There isn’t a dog that didn’t have a dog skin disease at least once in his lifetime. Minor and major skin problems in dogs are so frequent that most vets have a lot of experience with them. Still, there can be many cases when it’s not that easy to diagnose and successfully treat right away.
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Even though there are some differences in appearance, all skin problems tend to look similar. How can you know which one of the dog skin diseases your pup has?
It’s impossible even for skilled professionals just to look at a skin lesion and know what the main thing causing it is. Once we look at the reasons and symptoms of various skin conditions in dogs you will understand why a careful and detailed approach is needed.
Sometimes it’s just an itchy pup that occasionally bites himself too, and sometimes is a scabby old pooch that smells from miles away. Sometimes home remedies help, sometimes not. Although most skin problems aren’t life-threatening, they all need to be checked by a vet.
You can put all dog skin disease in the following groups based on what’s causing them:
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Parasitic infestations
- Endocrine disorders
- Genetic disorders
- Nutritional deficiencies
Bacterial skin infections in dogs
Bacterial skin infection in dogs is called pyoderma. In young puppies, the disease is also referred to as impetigo or juvenile impetigo. There are superficial infections and deep infections. Deep infections are more uncomfortable for the dog.
The dog develops pyoderma when the surface and integrity of the skin have been compromised. For example, continuous exposure to moisture creates perfect conditions for bacterial overgrowth.
Dog scratching because of other things can infect the skin with bacteria themselves. For example, one condition in dogs called Hot Spot is a self-induced bacterial infection secondary to itchy inflammation.
The predominant microorganism responsible for infections of the skin is Staphylococcus pseudointermedius. Symptoms of bacterial skin infection in a dog are:
- Papules and pustules on the skin (similar to human pimples; they are red, filled with pus, and raised on the skin)
- Circular crusts
- Dry or flaky skin patches
- Hair loss
- Bad odor from the skin
In adult dogs, pyoderma can be found anywhere on the body. In growing puppies infections are usually found in places with thin hair like the belly, groin, and underarms.
Medical history, clinical signs, bloodwork, and microscopic skin cytology are needed to diagnose pyoderma. Bacterial cultures and antibiograms are especially helpful with deep infections resistant to most antibiotics.
If you wonder why there are so many diagnostic tests for a simple skin infection, it’s because the vet needs to rule out other primary diseases that may cause the skin to lose its strength and let the bacteria overgrow.
Antibiotic therapy for pyoderma in dogs can be prescribed for 3-4 weeks, or even for 12 weeks when necessary. Topical treatments in the form of shampoos, sprays, or ointment are also used frequently.
The second name for fungal skin infections in dogs is yeast dermatitis. This condition is caused by a microorganism called Malassezia pachydermatis.
Dogs have a normal Malassezia population on their skin in normal conditions. Similar to pyoderma, when there is an overgrowth the skin becomes inflamed. These types of infections by normal microflora are called opportunistic infections.
The numbers of these microorganisms increase when the immune system is suppressed and lets them. Overly greasy skin due to allergies or a condition called seborrhea can also trigger Malassezia populations to increase.
Yeast dermatitis in dogs isn’t contagious and can’t be transmitted from one dog to another. Some breeds are predisposed to fungal skin infections – Basset Hound, Cocker Spaniel, Maltese Terrier, Poodle, Dachshund, West Highland White Terrier being amongst the most common.
Clinical symptoms of yeast dermatitis in dogs are:
- Musty and sweet odor
- Reddened skin
- Flaky skin
- Elephant skin (thickened)
- Darkly pigmented skin
- Chronic ear infections
Collecting a sample for microscopic evaluation is necessary to visualize Malassezia particles. The sample can be collected with skin scraping, cotton swabs, impression on glass, and skin biopsy.
There are two approaches to treating skin yeast infections – oral and topical treatment. The veterinarian will decide whether topical antifungal shampoos are enough or the dog needs oral medication as well.
Parasitic skin infestations
When talking about parasites in dogs we need to separate the larger ones from the microscopic ones. External parasites that can be seen with a naked eye are fleas and lice.
Scabies, demodicosis, and cheyletiellosis are skin diseases in dogs caused by really tiny parasites living inside the skin but are considered external as well. All of them are called skin mites.
Fleas and lice
It’s pretty common for dogs to have fleas and lice even those that live mostly indoors. Fleas are small, black, and fast – they also enjoy jumping. Lice are white in large groups and appear immobile.
Dogs that have fleas and lice are scratching themselves obsessively. The wounds from the scratching can get infected and make the situation even worse.
The fleas have proteins in their saliva and the dog’s body can develop allergic reactions to it when they bite – this condition is known as Flea Allergic Dermatitis.
Except for the obvious itchiness, FAD also manifests with hair fall, skin inflammation, and skin infection. The areas of skin inflammation are usually located above the dog’s tail.
The treatment for lice and fleas is pretty straightforward and you can use any type of medication for external parasites. If your dog needs fast-relieve – flea pills work the fastest.
Bathing your dog with an anti-parasitic shampoo can contribute a lot to decrease the number of external parasites on his body. Any of the medications you plan to use should be applied after bathing and drying the dog for maximum effect.
Even when you think you got rid of fleas and lice with only one treatment continue with monthly or weekly treatment to complete the cycle according to your vet’s suggestions. Trust us on this!
Scabies or sarcoptic mange is a skin condition in dogs and humans caused by Sarcoptes scabiei parasite. These mites bury inside the skin and feed on biological material.
The disease is contagious to other dogs and humans as well. When your dog is diagnosed with Scabies, be careful how you manage him. Even though they can’t finish their life cycle in humans and will eventually disappear, there will be severe itchiness for some time.
When dogs get infected the symptoms start in just a few days. The hair on their legs and belly starts falling off and scratching and chewing themselves are the only things they seem interested in.
At first, the skin is red and inflamed and eventually becomes dark and thickened. The presence of Sarcoptic Mange can be confirmed by microscopic examination of skin scrapes from the affected areas on the skin.
Sometimes the vet may not find any evidence under the microscope but can still decide to go with the treatment for Scabies because you can’t always see the parasite.
Since there are many treatment options your vet will discuss what’s best for you and your pet’s condition. It will be either dips or topical spot-on, or systematic medications (pills or injections).
Demodex canis lives in the dog’s hair follicles. It causes a skin condition called Demodectic mange that’s probably the most common form of mange in canines.
All dogs have Demodex mites on them. Clinical signs of overgrowth start appearing when the dog’s immature immune system allows it. Most affected are dogs that are less than 18 months of age. Immunocompromised adults also develop Demodicosis.
Demodex isn’t contagious for other dogs or humans. For most puppies, the condition isn’t itchy at all. What you see is hair loss on the face (especially around the eyes), on the neck, and the paws. The skin might be thickened, inflamed, and smelly.
Diagnosing Demodex can be achieved using the same methods as with scabies. Therapy is with topical anti-parasitic medications, oral therapy, or injections. Dogs with concurrent bacterial or fungal infections should also be treated with antibiotics or antifungals respectively.
When the problems resolve the dog needs to be re-checked after a few months so you can be sure there are no more active parasites that might bring the disease back.
The last type of skin mite condition in dogs is caused by the Cheyletiella parasite. On the dog’s fur, these tiny insects appear as dandruff. That’s why the disease is also called walking dandruff.
In terms of diagnosis and treatment, the same things apply as with the previous two types of dog skin mites.
Allergic dermatitis in dogs or skin allergies has 3 main causes: food allergens, environmental allergens, and fleas (FDA). We already explained about FDA so now we will just describe the first two.
Symptoms of all types of allergies in dogs include:
- Pruritus (itchiness)
- Swelling (usually on the face)
- Reddened skin
- Ear infections
- Obsessive licking
- Runny eyes
Itchy skin in dogs can be due to food allergies and hypersensitivity. Usually, the skin lesions are also accompanied by digestive symptoms (vomiting or/and diarrhea).
The symptoms are highly expressed soon after the dog eats. For example, your allergic dog finishes his meal and then starts to lick his paws and shake his head due to ear inflammation an hour later.
Food allergies in dogs aren’t very common. They are diagnosed with food trials. When vets suspect such a thing they put the dog on hypoallergenic food for a month or two and follow the case. If the dog gets better without other medications you have the diagnosis.
Environmental allergens in dogs are responsible for atopic dermatitis. Your dog can be allergic to mold, dust, and pollen amongst other things. Luckily most of the cases are seasonal so your dog won’t suffer throughout the whole year.
To diagnose atopic dermatitis in dogs you must rule out all other possible skin conditions. Allergy testing is performed by licensed veterinary dermatologists to see what the dog is allergic to.
The best therapy is to avoid contact with the allergen altogether, but that’s not always possible. Allergy relief medications that reduce the reaction are prescribed when there isn’t any other solution.
Endocrine mediated skin disorders
Hormonal or endocrine dermatopathies in dogs generally appear in older dogs. Hypothyroidism is more prevalent in Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Poodles, Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, and Boxers. German Shepherds, Beagles, Dachshunds, and Boston Terriers are more prone to Hyperadrenocorticism.
Skin disorders in dogs with hormonal problems are not itchy. The only situation when the dog is pruritic is when the skin is infected with opportunistic bacteria or yeast.
The difference with other types of dog skin diseases is that besides skin problems the dogs have a bunch of other symptoms involving different organs and body systems.
Even the skin doesn’t appear inflamed or red. There is evident hair fall that’s symmetrical on both sides of the trunk or the tail. The skin can become calcified or hyperpigmented as well.
Different blood tests along with the medical history are necessary to diagnose an endocrine disorder in dogs. The therapeutic process depends on the specific condition and the patient’s current state.
Genetic (Alopecia X)
The genetic condition that is responsible for truncal alopecia in Pomeranians is called Alopecia X. The causes are unknown and the problem is only cosmetic.
Some experts suggest that neutering or spaying dogs with alopecia X can revoke the problem because of changes in hormonal levels.
Regardless of the severity of the skin condition your dog may be facing, you need to look for professional help always. The similarities in all of these conditions make the list of differential diagnoses for any skin problem endless.
Don’t be discouraged if the treatment doesn’t get your dog back to his old self immediately. It takes time for the skin to regenerate and for the hair to grow and shine once more.
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