Skin disease is a common problem in dogs.
One of the most common skin diseases is called seborrhea. Seborrhea is a skin disease caused by a long-term overproduction of oil by the sebaceous glands.
Seborrhea is most common in middle-aged to older dogs and occurs more commonly in Labrador retrievers. Labradors are especially prone to dry skin because of their long, thick coats that are prone to matting and tangles.
Dog Skin Problems
The sound of a dog constantly scratching or licking can be as irritating as nails on a chalkboard.
But don’t blame your pooch for these bad habits -- a skin condition is probably the culprit. Possible causes range from parasites to allergies to underlying illnesses
16 Types of Dog Skin Disease
Dry, Flaky Skin
Dry, flaky skin can be a red flag for a number of problems. It's a common symptom of allergies, mange, and other skin diseases. But most often, dry or flaky skin is nothing serious. Make sure you are feeding Fido high-quality food. Like people, some dogs simply get dry skin in the winter. If this seems to cause your pet discomfort, consult your veterinarian. Ask whether a fatty acid supplement or a humidifier might help.
Dogs can have allergic reactions to grooming products, food, and environmental irritants, such as pollen or insect bites.
A dog with allergies may scratch relentlessly, and a peek at the skin often reveals an ugly rash.
Corticosteroids or other, newer medicines can help with itchy rashes. But the most effective treatment is to identify and avoid exposure to the allergens.
If your dog can't seem to stop scratching an ear or licking and chewing its toes, ask your veterinarian to check for a yeast infection.
Symptoms include irritated, itchy, or discolored skin. The infection usually strikes the paws or ears, where yeast has a cozy space to grow.
Yeast infections are easy to diagnose and often respond well to a topical cream. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe oral drugs, medicated sprays, or medicated baths.
Superficial bacterial folliculitis is an infection that causes sores, bumps, and scabs on the skin.
These skin abnormalities are easier to see in shorthaired dogs. In longhaired dogs, the most obvious symptoms may be a dull coat and shedding with scaly skin underneath.
Folliculitis often occurs in conjunction with other skin problems, such as mange, allergies, or injury. Treatment may include oral antibiotics and antibacterial ointments or shampoos.
Another type of bacterial infection, impetigo is most common in puppies. It causes pus-filled blisters that may break and crust over.
The blisters usually develop on the hairless portion of the abdomen. Impetigo is rarely serious and can be treated with a topical solution.
In a small number of cases, the infection may spread or persist.
Seborrhea causes a dog's skin to become greasy and develop scales (dandruff).
In some cases, it's a genetic disease that begins when a dog is young and lasts a lifetime.
But most dogs with seborrhea develop the scaling as a complication of another medical problem, such as allergies or hormonal abnormalities.
In these cases, it is vital to treat the underlying cause so symptoms do not recur.
Seborrhea itself typically can be treated with certain medicated shampoos.
Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by a worm, but by a fungus.
The term "ring" comes from the circular patches that can form anywhere but are often found on a dog's head, paws, ears, and forelegs. Inflammation, scaly patches, and hair loss often surround the lesions.
Puppies less than a year old are the most susceptible, and the infection can spread quickly between dogs in a kennel or to pet owners at home.
Various anti-fungal treatments are available.
Shedding and Hair Loss (Alopecia)
Anyone who shares their home with dogs knows that they shed.
How much shedding is normal depends on breed, time of year, and environment, But sometimes stress, poor nutrition or illness can cause a dog to lose more hair than usual.
If abnormal or excessive shedding persists for more than a week, or you notice patches of missing fur, check with your veterinarian.
Mange is a skin disorder caused by tiny parasites called mites.
Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, spreads easily among dogs and can also be transmitted to people, but the parasites don't survive on humans.
The symptoms are intense itching, red skin, sores, and hair loss. A dog's ears, face, and legs are most commonly affected.
Demodectic mange can cause bald spots, scabbing, and sores, but it is not contagious between animals or people. Treatment depends on the type of mange.
Fleas are the bane of any pet owner. You may not see the tiny insects themselves, but flea droppings or eggs are usually visible in a dog's coat.
Other symptoms include excessive licking or scratching, scabs, and hot spots. Severe flea infestations can cause blood loss and anemia, and even expose your dog to other parasites, such as tapeworms.
Treatment may include a topical and/or oral flea killer and a thorough cleaning of the pet's home and yard.
Ticks, like fleas, are external parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. You can spot a tick feeding on your dog with the naked eye.
To properly remove a tick, grasp the tick with tweezers close to the dog’s skin, and gently pull it straight out. Twisting or pulling too hard may cause the head to remain lodged in your dog’s skin, which can lead to infection.
Place the tick in a jar with some alcohol for a couple of days. If your pet gets ill, your vet may need it to analyze what's wrong. In addition to causing blood loss and anemia, ticks can transmit Lyme disease and other potentially serious bacterial infections.
If you live in an area where ticks are common, talk to your veterinarian about tick control products.
Color or Texture Changes
Changes in a dog's skin color or coat texture can be a warning sign of several common metabolic or hormone problems.
They can also result from an infection or other skin disorders.
Usually, a simple blood test can identify the underlying cause. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about any significant changes to your dog’s coat.
Acral Lick Granuloma
Also called acral lick dermatitis, this is a frustrating skin condition caused by compulsive, relentless licking of a single area -- most often on the front of the lower leg.
The area is unable to heal, and the resulting pain and itching can lead the dog to keep licking the same spot.
Treatment includes discouraging the dog from licking, either by using a bad-tasting topical solution or an Elizabethan collar. Also, ask your dog's vet about other treatment options.
If you notice a lump on your dog's skin, point it out to your vet as soon as possible. Dogs can develop cancerous tumors in their skin. The only way to confirm a diagnosis of cancer is to biopsy the tumor.
If the lump is small enough, your veterinarian may recommend removing it entirely. This can yield a diagnosis and treatment with a single procedure.
For tumors that have not spread, this may be the only treatment needed.
Hot spots, also called acute moist dermatitis, are small areas that appear red, irritated, and inflamed.
They are most commonly found on a dog's head, hips, or chest, and often feel hot to the touch. Hot spots can result from a wide range of conditions, including infections, allergies, insect bites, or excessive licking and chewing.
Treatment consists of cleansing the hot spot and addressing the underlying condition.
In rare cases, skin lesions or infections that won’t heal can indicate an immune disorder in your dog.
One of the best known is lupus, a disease that affects dogs and people.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. Symptoms include skin abnormalities and kidney problems. It can be fatal if untreated.
Home Remedies for Your Dog
When your dog is feeling under the weather, your vet should be the first person you call. Seemingly minor symptoms may be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition, in which case do-it-yourself remedies could be ineffective or cause more harm than good.
But if your dog has a minor ailment, such as dry skin or a mild upset stomach, some home remedies can be quite beneficial. Here are nine simple, vet-approved home remedies that can provide relief for your canine companion.
- Yogurt for Dogs
Delicious, plain yogurt can be a healthy treat for your dog. The live probiotic organisms in the yogurt may also help keep the bacteria in your dog's intestines in balance, but “the canine digestive tract is not the same as ours,” Coates cautions. “There are better options out there that are made specifically for dogs.”
Probiotic supplements for dogs are widely available through veterinarians and over-the-counter. Coates recommends ones that are made by reputable companies and that have the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal on the label to ensure that you are purchasing a safe and effective product.
- Oatmeal for Itchy Skin
If you’ve had chickenpox, you may have taken an oatmeal bath to soothe your itchy skin. “Oatmeal contains chemicals called avenanthramides and phenols, which have anti-inflammatory properties,” Morgan explains.
Pets with skin allergies and superficial infections get immediate relief from oatmeal, says Khuly, who is a general veterinary practitioner. “It’s especially helpful for dogs with really itchy feet. Plus, it’s 100 percent non-toxic and delicious, too.”
To create your own remedy, Morgan suggests grinding the oatmeal to a fine powder and mixing it with water to apply as a poultice (drying agent) on hot spots or inflamed areas. If your dog tolerates baths, you can add the oatmeal formula to warm water, and let your dog soak for five to 10 minutes.
- Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda, and Dishwashing Liquid for Deodorizing
Aside from the redness, swelling, sneezing, and other symptoms a skunk encounter can create for your dog is the offensive smell. A de-skunking remedy Khuly suggests is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing liquid, which she says works on skunked fur and everything the skunked fur has contact with. Mix four cups of hydrogen peroxide with one-third cup baking soda and a small squirt of dishwashing liquid, and apply it liberally to your pet’s coat, she says. Rinse well after about five minutes and repeat if necessary.
While it’s not the most glamorous topic, this solution also works well for stinky anal glands, Khuly says.
- Vitamin E Oil for Healthy Skin
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight aging, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian based in New Jersey. (Antioxidants prevent free radical damage, which scientists believe contributes to aging.) While your dog couldn’t care less about maintaining her youthful glow, she can still benefit from Vitamin E oil. Morgan says it adds protection against UV radiation, which is especially beneficial if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors.
It can also be used to moisturize your companion’s dry skin. Morgan recommends massaging Vitamin E oil on your dog’s coat. “Vitamin E capsules can also be broken open and used on warts, calluses, or dry spots,” she says, adding that there is no cause for concern if your pet licks off the small amount of the oil.
- Chamomile Tea for Upset Stomach and Minor Irritation
Chamomile soothes the stomach by decreasing muscle spasms and cramps, Morgan says. “It also decreases inflammation of mucous membranes, so it decreases inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining.” Chamomile tea can be added to dog food or your dog's water bowl, or given by mouth with a syringe, she says.
Getting your dog to drink something new is not always easy, however, admits Dr. Patty Khuly, owner of Miami, Florida-based Sunset Animal Clinic. She primarily uses chamomile on dogs with minor rashes and irritations.
Khuly recommends brewing a strong chamomile tea, pouring it into a clean spray bottle, and letting it cool in the refrigerator. “Then, spray liberally onto red or raw skin for an immediate soothing effect—with no sting.”
- Epsom Salts for Wounds
You might use magnesium-rich Epsom salts to relieve sore muscles. They have anti-inflammatory properties and are also useful for soaking and cleaning wounds, Morgan says. “They cause abscesses to open and drain, relieving pressure in the wound and allowing healing. We use these a lot for soaking feet of horses and also dogs with inter-digital sores.”
To create a soak for your dog, Morgan advises mixing the Epsom salts with warm water and applying the soak on your dog for five to 10 minutes, three times a day.
- Electrolyte-Replacing Liquids for Diarrhea
Flavorless electrolyte-replacing liquids (such as sports waters or pediatric drinks) not only help athletes to rehydrate and babies to recover from illness, but also can supply your sick pooch's body with much-needed fluid and electrolytes if he’s suffering through a bout of diarrhea.
“Dogs lose fluids and electrolytes when they have diarrhea, so offering them a drink that contains both can be appropriate, particularly if their appetite hasn’t fully returned to normal,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor with petMD.
Consult your veterinarian as to the appropriate dosage before giving these types of liquids to your dog and to determine whether additional treatment is necessary.
- Oils for Flea Prevention
If you are reluctant to use conventional flea prevention products, you might have looked into natural options. “There are a lot of recipes out there—some good, some bad,” Morgan says. Essential oils can be very effective, she says, “but must be diluted so they do not cause harm to the animal.” (Note: Some oils that are safe for dogs may be toxic for cats. Check the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control for guidance and consult with your veterinarian.)
Morgan likes coconut oil, which you can either give your dog orally or apply externally on his coat. “The higher the lauric acid content in the oil, the more effective it will be,” she says. “Many inferior coconut oils have very low lauric acid content.” Coconut oil can also be used as a carrier oil for essential oils.
After using a dog flea comb daily to help remove fleas from a dog’s coat, Integrative Veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne recommends bathing your canine companion with a natural pet flea shampoo. “Start, for example, with a pint of organic oatmeal shampoo, and then add two tablespoons of either neem or tea tree oil, shake well and begin bathing. Pets may be bathed weekly or as needed.” Keep in mind that improper dilutions of tea tree oil and other essential oils can be toxic for pets, so consult with your veterinarian first. And while natural options like these may help repel fleas, they are unlikely to solve a full-blown infestation on their own.
- Licorice Root for Itchiness
No, this is not the same as the licorice candy you eat. Licorice root is actually a form of cortisone, and cortisone relieves skin irritation and reduces the urge to scratch, says Osborne, who practices in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
You may see bottles of licorice root in stores that sell health products. Pet supply stores also offer licorice products formulated for dogs. Some dog-specific products designed to treat allergy symptoms in dogs may also include licorice root.
If you’ve given your dog a flea bath and dip and she’s still itchy, Osborne suggests the following herbal, home remedy: “Take five drops of licorice root, five drops of dandelion root, and five drops of cat’s claw. Mix all three and give five drops of the final solution to your canine by mouth, once daily for 14 days in a row.”
“Since cortisone is a type of steroid, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian before giving these products to your dog to prevent any potential cross-reactions and/or side effects with any other medications your pet may be taking,” Osborne advises. Also, some licorice root formulations have been associated with low blood potassium levels, muscle breakdown, and kidney damage. Make sure you are working with a veterinarian who is well-trained in holistic medicine before you reach for any herbal remedy.
Baking soda, dishwashing liquid, hydrogen peroxide, and chamomile tea are a few items you may keep in your home that can also double as home remedies for your dog. Remember to first talk to your vet about any unusual symptoms your dog has and whether these products are appropriate for her situation. Taking away your canine companion’s discomfort may already be well within your reach.
Although most skin problems are not emergencies, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis so the condition can be treated. See your veterinarian if your dog is scratching or licking excessively, or if you notice any changes in your pet's coat or skin, including scaling, redness, discoloration, or bald patches. Once the cause is identified, most skin problems respond well to treatment.