Skin conditions in dogs are a lot more common than you’d think, especially among certain breeds. While purebred dogs do historically have more health issues (due in large part to inbreeding) than mutts, any dog can end up with irritated skin. Problems with skin are the most common reason dog owners cite for visiting the vet, accounting for nearly a quarter of non-emergency office visits. The conditions can range from mild to severe, but knowing how to treat it depends on what’s causing it. So, what’s behind all this itchiness? Among the various causes there are four that stand out among the others as the most common. Let’s review.
1. Dog Food
Diet has a lot to do with your dog’s skin and coat. While most dogs can eat everything but the kitchen sink without so much as a hint of indigestion or other side effects, nutrition can play a significant role in canine skin problems. When skin issues occur in connection to diet the condition is referred to as a food allergy. These food allergies are frequently caused by proteins, both plant and meat based. The most common allergens are dairy, beef and wheat, but corn, poultry and bi-products can play a role, too. While the most prominent symptoms of food-based allergies are excessive itching, scratching and skin irritation, it can also be responsible for digestive issues.
Dermatitis in pets can also be the result of infections from such sources as fungus, yeast or bacteria. Yeast infections are often mistaken for allergies, as they typically occur during warmer seasonal periods. Things like itchy paws (resulting in excessive licking) and ears (constantly scratching at them) usually stem from yeast imbalances. The longer the problem is left untreated the more likely it is to turn into a bacterial infection from all the scratching and licking. Yeast infections leave your dog with a rank odor, inflamed skin that gets thick and leathery, and it can result in hair loss from all the desperate clawing. Besides being miserably uncomfortable for your pet, it can leave them looking like they have mange.
3. Seasonal Allergies & Environment
Sometimes the great outdoors isn't so great for our pets. Things like mold, mildew, pollen, dust and even grass can set off a bout of skin irritation. If you notice your dog's scratching is more prominent at one time of the year as opposed to year round, they are probably suffering from seasonal allergies. Besides leaving your pet uncomfortable, if left untreated the problem could worsen and lead to hot spots, which can spread quickly. Hot spots are identified by red, inflamed skin that is painful to the animal and leads to hair loss.
There’s a little thing called fleabite dermatitis that can tear certain dogs up. When most dogs are bitten by fleas it’s usually more of an irritating nuisance than anything else. Not so for others. Fleabites can actually cause allergic reactions in some dogs. Also known as parasitic dermatitis, it can cause such symptoms as inflammation, excessive itching and lead to eventual hair loss. My Frenchie would break out in hives or little pustules. Other parasites such as tick bites and mites can also cause these reactions, but fleas seem to be the biggest culprits.
Combating Canine Skin Conditions
First off, keeping your dog on a regular regiment of flea and tick preventatives can stop the problem before it starts. While you’re at it, treat your home and yard for the pests so they can’t get a foothold in the first place. Food and seasonal allergies are unfortunately something that will in all likelihood require the help of your veterinarian and some testing. Often times it’s a process of elimination figuring it out.
Try switching to foods formulated with skin allergies in mind. My dog’s problem, besides fleas, was grass. As soon as the weather was warm and he was outside rolling in it the problems started. Wiping them down (including their paws) with baby wipes after they’ve been outdoors can help. If all else fails, there are oral medications and shots your vet can try. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem.