M, Boss C, Haemmerling R, Hewicker–Trautwein M, Mecklenburg L: “Effects of cyclosporine A on clinical and histologic abnormalities in dogs with sebaceous adenitis.” JAVMA, Vol. 226, No. 1, January 1, 2005, p. 59–64.