10 Common Skin Issues In Dogs, and When To Worry When Itching Becomes Problematic

A Puppy Scratching An Itch

When dogs itch and scratch throughout the day, pet parents tend not to think much of it. With so many skin issues that could be plaguing your dog, how are you supposed to know when you should begin to worry. Learn what these signs and symptoms are here.

10 Terrible Skin Issues In Dogs [When To Seek Help]

Your dog expects you to fly in like a superhero and protect it from the pain of scratching, licking, and flaking caused by irritating skin issues. Ignoring a solitary dog rash on the leg or a cluster of blisters on dogs can have serious consequences. As a responsible pet parent, you need to learn to read the signs and symptoms and quickly identify different skin issues in dogs. This article answers basic questions such as when to worry and rush to the vet’s office.

Visit the Vet’s Office to Rule out Serious Skin Conditions

What do you do when you spot that your dog has bumps on its skin or suffering from a nasty rash? The first step is to get a correct diagnosis from your vet. He or she can tell you if it’s harmless pigmentation spots on dog skin or something that needs to be treated right away. Check out these 10 common skin issues in dogs, and get the scoop on which conditions could be serious.

1. Allergic Dermatitis

Just like people, dogs can be allergic to things like medicines, shampoos, food, pollen, or bug bites. Also, like people, evidence of the allergy may come in the form of scratching and an itchy rash. For many pets, the simple elimination of the allergen will solve the problem.

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common skin condition in dogs, and it’s the result of an allergic reaction to flea saliva. When an allergic dog is exposed to flea saliva, the area will become red, bumpy, and inflamed.

2. Ringworm

If you notice scaly or inflamed circular bald patches on your dog, they may have ringworm (which isn’t actually a worm, but a fungal infection). The infection is more commonly found on a dog’s head or legs, but it can spread to the rest of the body as well. Ringworm is highly contagious and should be treated immediately to avoid infecting other pets or people.

3. Mange

Another skin issue that can cause scaly, bald patches on your dog is mange, typically affecting areas around the dog’s ears, belly, and chest -- although it can appear anywhere on your dog’s body. Mange is caused by an overabundance of mites or when a dog comes in contact with an invasive species of mite. Click here to read about two types of mange.

Contact your vet immediately if you see symptoms of Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiellosis), a mild but highly contagious condition characterized by dandruff that appears to move on your dog’s body, caused by mites carrying flakes of your dog’s skin.  

4. Pyoderma

A bacterial infection of the skin resulting in the presence of pus is called pyoderma. If your dog has an underlying skin condition that causes them to scratch, the scratched skin can become home to a bacterial infection. Your dog may scratch their skin due to any of the following:

5. Yeast Infection (Malassezia Dermatitis)

Symptoms of a yeast infection on your dog include itchy, irritated skin, commonly around the ears or toes. While yeast dermatitis is not contagious, your dog should be treated to cure the condition and restore comfort. Depending on the severity of the infection, it can be treated topically with shampoo or cream, via an oral medication, or a combination of these treatments.

6. Cancer

If your dog has a wound that just won’t heal, this could be a symptom of cancer. It’s more treatable when caught early, so take your dog to see the vet if you notice your dog has a wound that doesn’t heal in a normal amount of time. Other signs of canine cancer include lumps, tumors, lameness, and enlarged lymph nodes.

7. Impetigo

Most common in puppies, impetigo is a bacterial infection that causes pus-filled blisters that may break and crust over, typically on the hairless lower belly. It’s not usually serious and is treated easily with a topical cream.

8. Acral Lick Dermatitis

High-energy breeds are more prone to acral lick dermatitis or lick granuloma. This is a self-inflicted injury caused by obsessive licking of a leg or foot that results in hair loss and redness, or even an open sore. Obsessive licking is an anxiety-related behavior that could be a result of boredom or inactivity, separation anxiety, lack of socialization, past cruelty, or other stress.

It’s possible that your dog’s vet could prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help your dog stop injuring itself while you make changes to your pet’s routine or environment.

9. Hot Spots

A hot spot is a painful, circular patch of red, swollen skin, typically 1-4 inches across. A hot spot may ooze with pus, or a watery discharge may have an unpleasant odor, and you may notice hair loss on and around the affected area. Hot spots are extremely painful, and your dog may react with fear or aggression when approached.

Hot spots are caused when your pet excessively licks, bites, or scratches its skin due to an underlying condition. Because hot spots are so painful, your vet may need to sedate your dog in order to administer treatment. While all animals can suffer from hot spots, pets with long hair or heavy coats are more susceptible.

10. Dandruff

Dandruff, or flaky skin, is a common symptom of skin issues of varying types. The most common causes include a cold or dry climate, grooming, or diet. However, pet dandruff can also be a sign of a more serious concern, like a hormonal imbalance or parasites. If your dog’s dandruff is chronic or severe, then it should be examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause and treatment.

The Top 8 Causes Of Dog Skin Allergies

If you’ve noticed your dog doing an unusual amount of itching, licking, or scratching, allergies may be to blame. Many vets report skin allergies as a top reason they see dogs. Allergies can affect dogs of all breeds and sizes, and they can be hereditary or appear suddenly.

Inflamed, itchy, red, or scaly skin can be a sign of an allergic reaction. Abnormalities in a dog’s coat or skin should be a cause for concern, as they can indicate discomfort or an underlying health problem. Your vet will perform a full examination to determine if allergies are affecting your pup’s wellness.

Here are the 8 most common causes of dog skin allergies:

1. Seasonal Allergies

Common allergens like pollen, dust, grass, trees, mold, and weeds that affect humans seasonally can also affect dogs and their skin. Sensitivity to grass pollens (often misidentified as a grass allergy) is surprisingly common among dogs. Regular cleaning of paws, baths, and air purifiers can help lower incidences of seasonal allergies.

2. Food Allergies

Food allergies or intolerance have unfortunately become very common in dogs. They can manifest suddenly, affecting your dog’s skin and digestion. Beef, soy, dairy, and wheat are common allergens. Exclusively feeding your dog hypoallergenic food for several weeks can help unmask a food allergy.

3. Shampoo/Soap

If your dog has a history of sensitive skin, consider switching to a hypoallergenic soap or shampoo as a proactive measure. A dog’s skin may react to insecticides or anti-flea chemicals in specialty shampoos. Also, never use your own hair products to groom a dog, and only use products intended specifically for dogs.

4. Fleas

Saliva from even one or two flea bites can trigger an allergic reaction on your dog’s skin. Flea allergy dermatitis causes red, bumpy lesions that can be very uncomfortable for the dog and require medical intervention.

5. Chemical Contact

Things like household cleaning products and detergents can occasionally cause allergic reactions when they come into contact with a dog’s skin. Harsh carpet cleaners are one of the more common causes of a contact allergy indoors. Be cautious when applying chemicals anywhere your dog might step on or rub against.

6. Medications

Antibiotics and vaccinations can sometimes cause a skin reaction in the form of hives. The hives often disappear within 24 hours of exposure to an allergen or medication, but if they do not, contact your vet.

7. Fabric

Your dog’s bed could be contributing to a skin allergy. Fabrics like wool can cause itchy reactions in dogs. Choose hypoallergenic fabrics and keep bedding clean to avoid any triggers. Also, check labels because fillings like feathers can also be allergens.

8. Bacterial hypersensitivity

An underlying condition like hypothyroidism can make your dog’s skin overly sensitive to a regular amount of staph on its body.

If allergies are behind your dog’s discomfort, your vet will help you determine a management and treatment plan. It may include environmental control, immunotherapy, regular bathing and foot washing, antihistamines, or a new diet. With some extra care, your dog’s skin and coat can be healthy and bright once more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are these crusty scabs on my dog's skin?

There are several possible reasons why your dog might have crusty scabs on their skin. Your dog may be allergic to something in their environment, such as pollen or certain types of food, which can cause them to develop skin irritations and scabs. Fleas, ticks, and other parasites can cause skin irritation and scabbing. You may also notice your dog scratching, biting, or licking at the affected areas. Bacterial or fungal infections can cause scabs to form on your dog's skin. In some cases, the scabs may be accompanied by a foul odor. If your dog has been injured, such as from scratching or biting, scabs may form as a natural part of the healing process. Hormonal imbalances, such as those caused by an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), can lead to skin problems and scabbing.

How do I know if my dog has mites?

Mites are tiny parasites that can cause a range of skin problems in dogs, including itching, hair loss, and scabbing. There are several different types of mites that can affect dogs, including ear mites, Demodex mites, and sarcoptic mites. One of the most common signs of mites in dogs is intense itching. Your dog may scratch or bite at their skin more than usual and may be restless or have trouble sleeping. Mites can cause hair loss in localized or generalized areas of the body. The hair may appear thin or patchy, and the skin may be red or inflamed. Mites can cause skin irritation and lead to scabbing or crusting in affected areas. This can be especially common in dogs with Demodex mites. Ear mites can cause intense itching and irritation in the ears, as well as a dark, waxy discharge. If you suspect your dog may have mites, it's important to take them to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Your veterinarian can perform skin scraping or other diagnostic tests to identify the type of mite and recommend appropriate treatment options.

What kills mites on dogs instantly?

Apple cider vinegar and borax are two ingredients that are sometimes used in home remedies for treating skin problems in dogs. Apple cider vinegar is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, while borax is thought to help reduce inflammation and itching. However, it's important to note that these remedies have not been scientifically proven to be effective and may not be appropriate for all dogs. Depending on the type of mite, your veterinarian may prescribe an oral or topical medication to kill the mites. Some commonly used medications include ivermectin, selamectin, and imidacloprid. Your veterinarian may recommend a medicated bath with a solution that contains benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or other ingredients that can kill mites and soothe the skin. Some over-the-counter and prescription spot-on treatments contain ingredients that can kill mites, such as fipronil, pyrethrins, or selamectin. Some essential oils, such as tea tree oil and neem oil, have natural insecticidal properties and can help kill mites on dogs. However, it's important to use essential oils with caution, as they can be toxic to dogs in high concentrations. Mites can live in your dog's environment, so it's important to clean their bedding, toys, and other areas they spend time in to help prevent re-infestation.

What does folliculitis look like on dogs?

Folliculitis is a skin condition that can affect dogs and is caused by an infection or inflammation of the hair follicles. It can cause redness and inflammation around the hair follicles. There might be pimples or pustules on the skin, especially in areas with hair, such as the neck, back, and legs. Your dog may show signs of itching and discomfort. Additionally, you may notice crusting, scabbing, and hair loss over the affected areas. Folliculitis can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacterial, fungal, or yeast infections, allergies, and parasites. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the folliculitis and may involve antibiotics, antifungal medications, or other therapies to manage the symptoms. If you suspect that your dog has folliculitis, it's important to consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

More on Dog Skin Health

DIY Dry Skin Treatment (And Handy Medications)
14 Of The Best Dog Shampoos For Any Situation
Pruritus Causes: Cats And Dogs

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Flea Allergy Dermatitis Pyoderma (Skin Infection) Dandruff & Flaky Skin

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