Skin Conditions in Dogs

Skin issues in dogs often present quite similarly to each other like red spots, lesions, and inflamed skin. However, being able to learn and understand the key differences in their symptoms and how they look is incredibly beneficial to your pet’s health. This article covers 8 skin conditions with causes and recommendations on treating them. If you’re ever unsure or concerned about your pet’s health, we advise checking with your vet.

Allergies: environmental and food

Environmental and food allergies in dogs present with similar symptoms: itching, hair loss, ear infections and skin infections. It is important to find out which is affecting your dog or if they’re experiencing both, so you can best treat them.

Allergies don’t affect your dogs’ respiratory system like they do with ours, so you won’t see them sneezing or having a runny nose. However, they are likely to experience itchy skin or have an ear infection, which can also lead to secondary infections if they are persistently scratching or chewing itchy spots and introducing new bacteria to their skin.7

Food allergies or intolerances can present through skin conditions, such as an itchy, red or dry coat, persistent licking and scratching of the skin. You may also notice hair loss around their ears and anus due to scratching and scooting to relieve the discomfort. To determine if your dog has a food allergy, we recommend an elimination diet which you can learn more about here.

Environmental allergies can be caused by things such as fragrances, cleaning products, trees and plants. They will typically present the same as food allergies however you may be able to determine the cause based on the onset. If you have recently changed a cleaning product or have taken a new walking path and notice your dog’s itching has increased, these can be great indicators. Otherwise, you’re looking out for excessive itching and red, teary eyes. If you can narrow down what is causing this and change it, you will notice these symptoms alleviate quite quickly. Your dog may also need some environmental allergies medication and support from their vet.7

Hair Loss, Alopecia and Bald Patches

It is perfectly normal for your dog to shed, and the amount will differ for each dog breed. However, if this is leading to bald spots it can be reason for concern. If your dog has experienced a trauma to the skin such as burns, wounds or a surgery (where hair was shaved) they may experience hormonal changes due to stress and anxiety. On their own these experiences will cause hair loss, however it is incredibly important to support your dog’s immune and digestive system during this time, so their future skin and hair growth are supported.6 Dr Narelle Cooke has some great information on the best ways to support your dog’s immune system through their diet, that you can read about here.  

More significant hair loss, complete or large patches is most likely alopecia. This can be a result of allergies, skin infections or endocrine disorders. Alopecia can develop from insect bites, skin infections, allergies, stress, anxiety, hormonal imbalance or nutritional deficiencies. Along with air loss you may notice itching, skin pigmentation and inflammation.

A low-processed diet of absorbable and digestible nutrients can help prevent hair loss and or support your dogs coat when they need it, be mindful of the level of carbohydrates in your pet's food to ensure this. You can learn more about the effects of processed carbohydrates here and more about “grain-free” diets and hidden sugars here. The raw meat in Big Dog diets can work as a natural hormone replacement to re-balance their hormones and provide your dog’s skin and coat the vitamins and moisture it needs to be healthy.6

Ticks and Fleas

We are all familiar with ticks and fleas, however, you may not know that they can actually cause an allergic condition known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which causes extreme itching, hair loss and skin infections. Ticks and fleas suck at your pet’s blood causing skin irritation and possibly transmitting diseases in large or reoccurring infestations, causing anaemia. In serious cases such as FAD, you may notice red and inflamed skin on your dog, or your dog biting at their skin and behaviour changes, due to the discomfort and irritation.

Checking your dog regularly for ticks and fleas and providing them with a preventative treatment is incredibly important. As is frequently cleaning your home, their bed and collar, especially if they have ticks and fleas.

You can learn more about Tick and Flea treatment and prevention here.

Hot Spots

Hot spots are an unfortunately common skin disease affecting dogs. Hot spots typically appear as a moist patch under fur and very quickly turn into a red, swollen skin lesion that contains pus, may ooze and have a smell to it. Hot spots can appear anywhere on your dog’s body, however, are commonly spotted on a dog’s head, legs, or under matted fur. They are quite painful which is why you may notice your dog itching, chewing, or licking at the infected site. To avoid a secondary infection, which can be caused when other bacteria enters the infection site, we recommend treating hot spots immediately.1

Hot spots can be caused by a lot of things including allergies, insect bites, poor grooming, ear infections, joint pain or boredom. You can help reduce the chances of hot spots for your pup by:

  • Mentally stimulating them to avoid frequent licking as a form of entertainment;
  • Regularly grooming them and checking their skin;
  • Monitoring their behaviour for changes such as pain and discomfort;
  • Getting frequent exercise to use energy and reduce licking caused by bordem/ excessive energy build up
  • Feeding a well-balanced diet that is high in omega fatty acids to promote a healthy skin and coat

If you do notice a hot spot, take your dog to the vet to discuss options including an E-collar or cone to reduce licking and chewing at the infection or for a topical treatment, bandaging or medication.1

Dandruff

If you’re noticing white flakes in your dog’s fur, it is likely dandruff, just like humans get! Double check you’re not dealing with ‘walking dandruff,’ which are small white mites. Dandruff is not a huge reason for concern as it’s typically an indicator your dog needs more frequent baths and moisture on their skin. We’d recommend increasing your grooming routine, both baths and brushing, and making sure you’re using gentle products.2

It is also worth checking they’re getting the nutrients they need from their food to avoid dry and flaky skin which can lead to dandruff, omega fatty acids and moisture in their diet are super helpful in for this! Our Tassie Salmon and Sensitive Skin patties are great options for increasing omega fatty acids in your dogs diet.

If you’re noticing frequent dandruff that isn’t going away with a change in diet and frequent grooming, it’s time to chat with your vet about allergies, immune support or a genetic condition.2

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections are quite common in dogs, presenting as a skin infection you may notice a range of symptoms from itchiness and redness, flaky skin, an odour, hyperpigmentation, oily skin to thickened ‘elephant’ skin, or a combination of these. Bacteria and fungi on the skin and fur create an infection when there are changes to the skin condition such as excessive oil production or if your dog has a compromised immune system. Yeast infections can lead to dermatitis and are likely to reoccur, with some dogs having chronic infections due to an immune deficiency.3

We’d recommend having your vet check any yeast infections, as typical treatment is a topical lotion or medication prescribed by them. To support your dog with a yeast infection and during a course of antibiotics, a probiotic rich diet or a probiotic supplement are incredibly beneficial to strengthen their stomach lining, as well as building up the bacteria they have lost from the medication. You can read more about probiotics and itchy skin here.

Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection presenting as lesion on the skin (typically not in the shape of a ring, and also has nothing to do with worms!). It’s the same that appears on humans, however on our pets it is often hidden by their fur.

It may present along with dandruff-like shedding or hair loss and redness on the affected area. Having a regular grooming routine where you can check your pet's skin is incredibly important as you may notice something sooner rather than later. If you suspect ringworm, head to your vet for a diagnosis and treatment, if they confirm ringworm, it is important to clean your house for any contaminated hairs your dog has shed.4

Ringworm is often caught through direct contact from another animal, other contaminated spaces or from dirt in their environment. To reduce the chances of ringworm, make your home pet friendly, clean your dog and their environment frequently with products safe for them and remove any pet hair from your environment as often as possible.

Canine Acne

Canine acne typically presents on the face and around the mouth as small bumps or pimples. While canine acne doesn’t have a known cause, it is more common in certain breeds and often occurs after trauma to the skin causing inflamed hair follicles. A topical antibiotic may be needed if the acne does not resolve itself and, in the meantime, resist the urge to pop any pimples. We’d also recommend changing from plastic food and water bowls as they may be scratching your dog’s chin.5

Our biggest recommendations from this article:

Establish a regular grooming routine so you are regularly checking their skin and coat condition.

Provide your pet with the nutrients they need to support their skin and coat health, if they experience any of these skin concerns and are treated with antibiotics, support their stomach with a probiotic.

Check anything that is causing distress to your dog and their skin, or is reoccurring with your vet.

Sources:

1. Williams K et al (2023). Hot Spots In Dogs. Retrieved 6 March 2024.

2. Keenan, J (2023). Natural Solutions For Dog Dandruff. Retrieved 6 March 2024.

3. Scott, D (2023). How To Manage Yeast Infection In Dogs. Retrieved 6 March 2024.

4. Hesham, A et al (2020). Ringworm in dogs. Retrieved 6 March 2024.

5. David, E (2023). What to know about canine acne and how to treat it. Retrieved 6 March 2024.

6. Siam, M et al (2022). Alopecia in dogs: Causes, Incidence and Clinical Signs with a Special Reference to Nutritional Alopecia. Retrieved 6 March 2024.

7. Henriques, J (2023). Dog Allergies: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment. Retrieved 6 March 2024.