Skin Conditions in Dogs – Everything to Know About Fido’s Skin

Skin Conditions in Dogs

Skin conditions can be extremely irritating and painful for our faithful companions and, according to surveys, are the number one reason we take our dogs to the vet. Costing around $183 per visit they are also probably one of the most expensive, in the long run, conditions we take our dogs to the vet for.

There are many types of skin conditions our dogs may be suffering from and many treatments we can use for them. However, we need to be entirely sure what is causing our dogs to itch, scratch, and bite at themselves before we start any treatment.

Dog skin problems

Common causes of skin conditions can include:

  • Poor quality dog food
  • Parasites
  • Toxic environmental factors
  • Pollutants
  • Vaccinations
  • Psychological Factors
  • Suppressed disease
  • Skin allergies
  • Bacteria

How they display themselves is wide and varied and it can be difficult to diagnose and treat them correctly.

It is probably best to start with the knowledge of the main skin disorders in dogs there are out there.

Common Canine Skin Disorders

The following are common skin disorders dogs can suffer from:

  • Dry/oily skin
  • Yeast
  • Dandruff
  • Hot Spots
  • Mange (sarcoptic and demodectic)
  • Skin Infection
  • Fleas/ticks
  • Allergies (food, flea, contact, inhalant)

All the above will have symptoms in common. It is a virtual 100% guaranteed fact that the initial signs of a skin problem will be your dog itching and scratching.

They all will however have subtle and not so subtle differences in symptoms too. So how do you check what your dog’s symptoms are?

How to Examine Your Dog

If you think your dog has a skin condition you will need to examine them and gain as much information as possible. To do this get your dog to sit or lie with you whilst you gently part their hair with your hands and examine the skin underneath.

Look out for the following and make a note of all your findings:-

  • Sores
  • Redness
  • Dandruff
  • Parasites
  • Rashes
  • Lumps
  • Bumps
  • Bald spots

Next ask yourself the following questions and make a note of your answers:

  1. When did the itching begin? Was it at a certain age, time of year?
  2. Does your dog itch all the time, or is it just at certain times of year?
  3. Can you link the itching to somewhere you go, or something you do?
  4. Have you tried any treatments and did they work?

Common Symptoms of Common Skin Diseases

Once you have listed your dog’s symptoms you can now check them against the table and list below. This should hopefully give you a diagnosis. If your dog does not match anything below you should seek the advice of your vet.

Flea Allergy 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11
Inhalant Allergy 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Food Allergy 1, 8, 10, 12, 13
Contact Allergy 1, 14, 15
Dry Skin 1, 7, 19
Bacterial Infection 1, 4, 16, 17
Yeast Infection 1, 17, 18
Dandruff 1, 5, 16, 19
Mange 1, 2, 5, 12, 16


  1. Constant itching.
  2. Inflamed skin, severe itching.
  3. Itching at the base of tail and the rump.
  4. Chewing at the affected areas.
  5. Skin scaly and dry. Hair loss.
  6. Itching in warm weather (seasonal).
  7. Itching in cold weather (seasonal).
  8. Rubbing the face.
  9. Licking the stomach.
  10. Licking the paws.
  11. Ear infections (recurrent).
  12. Itching and scratching (non-seasonal).
  13. Small red bumps and raised patches. Rashes.
  14. Itching suddenly.
  15. Skin becoming inflamed and or having red itchy bumps.
  16. Open sores, pimples and bumps.
  17. Scratching of the ears. Shaking the head and holding it to one side.
  18. Smelly and greasy skin.
  19. Flaky skin.

Understanding a Skin Condition and Treating It

Once you have diagnosed your dog’s skin condition you will need to understand it and how to treat it. There are many ways in which you can treat the various skin conditions, it is just a matter of finding what is right for you and most importantly your dog.

If you have any doubts about your diagnosis or how you should treat your dog it may be best to contact your vet.

1. Allergies

This is simply when your dog is allergic to something he has come in contact with, inhaled or eaten.

2. Flea Allergy

This is probably the easiest allergy to spot. Fleas bite on your dog and crawl around looking for the warmest spots on their bodies to settle, they are hard to miss. This causes your dog to itch, scratch and even bite at themselves as these little parasites drive them crazy.

Prevention is the best way to deal with these pesky critters and a simple topical flea treatment every month will do just that. However if your dog is unlucky enough to get fleas there are a couple of remedies you can try.

Fleas infographic

The first is a medicated flea bath, a simple shampoo that should rid your dog of his visitors. Not all dogs like baths though and it can be a struggle to get them in the water. So if you have one of those dogs why not try a flea spray that will kill them off just as effectively?

It would be useful here to note that flea collars are not a particularly effective way to prevent fleas and are certainly not suitable to get rid of fleas. Also if your dog is distressed by his itching or is causing himself harm by scratching and biting you could try giving him some Benadryl. This should settle your dog and relieve his itch.

3. Inhalant Allergy

An inhalant allergy is when your dog is allergic to something that he has inhaled or has absorbed through his skin. The cause of this type of allergy can be varied but most commonly it is associated with grasses, dust mites, molds, and pollens.

Seasonal pet allergies

It can be extremely difficult to pin point what your dog is allergic to with this allergy and even harder to avoid the cause of it. For example, imagine never allowing your dog on grass again. You could however ask your vet to perform tests which will pin point the allergy.

These can be expensive though and may not end in a solution to the problem. It is nigh on impossible to avoid pollen for example or dust mites for that matter. Probably the best you can do is give your dog regularly medicated baths and Benadryl to ease the itching.

It would be useful here to note that inhalant allergies can increase as your dog gets older and you may find he becomes allergic to more and more things and possibly more intensely.

4. Food Allergy

Food allergies are not all that common in dogs, but when they do occur it is generally natural components of dog foods such as meat, milk, eggs and grain that they are allergic to. A good indication that a dog has a food allergy would be if Benadryl does not relieve the itching.

Diagnosing exactly what food they are allergic to is no easy feat, there are no tests that can be run to pin point the food that your dog is allergic to. Discovering the culprit is a matter of running a food trial cutting out any possible foods one by one until you hit the jackpot.

Toxic foods for dogs infographic

It should be noted that there are no treatments for food allergies other than discovering and cutting the food out of your dog’s diet.

Also, it can take one to two years for a food allergy to develop so be careful not to rule this possible allergy out just because your dog has been eating the same food for a long period of time.

5. Contact Allergy

Contact allergies are exactly what they say are, an allergy to something your dog has touched. Common causes include carpet cleaners, air fresheners, shampoos, some plants and stings from wasps and bees.

You may be thinking this sounds very similar to an inhalant allergy that has been absorbed through the skin, but there is a difference. A contact allergy is usually instant.

Treatment of this allergy can vary dependent on what has caused the reaction. If it is something like carpet products then using a gentle shampoo and stopping the use of the product will usually be sufficient. If it something like a plant or sting reaction your dog may need antibiotics or corticosteroids. A trip to the vets or consultation with your vet is imperative with the latter.

Worthy of note is that severe swelling and possible breathing difficulties can be a consequence of this type of allergic reaction. It would be sensible to remove your dog’s collar and to monitor them carefully for the first few hours. If your dog show any signs of struggling to breathe take them to the vets immediately.

Skin Infections

Skin infections are usually a secondary condition to allergies caused by fleas and mites, but can also be caused simply by your dog having certain breed standards.

Bacterial Infections (Pyoderma)

Bacterial infections are usually the result of having an allergy and if your dog develops one they will scratch and bite at their skin spreading the infection further over their body. Also as well as scratching their ears they may develop a yellow / green discharge.

Treating the original allergy will not clear up the infection unless your dog has been prescribed antibiotics. If you think your dog has got infection you should take them to the vet.

Fungal Infections (Yeast)

Characterized by the smell your dog will omit, fungal infections are usually found in the more moist areas of your dog’s body such as the ears, armpits, feet and skin. It will also often be accompanied by a brown waxy discharge from the ears.

Commonly caused by an already existing allergy in your dog this condition will again need a vet’s consultation. This is because they will more than likely need medicated creams to clear up this problem. Other dogs to suffer with fungal infections include dogs with floppy ears and lots of skin folds such as the Sharpei and the Bulldog.

Dandruff and Oily Skin

It is not only humans that suffer from dandruff and oily or greasy hair, dogs do too, and just like different ethnic groups who typically fall into one category or the other, dog breeds can too.

Dry Skin (dandruff) Oily Skin (greasy coat)
Dachshund Basset Hound
Doberman Pinscher Cocker Spaniel
German Shepherd English Springer Spaniel
Irish Setter Labradors
West Highland Terrier

Dry, flaky skin is the main symptom of dandruff but as any human who suffers from this condition knows, it can also lead to an incredibly itchy skin. The best way to deal with this is to use a dandruff shampoo for dogs.

Usually a dog dandruff shampoo will contain sulphur, iodine, salicylic acid or a mixture of these ingredients. How often you use this shampoo will depend on the extent of the condition. For severe cases the dog should be bathed every other day for a week to ten days before decreasing to twice a week for a month. After this once a week then once a month should suffice. If the symptoms return start the schedule again.

To try and avoid dandruff on your dog altogether you can check and rectify (where possible) the following:-

  • Over/under bathing
  • Under grooming
  • Nutrient deficiency in the diet
  • Dry climate / forced heating
  • Neutering/spaying
Cheyletiella (Walking Dandruff)

It sounds crazy I know but walking dandruff is an actual condition that is caused by mites that live on dogs. Eradicating these is simple and can be done by using a topical flea treatment.

It should be noted that all pets in the house will need treatment if one has contracted walking dandruff. It is also possible for humans to get this condition so contact your doctor if you are worried you may too have it.

Oily Skin

Should your dog be suffering from oily skin you should choose a shampoo that contains coal tar, benzoyl peroxide, selenium sulphide or a mixture of. The regime for bathing should be the same as with if your dog has dandruff.

There are two different types of mange, sarcoptic and demodectic, with the latter having three subcategories. Both are caused by several species of mites and common external parasites.

Sarcoptic Mange

This type of mange is transferred easily between hosts, even mothers pass it to their pups when they are cuddling. Most of these puppies however live harmoniously with these mites, never suffering any consequences.

The unlucky few however will need vet attention which will include fortnightly skin scrapes and oral, topical, injection or shampoo dip treatment.

Demodectic Nange (Localised)

Localised cases are when the mites proliferate in one or two small areas, commonly the face. It is mainly associated with puppyhood and will generally resolve itself with no treatment of any kind. However if treatment is needed you should seek the advice of your vet.

Demodectic Mange (Generalised)

Generalised demodectic mange affects larger areas of the dog, possibly even his entire body. This is usually accompanied by secondary infection which makes this an extremely painful and itchy condition for your dog.

This type of mange can also be a sign of underlying problems such as a compromised immune system. Treatment will vary depending on the age of the dog needing treatment but will usually involve one or more of the same treatments used for sarcoptic mange.

Demodectic Mange (Pododermatitis)

This type of mange is confined to the foot and is always accompanied by a bacterial infection. Unfortunately it is the most resistant form to any kind of treatment.

Again you should consult your vet if you think your dog may be suffering from pododermatitis and they will help you manage this condition. It should be noted that younger dogs may fully recover, but older dogs will probably need long term treatment.

Other Skin Conditions and Considerations

Ringworm is a fairly common fungal infection that especially affects puppies under the age of six months. Recognised by inflammation of the skin, scaly patches, hair loss and a small red ring that grows it requires immediate veterinary attention.

This is because people can also become infected quite easily. Puppies can also suffer from bacterial infections and mange as already covered.

Dog skin cancer infographic

Middle age dogs or young adults are most prone to skin allergies and dandruff, whilst older dogs or senior dogs are liable to develop alopecia and skin tumors.

You should seek immediate advice from your vet if you think your dog has developed a tumor.