Pet Care

Skin Problems

a beagle licking his nose

Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health. When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes—including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these—may be affecting your dog’s skin.

What Are Some Symptoms of Skin Problems in Dogs?

  • Scratching, licking or chewing at skin
  • Scabs
  • Redness or inflammation
  • Hot spots (one particular area where itching is intense)
  • Round, scaly patches on the face and paws
  • Dry, flaky or otherwise irritated skin
  • Hair loss, bald patches
  • Rashes
  • Lesions
  • Drainage of blood or pus
  • Swellings, lumps or skin discoloration
  • Rubbing face against furniture or carpeting

What Might Cause My Dog to Have Skin Problems?

One of the following may be causing an abnormality with your dog’s skin and should be investigated:

  • Fleas: Bites and droppings from these pesky insects can irritate your dog’s skin, and some pets can have an allergic response to the saliva following a bite. Some dogs may also be sensitive to flea-treatment products; certain flea collars, for example, may cause redness and irritation around the neck.
  • Ringworm: This highly contagious fungal infection can result in inflammation, scaly patches and hair loss. You’ll want to treat it immediately to avoid other pets and people in the household from becoming infected.
  • Parasites, such as ear mites and lice
  • Seasonal allergies: Your dog’s scratching may be due to her sensitivity to allergens from common substances like pollen, weeds, dust, mites, trees, mold or grasses.
  • Food allergies: Many dogs develop allergies to common ingredients in dog foods, such as beef, chicken, wheat, corn or soy. Even fillers and colorings can be seen as foreign by your dog’s immune system and lead to itching and rashes.
  • Skin infections: Dogs can develop irritating bacterial or yeast infections when the skin is damaged due to the presence of another skin disorder.
  • Sarcoptic mange: This skin disease caused by infection from the Sarcoptes scabei mite results in extreme itching and skin inflammation similar to an allergic response.
  • Grooming products: Certain shampoos and grooming products can irritate your dog’s skin. Be sure to only use grooming products that are meant for use on dogs.
  • Stress or boredom: A dog may lick her skin (especially her legs) excessively for many reasons. Some lick when not given adequate opportunity for activity or mental stimulation.
  • Metabolic or hormonal problems: Several common hormonal problems can cause change in skin color, coat consistency, thickness and distribution.
  • Seasonal changes: Many dogs, like people, get dry, flaky skin in the winter.

When Is it Time to See the Vet?

There are many causes of skin abnormalities in dogs, and identifying the underlying cause is not always simple. Therefore, you should visit your vet for an exam as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin or hair, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on his fur.

How Are Skin Problems Diagnosed?

After obtaining a history and performing a thorough physical exam, your vet may perform diagnostic tests in order to find the cause of your dog’s symptoms. These include:

  • Skin biopsy
  • Testing for ringworm
  • Microscopic examination of the hair and skin for presence of parasites or infection
  • Allergy testing, which may include a diet change
  • Blood tests to assess your dog’s overall health

Which Dogs Are Prone to Skin Problems?

Because of the wide ranges of causes, dogs of all ages and breeds are susceptible to issues involving skin. Dogs who are young, elderly, immunocompromised or living in crowded, stressful environments may be more susceptible to skin problems than others.

How Can Skin Problems Be Prevented?

  • Use natural, hypoallergenic soaps and shampoos recommended for use in dogs.
  • Brush your dog regularly to prevent matting of hair.
  • Feed your dog a healthy, balanced diet without fillers or artificial ingredients.
  • Implement a parasite-prevention or flea-treatment program as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Regularly clean and vacuum your home (and remember to always throw away the bag).
  • Provide calm living conditions for your dog.
  • Your vet may prescribe certain shampoos or oral supplements to prevent skin problems.

How Can Skin Problems Be Treated?

Ask your vet about the following treatments:

  • Topical products including shampoos, dips or spot-on products to prevent and treat parasites
  • A balanced diet to help maintain healthy skin and coat
  • A dietary supplement containing essential fatty acids
  • Antibiotic, antifungal or anti-itching medications
  • Corticosteroids and antihistamines may be prescribed to control itching.
  • Hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
  • Injections to decrease dog’s reaction to allergens