Familiarizing yourself with common canine skin irritations and diseases is important to your pet’s health. Certain skin problems could be sign of a more serious underlying issue, such as physical pain, discomfort, or infection.
“There are many different types of skin conditions in dogs. As we try to figure out what type of condition may be affecting your pet, we have to answer one question first, ‘Is your dog itchy?’” said Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Itch in dogs can take on a number of different forms, including scratching, rubbing, rolling, licking, chewing, head shaking, or scooting. You may be bringing your dog in for hair loss or skin sores, but if those signs are present with itchy behaviors, we will be looking that direction first.”
Common reasons dogs have itchy skin include parasites, such as fleas, lice, or microscopic mites; infections, such as those caused by bacteria; and allergies.
“Fleas are extremely common in dogs, particularly in Texas where fleas are endemic year-round. Not only are fleas a nuisance and can carry disease, but they can also cause flea allergy dermatitis, an allergic reaction from the flea’s bite that occurs in some dogs,” Diesel explained. “Mites are another common reason for skin disease in dogs, particularly Demodex; these non-contagious mites may be found in young or older patients. Sarcoptes mites, also known as scabies, are also rather common; these mites are contagious and typically cause severe itch. Bacterial skin infections are also prevalent in dogs; however they are typically due to a secondary problem, such as parasites or allergies.”
Other skin conditions that occur in dogs include hormone imbalances, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease; cancer, which may be benign or malignant; and autoimmune skin diseases, such as pemphigus or lupus. All of these typically come without signs of itch unless secondary infections are present.
Sometimes dog owners may notice that their pets have a skin lesion or that a part of the skin has an abnormal growth or appearance compared to the skin around it. According to Diesel, lesions should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the cause. “As there are numerous causes of skin lesions in dogs, it is important to determine the underlying cause to help guide treatment recommendations,” she said.
In addition to monitoring your pet’s skin conditions, you should also keep track of your dog’s shedding. Excessive shedding could potentially be a sign of another health condition. First, it is important to determine whether the hair is being scratched out, or if it is falling out on its own. “If the hair is falling out on its own and leaving obvious areas of baldness, this may be a sign of internal illness, such as hormone imbalances, metabolic changes, or even potentially cancer; it could also be a sign of skin disease, such as ringworm,” Diesel said. It is also important to remember that certain breeds may shed much more than others. If there is no baldness seen along with the excessive shedding, this may actually be normal for your dog. Seasonal variations may additionally occur, although this is less noticeable in Texas where seasonal variation is minimal compared to other regions of the country.
To keep your dog’s coat healthy and shiny and to minimize unwanted excessive shedding, routinely brush and groom your pet. Depending on the breed, some dogs may require periodic haircuts for coat care, while others may need only a bath and brush. Additionally, veterinarian-prescribed omega fatty acids such as fish oil can help keep the skin and hair coat healthy in dogs.
If you notice any excessive scratching or shedding, lesions, or any change in your dog’s normal hair coat appearance, you should have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian to help determine any underlying health conditions that may be a cause for the change.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.