Dogs develop skin problems for a variety of reasons, ranging from allergens to fungal infections. If your dog is having skin problems, it's important to find out why and take steps to correct the issue. In this article, we discuss several common canine skin problems and offer tips for treatment.
Symptoms of Dog Skin Conditions
Signs of skin problems in dogs can vary depending on the problem they are experiencing. The symptoms your dog exhibits can give you clues to the cause of your dog's skin condition.
Some common symptoms of dog skin problems include:
Biting at the skin
Red, irritated skin
As a pet owner, you should catalogue any health issues or unusual activities you notice. That way, when you consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment, you can provide a complete account of your furry friend's symptoms.
Common Dog Skin Problems
Dog skin conditions can occur at any time, but they are most common in older dogs or dogs predisposed to allergies or fungal infections. If your dog is elderly or has a history of skin conditions, be sure to keep a closer eye on their skin and consult your veterinarian if you notice any changes.
However, keep in mind that a dog can develop skin disease at any time in its life. If your young, otherwise healthy pup has bald patches or seems overly itchy, you shouldn't ignore the issue. The dog likely needs treatment.
Below, we discuss some of the most common reasons for skin problems in dogs.
One common skin problem in dogs is allergies. Dogs can have allergic reactions to many things, including food, environmental factors, and even certain medications. If your dog is allergic to something, you may notice that they scratch or bite at their skin more than usual. They may also have red, irritated skin or missing patches of fur.
Environmental allergens usually lead to itchy skin in the face area, chest, paws and stomach. Like humans, dogs can be allergic to things like pollen and dust mites. Alternatively, an allergic reaction to food often affects the skin near the paws, ears, face, and anus, creating intense itching in those areas. Dogs can develop food allergies to many products, including different types of meat and vegetables.
If you suspect that your dog has allergies, you should talk to your veterinarian about treatment options. Veterinarians sometimes use antihistamines to treat canine allergies. They may also recommend injections, oral treatments, shampoos, or a diet change.
Another common skin problem in dogs is fungal infections. Infections can be caused by a variety of fungi, including yeast. A dog with a yeast infection may have red or discoloured and very itchy skin.
Yeast infections most often develop in warm, moist areas of the dog's body, such as the ear canal or groin area. Fungal infections are also commonly found between the toes. You may notice that your dog has bald patches or sores from biting at the infected area. Dogs with yeast infections in the ear also may begin to paw noticeably at their head, trying to scratch the ear.
If your dog has an infection of this nature, your veterinarian will likely prescribe topical antifungal medication or tablets. Specially medicated shampoos may also be recommended.
A common origin of painful skin problems, bacterial skin infections can originate from many different types of bacteria, including staphylococcus. Dogs with bacterial infections may have red, swollen skin and pus-filled lesions.
The veterinarian will probably prescribe a topical antibacterial ointment to rid your furry friend of their bacterial infection. However, treatments vary, and the chosen treatment course for your pet's infection will depend on the infection's severity and the animal's health history.
Staph infections are typically secondary infections, which means there's an underlying cause for the infection, such as an allergy. To prevent repeated infections, the vet may look for a potential underlying condition that needs treatment in addition to the infection itself.
Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicles become infected. Symptoms include redness, inflammation and pimple-like bumps around hair follicles. Dogs can develop folliculitis due to existing bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi problems, among other reasons.
Treatment for folliculitis varies based on the cause, but it typically involves antibiotics or antifungal medications and bathing the dog with a medicated shampoo.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that creates tell-tale circular patches of hair loss in dogs. The fungus typically affects the dog's feet, ears or tail but can also spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of ringworm include hair loss, scaly skin, redness and dry or brittle nails and fur.
Treatment usually involves using antifungal medications prescribed by a veterinarian combined with shampoos and/or topical ointments.
Please remember that ringworm is a highly contagious fungus, so it's necessary to take proper steps to keep ringworm from spreading to other animals or humans. The fungus spreads through direct contact, so you should avoid touching the area and any contaminated objects if you suspect ringworm. You should also separate the affected animal from other pets.
Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection most commonly seen in young dogs and puppies. Symptoms of impetigo include red bumps, pus-filled bumps and circular lesions surrounded by a yellow crust, generally on the dog's belly. In some cases, the pus-filled bumps burst and develop scabs.
An affected dog may show signs of itchiness and hair loss in the affected area. Your pet may also lose its appetite and seem exhausted or depressed in advanced cases.
Dogs with a compromised immune system, food allergies, flea infestations, hormone imbalances and other health problems have a higher risk of getting impetigo. Diagnostic tests are often required to verify that your dog has this uncomfortable skin condition.
Symptoms of impetigo usually resolve quickly with topical or oral antibiotics. Your vet may also recommend medicated washes.
Mange is a type of skin condition caused by mites. There are two types of mange: sarcoptic mange, caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, and demodectic mange, caused by the Demodex Canis mite.
Mange can cause serious skin discomfort in dogs, so it's vital to seek treatment from a veterinarian. Symptoms of mange include red, irritated skin, extreme itchiness, hair loss and scabbing or crusting on the skin.
Sarcoptes mange is incredibly itchy and often begins in the dog's ears, while demodectic mange generally appears in dogs with an immature or poor immune system. Mange can occur in dogs of any age, but dogs under one-year-old, senior canines, and those with underlying conditions are most susceptible to demodectic mange.
The mites that cause mange spread readily to humans and other animals, so it's essential to isolate your dog if you suspect this skin problem. The mites can also find a home in bedding or clothing. That said, you should wash anything that's come into contact with a pet who has mange.
Treatment for mange usually involves oral medications and/or topical ointments and shampoos.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks are two of the most common reasons for canine skin discomfort. Flea and tick bites cause irritation and itching. When fleas and ticks bite your pets, they pass saliva into the wound, which can trigger a reaction that includes itching, redness and swelling. Ticks can also transmit Lyme disease.
Dogs with flea or tick allergies may experience inflammation, skin redness and fur loss at the location of the bite. Dogs without specific allergies may also lose fur due to chewing at the itchy site.
To prevent skin disease and discomfort, you must take steps to protect your dog from fleas and ticks, like using flea and tick prevention products and checking your dog for ticks regularly.
Lupus is a serious autoimmune disease that can affect dogs of any breed or age. Signs of lupus include skin issues on the paw pads or facial area, hair loss, weight loss and fever. Skin lesions on the paws and face may stay open and unhealed for a long time. You may also notice discolouration near the top of the dog's nose.
Lupus is a lifelong condition, and there is no cure. However, with proper treatment, most dogs can live relatively comfortable lives.
Treatment for lupus typically includes medications to suppress the immune system and supplements to help support the dog's health. Dogs with lupus should see a veterinarian regularly to monitor their condition and adjust their treatment as needed.
Dandruff causes dogs to shed excessive amounts of skin flakes. Various factors can lead to the development of dandruff, such as skin allergies, a poor diet or a fungal infection. If your dog has flaky skin, it may take some work to identify the underlying cause. However, finding out what's causing the dandruff is crucial in addressing the problem.
In many cases, pet owners can treat their pet's flaky skin problem with over-the-counter medications or home remedies. Baths with anti-dandruff shampoos, regular grooming and the use of a humidifier to prevent dry skin and dandruff.
Also, make sure your dog is getting plenty of water throughout the day and enough omega-fatty acids in its diet. Omega-fatty acids help keep the skin healthy and hydrated, so they can be a great way to prevent and treat skin conditions like dandruff.
Several different types of skin tumours can afflict your furry friend, and they can range in size from tiny to large. Seeing a tumour can be pretty scary for any pet owner, but it's not always a serious issue. While some tumours are cancerous, other tumours are benign and require minimal treatment.
You should have any tumour checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible after it's spotted to find out what type of tumour it is.
Veterinarians typically treat tumours with surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, depending on the type and severity of the tumour.
Acute Moist Dermatitis (Hot Spots)
Hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are another one of the most common skin problems in dogs. Initially caused by an issue like an allergic reaction, insect bite or infection, a hot spot appears when the dog licks and chews continuously at an itchy or painful area. The chewing and licking lead to further trauma and bacterial infection, which can spread quickly.
Hot spots occur most frequently during high humidity months and on dogs with thick coats. A hot spot can be very painful for your pet. If your dog has a hot spot, you will likely notice a red, wet area on their skin that's prone to hair loss. Some inflammation may be present as well.
In most cases, hot spots require treatment from a veterinarian. Treatments often include baths with medicated shampoo, topical or oral antibiotics or steroids. Your dog may also need a "cone" to prevent them from chewing on the area as it heals.
Another common dog skin problem is seborrhea. This condition is caused by an overproduction of oil, which can lead to a build-up of dandruff and scaly skin. Some cases of seborrhea are genetic. Others are caused by vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, allergies or autoimmune diseases.
Seborrhea is typically treated with medicated shampoo and/or topical medications. Your vet will also want to treat the underlying condition that lead to seborrhea if it's not genetic.
The Breeds of Dogs Most Likely to Develop Skin Issues
Some dog breeds are more prone to specific skin diseases and conditions, such as allergies or yeast infections. If you own a dog breed prone to skin infections, you should be aware of the most frequent signs and symptoms of common canine skin conditions. That way, you can spot them as soon as they appear and prevent as much discomfort as you can for your pet.
For example, dogs with short hair are typically more inclined to experience skin irritation than dogs with long hair. And breeds with many skin folds, such as Bulldogs and Shar-Peis, are more susceptible to yeast infections; so are dogs with long, floppy ears, like Spaniels.
Additionally, canines with thick coats, like Golden Retrievers, can be more prone to developing hot spots since their fur holds more moisture, promoting bacterial growth.
Treating Your Dog's Skin Discomfort
If your dog is suffering from a skin condition, it's usually not advisable to attempt to treat the condition without the assistance of a vet. However, under your vet's guidance, there are a few things you can do at home to help your furry friend feel better.
Give your pet a gentle, warm bath. This can help soothe their skin and relieve itching. You should avoid using any scented shampoos or soaps on your dog's coat during the bath, as these can irritate their skin. Instead, use shampoos or soaps designed for use on canines or products suggested by your vet clinic.
Limit their outdoor time during allergy season to reduce exposure to environmental allergens and insect bites. Like you, they can feel the effects of seasonal pollen and may benefit from more indoor time when the plants and trees pollinate.
Provide a well-balanced diet and lots of fresh, clean water to promote healthy skin and a glossy coat. You can also consider a supplement such as in-sideout pet.
Apply a cool, damp compress to irritated areas.
Use a humidifier or dehumidifier to maintain a balanced climate. You don't want your pet to have a sweaty or wet coat that encourages bacterial growth or a yeast infection, but you don't want to foster an environment so dry your dog develops dry skin or dandruff, either.
Again, any treatments for skin conditions should be performed under the supervision of your pet's veterinarian.
Healthy Dogs Are Happy Dogs
Skin diseases should never be left untreated. With the help of a veterinarian and some dedication at home, most pet owners can learn the reasons for their dog's skin issues.
Once diagnosed, there are remedies to end most uncomfortable skin diseases and skin issues once and for all. At the very least, you can make your pet healthier and more comfortable with proper treatment and care.
By Dr. Guangda Xue (Danny), BSc, MRes, PhD
Animal scientist specialised in gut health development and inflammation management