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8 Common Dog Skin Conditions and How to Treat Them

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Skin is the body's largest organ for humans and dogs alike. Depending on your pooch's breed, age, and size, skin comprises somewhere between 12%-24% of their entire mass. That's a lot of skin. 

It stands to reason then that skin problems are relatively common for our canine companions. Some dog skin conditions are more serious than others, and the symptoms can vary greatly, from mild dandruff and itchy skin to major hair loss and runny discharge. 

Let's take a closer look at the symptoms of skin problems, as well as the eight most common dog skin conditions that you should know about. 

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Dog skin conditions: Cute beagle going for a walk

Skin condition symptoms aren’t all the same. One skin disorder can cause certain issues while another condition can result in completely different symptoms. However, it's usually not hard to tell when something is wrong. 

Your dog might be suffering from a skin issue if he or she exhibits the following symptoms: 

  • Excessive scratching, licking, chewing, or biting
  • Scabs, crusts, or scaly spots on the skin
  • A dull, dry coat
  • Bald patches around the coat
  • Excessive shedding
  • Discharge coming from the ears
  • Continual shaking of the head

Dogs scratch as part of their normal behavior, so you don't want to overreact and assume something is wrong the moment your dog begins scratching or gnawing at a certain area of the body. It's when this behavior persists that it may be cause for concern. 

Read on for a list of some of the most common skin conditions that affect dogs, as well as tips on how you can get the help your dog needs. 

Common Dog Skin Conditions

Dog skin conditions: Cute cocker spaniel

There are numerous conditions out there that can cause skin problems in dogs, and it would be impossible to list every single one. That said, here are some of the most common. 

Alopecia (Hair Loss)

Alopecia is considered both a condition in and of itself and a symptom of other skin problems. Alopecia simply means hair loss, which can be caused by many things.

Sometimes, dogs can cause alopecia by scratching or chewing at a sore joint until they've pulled off all the hair from the area. Anxiety and other behavioral issues could also cause your dog to over-groom a particular area. 

In other cases, the cause of alopecia is medical in nature. The underlying cause could be something like ringworm (a fungal infection, not an actual worm), a nutritional deficiency, bacterial infection, or any number of reasons.

As you may have guessed, treating alopecia will involve treating the underlying cause, whether it's medical or behavioral in nature. Your vet might refer you to a veterinary dermatologist if the cause of the problem is unclear. 

Hot Spots

Hot spots, much like alopecia, are both a symptom of various conditions and a condition in and of themselves. 

Also known as acute moist dermatitis, hot spots are small, defined areas of skin inflammation that can develop into larger, red, painful lesions. They tend to occur more commonly during hot weather and high humidity.

Dogs who frequently get wet because of swimming or staying outdoors in the rain are more likely to develop hot spots because of the additional moisture held against the skin by the fur. Dogs with thicker coats like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Rottweilers are more likely to develop hot spots than other breeds.

In some cases, hot spots are triggered by your dog licking, chewing, or scratching excessively at a particular area. Often, skin trauma leads to a secondary infection, making the area even itchier and perpetuating the cycle of scratching and infection. 

Other times, a specific health problem — infestation by fleas or other parasites, a food allergy, an ear infection, and much more — can lead to hot spots. 

Again, dealing with the underlying cause of hot spots is essential to resolving the problem, whether that cause is medical or behavioral in nature. 

Dandruff

Dogs can get dandruff just like humans. Dandruff describes an excess of dead skin cells flaking off of your dog’s coat. Like the conditions described above, this can happen for a variety of reasons. 

Dandruff sometimes occurs only in a concentrated area, perhaps because your dog persistently scratches there or because a parasite has bitten your pooch in that area. In other cases, dandruff can occur all over your dog’s coat at once, possibly indicating a wider skin issue caused by environmental factors, nutritional issues, or other health concerns. 

Fortunately, dandruff is usually resolved easily with the help of a veterinarian. Aside from dealing with any underlying medical cause, steps like improving your dog’s diet and grooming routine usually make a big difference in eliminating the issue.

Food Allergies

Food allergies aren't extremely common in dogs, but when they occur, they're likely to cause skin irritation and itchiness. These allergies are caused by a reaction of your pet's immune system to the proteins in food, especially ingredients like beef, wheat, dairy, and pork. 

In addition to the skin irritation and associated scratching, chewing, and hair loss, dogs with food allergies might exhibit symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. Tell your vet if you see these problems in your dog. 

You may need to start a food trial (phasing various protein sources in and out to find out what allergen your dog is reacting to) or your vet might prescribe medications to help deal with the allergy.

Parasites

Another common cause of dog skin conditions is parasitic infestation. Fleas are a leading culprit, as flea bites will cause itchiness and trigger scratching. Some dogs can even develop what's called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a skin disease involving an allergic reaction to the chemicals in flea saliva. 

Tick bites can also trigger itchiness and scratching in dogs, leading to possible hair loss, inflammation, and other symptoms. Ticks present a greater danger, too: They can transmit serious diseases to your dog, like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 

The best course of action to prevent trouble from fleas and ticks is to keep your dog on a flea-and-tick preventative, which wards off these pests so you don't have to worry about them. 

Mange

Mange is a serious skin disease caused by two types of mites: The sarcoptic mite and the demodectic mite. Sarcoptic mange is much more common and causes intense itchiness, resulting in excessive scratching that can lead to open sores, scaly and flaky skin, and hair loss. To make matters worse, it's highly contagious, so an affected dog will probably have to be quarantined until the infestation is resolved. 

Demodectic mange is much less common and is only passed between a mother dog and her puppies. The symptoms are similar to that of sarcoptic mange, but many dogs' immune systems will fight off the infestation entirely on their own. 

Fortunately, both types of mange are relatively easy to treat with medication. 

Infectious Dermatitis

Infectious dermatitis refers to skin infections caused by a bacterial, fungal, or yeast source. Ringworm is a common cause of infectious dermatitis. It's not a worm at all, but a fungus that grows in the outer layer of skin and hair follicles of dogs, creating inflamed skin, dry skin and hair, and hair loss. Fortunately, it can be treated with antifungal medication. 

Yeast infections are also relatively common in dogs and involve an overgrowth of yeast. It often occurs around the ears, and may result in shaking of the head, scratching, and waxy or runny discharge coming from the ears. Antifungal medications or shampoos are useful for resolving this issue. 

Bacterial infections can occur when your dog self-traumatizes with excessive scratching, chewing, biting, etc. When bacteria get introduced to the area, it’s known medically as pyoderma. A vet can prescribe antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria and help your dog feel better. 

Hormonal Imbalances

Unfortunately, there are some dog skin conditions that are not curable. Hormonal imbalances, like hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease, are caused by dysfunctional glands and can lead to itchiness and chronic skin problems. 

Autoimmune disorders like pemphigus involve the immune system attacking the body's own tissues, resulting in itchiness, skin lesions, blisters and pustules, and more. 

However, these kinds of disorders aren't common in dogs. And when they do occur, modern veterinary medicine has made it possible to manage these conditions and keep affected dogs comfortable. 

Getting Your Dog Help

If you notice your pet exhibiting symptoms associated with dog skin problems, it's best to get ahead of it right away. Contact your vet so you can get to the bottom of the symptoms. Most of the time, treatment is relatively simple and your dog will get back to feeling great in no time.

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prevent skin problems. Groom your dog regularly to keep their skin and fur clean. Feed your pup a high-quality diet — proper nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids are particularly good for skin and fur health. 

Also, supplements designed to improve skin and coat issues will give Rex an extra boost to help prevent problems in the first place. 

For more information on dog care and your pet's health, visit the PetHonesty blog.