What causes skin problems in dogs?

We see so many different types of skin conditions and skin problems in dogs. I've got a list here of an overview of the more common issues. By no means is this list exhaustive. There are so many more things that we see in dogs, but I'm going to have to read this because there are so many different things, and a lot of these things we seldom see. But just to give you an overview, adverse food reactions, in other words, food allergies. We definitely see a lot of those. Allergies are primarily either seasonal allergies or environmental allergies. We see a lot of those. For those of you who've been to the clinics and seen either me or Dr. Trina, one of the primary reasons you see one of us is because of skin conditions involving allergies. Autoimmune diseases we don't get into much. Those are fairly common issues seen. Congenital or hereditary condition. There is a unique one called hepatocutaneous syndrome in dogs, which involves the liver. We do occasionally see hormonal changes.

Idiopathic disorders. What the heck are idiopathic disorders? Quite simply where we don't know exactly what's going on. It's something that's completely out of the box. I'll give an example. There's a condition called alopecia X, which we see in Pomeranians. That's an idiopathic disorder. We don't know what's causing the problem in the first place. Keratinization, which is in your fingernails, can also involve the skin itself. Neoplastic diseases are a fancy way of saying cancer. Unfortunately, we do see a lot of skin cancers and dogs. Parasites, primarily fleas, would be not the only ones but the primary ones. But we also see two different parasites responsible for mange, either demotic mange or sarcoptic mange. Lice can be a problem in some situations. There's another one called calidiala, which is unique, but we don't really see too much of that, thank goodness. Then, of course, ticks, although ticks typically don't cause skin problems as they do blood-related diseases. The last one I have on the list is zinc-responsive dermatosis, primarily in northern-type breeds like huskies and samurians. Those are the primary ones. Although these conditions only scratch the surface, that's the bulk of what we see. But there are still several other different types of unique skin conditions in dogs. There you go. There are lots of different things that can involve your dog's skin.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

Are dermatology issues painful for my dog?

They can be. A couple of things that can be quite painful are, firstly, a flea allergy. These dogs are ripping themselves to ribbons, and unfortunately, it just takes a flea or two to bite, scratch, lick, and get chewed to the point where they have raw sores on their skin. These dogs have a lot of discomfort. The other thing would be sarcoptic mange, a tiny little mite or insect that lives in the skin of a dog. It is highly contagious from dog to dog, dog to person, and people to dog, for that matter. It doesn't cause so much pain, but it's extremely itchy. We could associate some pain with intense itchiness. Those are the key things I'm always going to think about when it comes to painful skin conditions.

What are some signs and symptoms that my dog may have a skin condition?

The first thing we typically see, because the vast majority of the problems we see are allergies, is biting, scratching, licking, itching, chewing, and rubbing. All of those are different ways that allergies can manifest. In general, we commonly see four different types of allergies. I will give them in the order that we typically see them. The number one is seasonal allergies, from pollens and plants, depending on the time of year. Second would be environmental or indoor allergens, primarily from house dust, dust mites, molds, and mildews. The third would be food allergies, an adverse reaction to the main protein in the diet, such as chicken or beef. Then flea allergies, which we mentioned, can be extremely painful just because of the intensity of the itching. So those are the primary types of allergies that we see.

What tests will be performed to diagnose my dog's condition?

Most of our diagnosis comes from either one of two ways. One is observing your dog, but second and equally, if not more important, is information that we get from you, the pet parent. The more information you can provide us, the more we can get to the core of what's happening with their pet. So be observant and take mental note of what's happening or how long this has been going on, like an itchy dog. Where on their body are they itching? Do you notice any pattern in their itching and the time of year or the time of day? We're going to go primarily from your observation and what we see when we get to the pet. As far as specific tests that we can run go, there are two or three different tests that are commonly run. One is called skin scraping if we're looking for mange. Another test would involve scotch tape on specific lesions and looking for yeast or bacteria in the skin. And then another commonly used test will check for what we call ringworm. A fungus actually causes ringworm. It has nothing to do with worms. It is misleading. Ringworm is one of many different fungus types that can collectively be responsible for what we call ringworm. But there is a test that we can do to confirm if there is a ringworm or not.

What if my dog's skin problems go untreated?

Left untreated, it causes misery, unfortunately, especially when it comes to allergies. We see so many dogs come in that are raw. They have sores, horrible skin, their skin is on fire, and they've got a bacterial infection, yeast infection, and they're losing hair. These dogs have just oozing sores and are absolutely miserable. Let me be very clear about this. We don't judge if somebody brings their pet in to see us. We know that people whose dog looks horrible think they're going to be judged by other pet owners. We don't judge. We are here to help your dog. So if your dog is biting, scratching, licking, itching, chewing, he's got these raw sores, please, by all means, get them to us. If not to us, get them to a full-service veterinarian so they can help them because we can help. They don't need to suffer just because of our ego because we're concerned about how we will appear to other pet owners. Don't care. I don't care. I'm here to help. We're here to help your pet, and we hope you're going to be there to help support your pet and bring them in so we can give them the relief they need.

What is the difference between atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis involves inhalant-type allergies. This leans more toward the seasonal or environmental allergies that we see. Contact dermatitis is primarily from coming into contact with a particular item like a bedding material or, not uncommonly, food and water bowls. We know plastic and stainless steel can cause contact allergies with food and water bowls, primarily on the skin. So for those dogs, when we suspect there can be a contact allergy, we recommend switching to a ceramic food and water bowl. We don't see other contact allergies so much. Can dogs get poison ivy? Possibly, yes, they can. We just don't see that many cases of it. Hair can be fairly protective, and they're usually not as reactive to poison ivy as you and I might be. So contact allergies are caused by contact with a plant or a material that irritates the skin.

What are curable versus incurable skin problems in dogs?

I like to think of the word manageable or treatable more than curable for many situations that we see, especially when it comes to allergies because allergies can be recurring problems for pets just like they can be for people. So it's more about managing the problem than actually curing the problem. You don't want to call cases incurable because they keep coming back. I guess that would be one sense of it. We don't really see too many incurable issues unless there might be a congenital or a kind of problem that came with them from birth or a hereditary problem. Again, something that evolved because of a birth, the appearance that has happened at birth, it's not going to change, but those are so rare and few. I'd like to use the word manageable than anything else.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Dermatology - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What is dog dermatitis?

Dermatitis is the inflammation or irritation of the skin. It's as simple as that. We have a term called dermatology, which is the study of skin conditions.

What is food allergy dermatitis, and how is it treated?

Food allergy dermatitis is the third most common type of allergy we see. It is a reaction or what we call an adverse food reaction, which is primarily caused by the main protein in the diet that leads to skin problems for your pet. The most common skin problems we see are biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing, primarily on the face and around the feet, the armpits, up around the ears, and, in many cases, around the back half of the body or the groin area. So, tail end. That is the more common presentation of a food allergy. Common causes of food allergies are chicken and beef.

What is flea allergy dermatitis, and how is it treated?

Flea allergy dermatitis is an adverse reaction or reaction to a flea bite, causing your dog to have excruciating biting, scratching, licking, itching, chewing, hair loss, and developing sores. I want to make this very clear. Just because the dog has fleas does not mean they have an allergic reaction to flea bites. Every dog's going to bite and scratch and chew because of the fleas. But when we see these dogs coming in with hair loss, sores, and red and raw skin, they have true flea allergy dermatitis. Understand that not every dog that has fleas will have that intensive reaction, but those dogs that do have that adverse reaction are suffering a lot of discomfort.

What is contact allergy dermatitis, and how is it treated?

We don't see contact allergy dermatitis as much as we do the other forms of allergies. Contact allergies are primarily from either some sort of material or a plant that can cause an adverse reaction to the skin. The primary causes in dogs are drinking water or eating out of plastic or a stainless steel bowl, in which case, we recommend using a ceramic bowl. We generally see dogs with a lot of irritation around the face, nose, or chin. Those are common areas where contact allergy dermatitis from feeding bowls show up. Plants can also be responsible for contact allergies. We think of something like poison ivy. Obviously, we see a bad rash in people. It's possible to see that on a dog, but we generally don't see it nearly as often as in people.

What dog skin conditions are transmittable to other pets and people?

Two things come to mind in every situation that every veterinarian has to be aware of because of the public health concern, especially when you have children around. The first one we're always going to give consideration to is ringworm. A ringworm is not a worm. The name is misleading, but a fungus actually causes it. Kids can pick up ringworm from another classmate at school. A lot of times, we'll commonly see ringworm in cats than in dogs. So if you find a kitten on the side of the road, you bring them home, and after a couple of days, you start getting little red rings on your skin; we start looking into ringworm. Usually, you'll see areas of hair loss on the kitten.

It could show up on the face or anywhere on the body, but a fungus causes it. Unfortunately, they can be a bit of a nuisance to manage or eliminate. That's the more common type of skin condition that can be transmitted. The other one is called Sarcoptic Mange. We don't see a lot of it, and fortunately, it's very easy to treat, unlike ringworm, which could be a real nuisance. Sarcoptic Mange is highly contagious. It's caused by tiny little mites or insects that live in the skin, but it can primarily spread from our pets, our dogs. We don't really see it so much in cats. Our dogs may get it, transmit it to us, and likewise, we can spread it to another family member. You need that close contact for it to be transmitted because it is a mite in the skin, but it is easy to treat. That's the good news. Those will always be the first two considerations: ringworm or Sarcoptic Mange.

Why is my dog so itchy and chewing on its skin?

There could be lots of reasons. I'm going to think in terms of what we do and the pets that we see coming in. There could be lots of reasons for itching, but I will break down the four primary causes. Seasonal allergies are the most common cause, and they will occur during certain times of the year because pollens from certain plants trigger an allergic reaction. These are the same types of plants that cause people to have allergies, but in people, we think of upper respiratory conditions, like runny eyes or runny nose, and sinus headaches. With dogs, we can get biting, scratching, licking, itching, chewing, and ear problems. The second most common cause we see are indoor or environmental allergens. That is primarily from house dust, dust mites, molds, and mildew.

Next is food allergies. Food allergies are primarily caused by chicken or beef. There are other potential causes, but chicken and beef are the two primary triggers for food allergies, which can also make your dog really itchy. The last one is flea allergies. Flea allergies, of all these I just mentioned, are typically the most intensely itchy for your pet. The good news is it's also the easiest to get rid of because it just takes appropriate and effective flea control. Pets with flea allergies, dogs and cats, are totally miserable.

Is dermatitis stressful for my dog?

It absolutely can be. It depends on the intensity. Think about that dog that licks its feet every now and then. They're probably not too stressed by it, and you're not too bothered by it. But think about that dog that's constantly biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing at certain times of the year in particular, and where you have to turn around every few minutes, and you say, "Stop, stop, stop." If it bothers you, you can imagine how much your dog is bothered by it. Think about this too. If you had poison ivy, you could imagine how intensely an issue it is. Are you miserable from it? You bet you are, so imagine that same intensity of itching going on continuously from allergies, Sarcoptic Mange, flea allergies, or seasonal allergies where these dogs are just constantly biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing nonstop 24/7.

Sometimes we will give them some Benadryl. I'm not recommending that you do that because it doesn't work for most dogs, but you can try it. At least that kind of chills them out a little bit so they can get temporary relief. Imagine the intensity or the itching and how uncomfortable you would be. Your dog's experiencing the same thing.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.