Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) in Bull Terriers


Time to read 11 min

Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) is a serious inherited skin condition in Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers. Wondering what exactly is LAD?

Here’s everything you need to know about canine Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) - from symptoms to causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatments, and care. Let's get started:

What is Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD)?

Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) in Bull Terriers is an autosomal recessive inherited skin disease. It mostly affects Bull Terriers with white skin and fur due to the lack of pigment.

Lethal Acrodermatitis causes poor growth, thick skin, and painful skin lesions that eventually lead to death before the dog reaches two years of age. The commonly affected areas due to this disease are the muzzle, ears, feet, legs, and groin. 

Most breeders can recognize the disease in the puppy by the time it is six to eight weeks old because it is less than half the size of the other puppies in the litter and has flat, splayed feet with dermatitis.

The Lethal Acrodermatitis mutation is recessive - this means that a dog must inherit two copies of the mutation, one from each parent, to be clinically affected by LAD. Dogs with one copy of the defective gene and one copy of the normal gene, called carriers, show no signs of disease but can pass the defective gene onto their offspring.

It is only possible to identify carriers with DNA testing. Dogs fall into three categories, CLEAR of the mutated gene, a CARRIER of the mutated gene and AFFECTED by the mutated gene (LAD). When two carriers are bred, 25% (on average) of the offspring will be affected by the disease, 25% will be clear and the remaining 50% will themselves be carriers.

Dogs that are affected by LAD, are referred to as Zincers.

Symptoms of Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) in Bull Terriers

If your Bull Terrier has Lethal Acrodermatitis, the symptoms will most likely be evident by the time your dog is about 3-6 weeks old. The usual symptoms of Lethal Acrodermatitis are:

  • Characteristic skin lesions on the muzzle, ears, feet, legs, and groin
  • Thickened skin on legs and paws
  • Poor growth and a failure to thrive
  • Blisters on mucous membranes including lips, nostrils, mouth, genitals, and throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Bronchopneumonia
  • Depression
  • Difficulty eating
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Frequent nasal discharge
  • Coat color dilution in pigmented skin areas
  • Deformation of the nails
  • Claws degeneration and painful eruptions on toes
  • Numerous bacterial infections

Affected puppies have delayed growth compared to their non-affected littermates. 

Causes of Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) in Bull Terriers

LAD is an autosomal recessive disease that is mostly seen in Bull Terriers with white skin and fur. In this disease, the skin thickening gets so severe that the dog is unable to walk or eat normally and secondary bacterial or yeast infections are a common side effect. Eventually, infection and wasting progress go to such an extreme that the dog will die or the owner decides to euthanize.

How to Diagnose Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD)

If you think your Bull Terrier is affected by Lethal Acrodermatitis, it's crucial to take them to the vet for diagnosis. Genetic testing and clinical signs can be used to diagnose this condition. 

The immune system does not function to the optimum level, no matter how mildly or severely the Bull Terrier puppy is affected. It leaves the affected puppy susceptible to infection, mild sniffles to bronchitis, and pneumonia.

Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD) Treatment and Management

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Lethal Acrodermatitis in Bull Terriers. However, there are ways you can improve your Bull Terrier’s quality of life and possibly slow the progress of the disease.

Special diet

Natural foods high in zinc, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids are good choices for your affected Bull Terrier. Some of the choices your vet may suggest are fish, flaxseed oil, fish oil, soybean oils, chia seeds, egg yolks, sunflower oils, liver, chicken, salmon, beef, and veal.

Medication and supplements

Omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids, and zinc supplements can both be added to your Bull Terrier’s diet as well. There are supplement injections available, but they should only be administered by the vets.

Sadly, Lethal Acrodermatitis is almost always fatal. In rare cases, a Bull Terrier can live for several years with Lethal Acrodermatitis but the quality of life is compromised. If your Bull Terrier is in constant severe pain, the most humane option to do is euthanization. You and your vet are the best judges of your Bull Terrier's quality of life. 

Life expectancy and limitations

LAD Bull Terriers usually have very short lives. The average life expectancy of affected puppies is under two years of age. How long they live depends on the severity of their disease, what treatment is involved and if infections can be prevented effectively. 

Lethal Acrodermatitis compromises the immune system of puppies. Because of this, the main cause of death is respiratory infections.

Vet examinations are a key part of preventive care. These vet checkups give you a chance to track your Bull Terrier’s growth and discuss any questions about the dog's health with your vet. 

Feeding the LAD puppy

People who have LAD pups need support and advice on the correct medication and feeding requirements. The puppies affected with LAD usually have a very high arch to the palate, which makes chewing and swallowing difficult. Your Bull Terrier needs a soft and mouth-friendly diet. Always add omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids for the coat. A little calcium helps with the bone formation that is usually weak in the affected Bull Terrier puppies.

Bull Terrier pups with Lethal Acrodermatitis can develop allergies to food. You must be constantly vigilant when monitoring their feces output. Anything that could aggravate the skin condition must be avoided.

Beware of Breeders!

You must ensure that you are buying from Bull Terrier pups from reputable breeders. Good breeders take special care to breed their Bull Terriers for good health. Always insist on seeing the health certificates of the parents before you commit. This will ensure that your Bull Terrier’s pup doesn't carry genes for Lethal Acrodermatitis. A responsible breeder will appreciate your concern!

Molly's Story

"When Molly first arrived in our home, we had noticed that there was something odd about her behaviour. She would not play, she had chronic fatigue, appeared to have learning difficulties and she had discoloured paws that appeared to be painful. She could not eat without difficulty and could not drink on her own, we had to scoop water into out hands for her to drink. Her breeder had also said that they had noticed from birth, her siblings would always take the food from her and she would never drink any water. She also had lesions on her face and most prominently on her paws and legs. She also had a very sickly sweet smell on her that our local vet pointed to an infection. We know now that this was not the case but this was the telltale signs of Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD).


Instagram @mollythezincer

Molly was diagnosed by a DNA Test by the Animal Health Trust after a UK charity, Adopt a Bull Terrier Rescue, contacted us via social media advising us that Molly appeared to display symptoms of LAD and we should get her tested for the disease. We did this and the test came back as AFFECTED by LAD. We had never heard of this condition and neither had our local veterinary surgery or the vets that had completed veterinary checks before she was sold to us. Unfortunately, our local surgery had no idea how to treat her and advised the best option would be euthanasia as it would be the kindest thing as the condition has no cure and can progress rapidly.

Luckily for us the Adopt a Bull Terrier Rescue contacted us to arrange a consultation with the specialist vet to see how she responded to medication. They had Zincers in their care and offer support and care for these special dogs. This was a lifeline and if the Adopt a Bull Terrier rescue had not offered to place her in foster care while trialing her treatment, Molly would not be here today. This is why we are so keen to raise awareness of this condition.

Molly is an affected dog by Lethal Acrodermatitis and has daily medical and care needs that must be met to ensure her quality of life and her symptoms do not become fatal. Molly is a happy dog and she is lucky to be mildly affected by LAD, meaning she can still go out for walks, her mobility is slightly affected which is managed by the use of a pet pushchair/stroller and walks on soft terrains and she responds well to the medication but she does tire out easily. She does need to be kept warm and her paws need to be bathed and creams applied to them daily. We also put boots on her feet to prevent splits on the pads of her paws. There is a medication plan to manage the condition, however the medication can cost up to £100.00 monthly.

Lethal Acrodermaititis is entirely avoidable with responsible breeding and DNA checking the Stud and the Bitch for the LAD mutated gene. We also hope for LAD to be a made a talking point when considering dogs for breeding and also purchasing pups as this can solve the issue of LAD. This is very important to us as unfortunately this year
(written in September 2020), we have seen two Zincers lose their lives to LAD, one called Jack who was four and another called Frank who was only a puppy but whose body could not fight the symptoms of LAD. There has also been another little pup called Ripley who has also lost their life to LAD as a young pup. This was entirely avoidable if the breeders of these pups had completed a DNA check before breeding.

As owners of a dog with LAD, we were shocked at how this condition was not already a talking point or was still relatively unknown. Due to this, we set up an Instagram page to raise awareness for Molly and Lethal Acrodermatitis as unfortunately the condition is still relatively unheard of, especially within the UK.

In the US, the Lethal Acrodermatitis gene was first discovered and there has been research into this condition that is still relatively unknown in the UK. Luckily for Molly, the specialist that prescribed her medication plan worked closely with vets in America that treat Bull Terriers with LAD and she is able to have a good quality of life.

We also try and raise the profile of the excellent work that the Adopt a Bull Terrier Rescue do. They provide ongoing care and support for Molly and also raise awareness and provide advice on Lethal Acrodermatitis on the Molly's Facebook page."

Harry's Story

"We bred our girl who was from show lines with stud who shows at Crufts, it was our first time breeding and we knew nothing about LAD. Our girl had 7 pups. We lost 4 and only became aware when the stud dogs owners mentioned 1 looked LAD, we lost this 1.

Harry as a black and white puppy

Harry was black and white when born and seemed fine until at 6 weeks old we noticed his front paws started to splay, we had him tested and got a positive result, we decided to give him the best life we could. As he has grown his severity also has, he has turned fawn in colour, his feet are sore so we bathe and wrap them. He requires a pram to go out, he is on daily meds and as well as being physically impaired it appears he is also mentally impaired. Harry is hard work to care for but also a comical little lad and we love him dearly.

Instagram @harrythezincer

Winter is coming and a worry for us as he can't regulate body temperature so he wears clothes but he will be at risk of pneumonia. Thank you for hearing Harry's story."

Frank's Story

"My partner and I had wanted a Bull Terrier for years, we'd always had our heart set on a black or brindle boy, but then we were sent a picture of Frank. A tiny white puppy with one black ear, he was the only surviving puppy after his mum had a c-section and we knew straight away that he was the dog for us.

Instagram: @frank_and_odin

Frank had no symptoms of LAD when he first came home to us. He looked and behaved just like a normal puppy, running around, getting his nose in to everything and play fighting with our other dog Eevee, a Jack Russel cross. Eevee became a big reason as to why we first noticed something was wrong with Frank. She would mother him and constantly lick his paws, when we looked closer, we noticed that he had lesions and cracks in between his toes. I called the vets and luckily one of them was able to spot the tell tale signs that Frank had LAD. We did the DNA test and unfortunately he was diagnosed at only 10 weeks old.

I thought I'd researched everything about Bull Terriers. I read about all the possible inherited diseases, but LAD was something I'd never heard anything about. There was basically no information about it anywhere, not even on the KC website. My partner and I were so scared, we had no idea what Frank's future would look like. Luckily we found a Facebook group called Zincers R Us, an Instagram page called Molly The Zincer and a charity called Adopt a Bull Terrier. We became part of a wonderful and supportive community who helped us get the right treatment for Frank.

We tried our best to make Frank's life as comfortable and happy as possible. At first, Frank responded well to the treatment but unfortunately the symptoms of LAD became too severe for his little body to fight. It came to a point that every day was a painful struggle for him, so we made the heart breaking decision to have him put to sleep at only 19 weeks old.

It was and still is so so painful.

Please be sure that if you are going to buy a Bull Terrier puppy that you get full proof that the parents have been fully health tested. Any responsible breeder with a conscience would never knowingly breed two LAD carriers together. It's not worth the risk. Puppies should never have to suffer from birth."

How can I help?

If you would like to help raising awareness about Lethal Acrodermatitis (LAD), you can do it by sharing this blog post, as well as signing and sharing this petition.

Final thoughts

Having a Bull Terrier is much more than just having a faithful friend. Their mere presence provides much more than just companionship. The responsibility of taking care of your Bull Terrier makes your life more meaningful.

Given the same socialization and affection as a normal Bull Terrier. They will repay with a joy of life that is delightful to see. 

When it comes to the health of your Bull Terrier, it’s never too early to start! Exercise, a healthy diet, supplements, and vet examination are great at reducing complications from Lethal Acrodermatitis.

You can help your Bull Terrier live their best life! A healthy furry member can save you from a lot of stress in the long run.

Happy petting!