What is wrong with my dog’s skin?

Skin problems are one of the most common reasons owners take their dog to the vet. Abnormalities such as excessive scratching, redness, inflammation, hair loss and lumps and bumps could be a sign of a wide range of dog skin conditions, from allergies, fleas and ticks to infections and mange.

If there is something wrong with your dog’s skin you should always speak to a vet to ensure they get the treatment they need. Not only might the condition be causing them pain or discomfort but mild skin problems can become more severe if left untreated.

If you would like to speak to a vet online you can book an online consultation with one of our experienced emergency vets and discuss your pet’s condition via video chat. Find out more about our video vet service and book an appointment here.

Signs of dog skin conditions

The signs of skin conditions in dogs can vary widely, just like they do in humans. Common signs that indicate your dog might have a skin condition include frequent scratching, biting at their skin and irritation such as redness. You might also notice hair loss, flaky skin, texture changes, scabs, lumps and an unusual or unpleasant smell.

These things are considered a symptom of a wide range of skin conditions so it is very difficult to diagnose the exact condition based on the signs alone. If you notice your dog displaying any of these signs it’s best to contact your vet to start the process of diagnosis and treatment.

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What skin conditions can dogs get?

Dogs can suffer from many different kinds of skin conditions, just like humans can, and some of them can affect both people and dogs. Some of the most common skin conditions in dogs include:

Allergies (environmental and food)

Dogs can have allergic reactions to things in their environment or in their food. A reaction to airborne allergens like pollen and dust, plant and grass is known as canine atopic dermatitis (or atopy). The most common sign that your dog has an airborne allergy is frequent scratching due to the constant sensation of itchiness. Scratching can then cause other skin problems like wounds and scabbing. Other less common signs include inflammation inside their nose and ear infections. You might notice signs of allergies during certain seasons or they might be all year round. Food allergies, while less common than airborne allergies, cause similar signs.

Bacterial infections

Bacterial infections in dogs can be a secondary symptom of other causes, for example, an itchy dog with skin allergies could give themselves wounds which can become infected. There are many different types of bacterial infection but the most common is known as bacterial folliculitis which is infection and inflammation of the hair follicles. Signs of folliculitis include red swellings, itchiness and pustules.

Fleas

Fleas are extremely unpleasant for pets and humans. Not only can they cause your pet serious discomfort and irritation but they can carry some nasty diseases. They can also infest your carpets, beds and other areas of your home.

The adults lay eggs on pets which drop off throughout your home when your pet moves. These eggs hatch into larvae which eventually infest your pet and your home.

Constant scratching is the most common symptom of a flea infestation but this can result in secondary skin problems like wounds and bleeding.

Find out more about dog fleas and how to get rid of them here.

Ticks

Ticks are parasites that latch onto the skin of animals and humans and feed off their blood. There are hundreds of species of tick in the world and several can be found in the UK, especially in spring and summer. They can spread diseases so it’s important to remove ticks as quickly as possible. Find out how to remove ticks in our step-by-step guide here.

Mange

Mange is a skin disease caused by mites. Dogs can suffer from two types of mange:

  • Sarcoptic mange (also known as canine scabies) which is the most common type
  • Demodectic mange which is passed on to puppies from their mother

Mange makes dogs extremely itchy which causes constantly scratching, which in turn can lead to wounds, scabs and hair loss.

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs and can also be passed on to humans, but the mites can’t survive on our skin for long.

Thankfully, mange can be treated so if you are concerned that your dog has the condition you should contact your vet. If you have more than one dog be sure to let your vet know as they will need to be treated too (even if they don’t show symptoms).

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis, or seborrhea, occurs when your dog’s sebaceous glands, which sit below the hair follicles, produce too much sebum (or oil). This excess causes the skin to become scaly, oily or crusty and can lead to inflammation and infection. Seborrhea can be passed on from your dog’s parents but it is most commonly a symptom of other factors like allergies, hormonal imbalances or infections.

Dandruff

Flaky skin known as dandruff is a condition we often associate with people, but it can affect dogs too. Dandruff in dogs can be caused by various things like diet or cold weather but it is also a symptom of other conditions including allergies. Your vet will be able to help you get to the bottom of what is causing your dog’s dandruff and recommend treatment.

Yeast infections

Yeast infections are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs. Yeast is a fungus which lives on your dog’s skin and is typically harmless, but changes in your dog’s skin (such as allergies or an overproduction of oil) can cause the yeast to increase. The body then tries to decrease the population of yeast which results in the skin crusting, itching and smelling and eventually can lead to the skin thickening into an elephant-like appearance. While yeast infections in dogs are not contagious, they are very unpleasant for your dog. Veterinary treatment is necessary to treat the symptoms and the underlying cause.

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How will my vet diagnose my dog's skin condition?

It can be tricky to diagnose what’s causing a dog’s skin condition right away as there are so many causes and the signs of these can be very similar. To reach a diagnosis your vet will typically examine your dog and carry out any other necessary tests. They may also want to know about your dog’s recent activities to find out if anything can be identified as the cause.

If there are any details that you think might be helpful to your vet, no matter how insignificant you might think they are, you should let your vet know as it could help them diagnose the cause. For example, does your dog have symptoms at a particular time of day (meal times, for example) or at a certain time of year? Have you used any new products in your home that could have caused any irritation? Have they been anywhere different? Anything you can think of could hold the key to finding the cause of your dog’s skin condition.

How will the vet treat my dog’s skin problem?

Treatment for any dog skin problems depends on what’s causing it. This could include topical treatments (which are applied to the skin) such as ointments or shampoos, as well as medications given by mouth or via injections. The treatments really do vary so widely that only the vet who examines your dog will be able to fully advise. You should always consult your vet before giving your dog any medication for skin problems and always follow their advice.