Our dogs are family. That's why it's frustrating to see them in discomfort—itching, scratching, and chewing at underlying skin conditions. Fortunately, there are solutions. The key is identifying the root cause and formulating a custom treatment plan from there.
Our goal is to give dog owners an overview of the most common dog skin conditions and their solutions. While many of these options will require a trip to the veterinarian's office, this guide will set you and your dog on the right path. Without further ado, here is everything you need to know about dog skin conditions.
The Cause: Skin irritation occurs when your dog comes in contact with an irritant from the outside world. The causes can take multiple forms, including infections, pests, and parasites. As a result, the site of the irritation may be red and swollen with surrounding dry skin.
One relatively common bacterial infection is pyoderma, which translates to “pus” and “skin.” It comes from excessive moisture to an open cut or wound and is exceptionally viable in areas with little natural hair. You will notice many of the traditional signs of infection, in addition to pimple-like lesions and crusting near the opening.
The Solution: Mild itching should not be a cause for concern. If your dog starts exhibiting more severe health issues, it may be time to talk to a healthcare provider. One age-old cure is a colloidal oatmeal bath. The mixture reduces inflammation and swelling while washing away potential irritants.
Another option is aloe vera. (Yes, the same stuff you put on after getting too much sun.) Aloe vera has powerful healing properties that can draw heat away from the source of the irritation. You can find 100-percent aloe vera at your local drugstore and apply it directly to the infected spot.
The Cause: Humans aren’t the only ones that can have allergies. Dogs have allergies, too, with the three most come culprits being fleas, the environment, and food. Here is how each one causes canine skin conditions:
- Fleas: When one of these small flightless insects bites a dog with allergies, their body overreacts and creates too much histamine, which can lead to intense itching
- Environment: Also known as atopy, irritants can include pollen and mite dander
- Food: Food allergies are uncommon, though some pooches may be hypersensitive to certain ingredients
The Solution: The solution will depend on the source of the allergy. A warm bath, regular combing, and a flea collar can help remove any lingering pests. There are also several home and commercial remedies that minimize the spread of the infection and reduce scratching and biting.
If your dog has environmental allergies, you may have to take them in for allergy shots or medication. It also helps to keep them away from problematic sources, such as gardens, which are fertile with pollen. Food allergies are the most straightforward and involve removing specific foods from your dog’s diet.
The Cause: While there is no single type of lesion, they often share the same rash-like appearance. You will probably notice scaly skin with visible bumps and redness. These may appear in conjunction with other skin conditions, such as allergies or injury.
One cause of sores is bacterial folliculitis, which is a common skin disorder. It comes from bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, entering the body, and creating small red bumps that may fill with pus. While bacterial folliculitis is not life-threatening, it can cause swelling, fever, tenderness, burning, and inflammation.
The Solution: The best way to treat sores is with a three-pronged approach. The use of topical and systemic therapy, along with treatment of the underlying disorder, is the most effective way to get rid of the condition. This process almost always includes antimicrobials.
Your veterinarian can diagnose the underlying condition, which will dictate a portion of the treatment. The topical therapy involves antimicrobial shampoos to alleviate itching, while the systemic approach incorporates oral antibiotics. You can expect to use these treatments in combination for three to 12 weeks.
The Cause: Hair loss is almost impossible to diagnose without veterinary expertise. One primary cause is Demodex mites, which are a form of ectoparasite. The parasite, also known as Androgenetic alopecia, releases a chemical that creates an inflammatory reaction and can exacerbate hair loss.
Another potential cause is an adrenal disorder called Cushing’s disease. The condition involves an excessive release of adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary gland and is most common in senior dogs. Again, the best way to find out the precise cause of hair loss, though, is to contact a healthcare specialist.
The Solution: Both Demodex mites and Cushing’s disease come with specific medications. If the cause of hair loss is parasitic, you should try using ointments and shampoos that eliminate pests. Hormonal or endocrine issues may require anything from hormone treatment to supplements.
Note that some dog breeds are predisposed to hair loss. The Chinese crested and Mexican hairless dog are naturally hair-free, though many others may have bald spots on their chest, belly, thighs, or necks. That can include breeds such as whippets, dachshunds, Italian greyhounds, and Chihuahuas.
The Cause: When your dog has a lackluster coat, the culprit is likely to be a lack of fatty acids. These fats play an essential role in your dog’s overall skin and hair health. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly essential for regulating oil production in the body and moistening the skin and hair for the glossy look.
An improper diet is the most likely cause of a brittle and muted coat. It may also be a result of an infection, parasites, hormonal imbalance, or an allergic reaction. If you suspect a more significant issue at play, the safest bet is to consult a veterinarian, who can run blood tests to confirm or assuage your suspicions.
The Solution: You can ensure a shiny and healthy coat with a diet high in proteins and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The best way to do that is by offering fish or seafood, such as mackerel, salmon, herring, oysters, and sardines. The ocean isn't the only source of nutrition, though. You can also mix in a teaspoon of sunflower or safflower oil into a daily meal too.
Regularly brushing can also revitalize a dog’s coat. Not only is it a perfect time to look for unwanted pests, but you can also remove dead skin and hair follicles in the process. The combing increases the natural oil production in the skin, which will increase the overall sheen.