13 Common Skin Problems in Dogs

common skin problems in dogs itching
photo-vista.de / Getty Images

Skin problems are extremely common in dogs. Most canine skin problems cause dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), pruritus (itching), and alopecia (hair loss). Some skin conditions become painful for dogs. Without treatment, skin issues often get worse and can negatively affect a dog's quality of life. Fortunately, there are many treatments available for common skin problems in dogs.

  • 01 of 13

    Acral Lick Dermatitis

    dog skin acral lick dermatitis
    Scarring and redness on a dog's foot die to lick dermatitis claraveritas / Getty Images

    Acral lick dermatitis is a skin problem that develops from long-term licking or chewing of the same skin area. It is also called a lick granuloma. This skin issue typically occurs on the tops of the paws or limbs. The dog licks or chews the area because it is itchy or uncomfortable. Over time, the licking and chewing may become compulsive. This causes trauma to the skin that is resistant to healing. The skin may become infected and scarred.

    There are a few steps to treating acral lick dermatitis. Your vet will try to determine the cause of the itching (medical term: pruritus) or discomfort and treat it if possible. Anti-pruritic medications can be used to reduce itching. Antibiotics may be necessary if there is a skin infection. These treatments can make the dog more comfortable, but they may not stop the self-destructive licking if it has become a habit. The dog must stop licking the area so it can heal. Many vets recommend using an e-collar or cone to keep the dog from licking and chewing while the skin heals.

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  • 02 of 13

    Acute Moist Dermatitis

    dog hot spot moist dermatitis
    Hot spot on a dog cmannphoto / Getty Images

    Acute moist dermatitis is a condition that appears suddenly after a dog has been licking or chewing an itchy area on the skin. The area becomes red and raw from the licking and the hair may trap moisture and bacteria. These areas are commonly called hot spots.

    Hot spots may occur due to an underlying skin condition that causes itching, like allergies or parasites. The area of the hot spot may become infected, often with the bacterium Staphylococcus.

    Treatment of acute moist dermatitis involves shaving the hair around the hot spot and cleaning the affected skin so the area can begin to dry and heal. Topical medications may be necessary to soothe the skin, reduce itching and inflammation, and destroy bacteria. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics, antipruritics, steroids, and/or antihistamines. During healing, it is important that the dog stop licking and chewing the area.

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  • 03 of 13

    Ear Infections

    dog ear infection
    Ear infections often cause redness and discharge or debris dimarik / Getty Images

    Ear infections occur when excess yeast or bacteria grow in the ear canal. The affected ear may become red, itchy, swollen, and sometimes painful. Debris, discharge, and/or odor may be present. Ear infections can happen alone or along with another skin condition, or they may develop as a secondary condition to problems such as allergies.

    Vets treat ear infections by cleaning the ears out and applying a topical medication into the ear canals. Oral or injectable medications may be needed to fight infection and reduce inflammation. Chronic ear issues may cause permanent ear damage.

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  • 04 of 13

    Canine Atopic Dermatitis

    canine atopic dermatitis
    Dog with dermatitis on abdomen Anant_Kasetsinsombut / Getty Images

    Canine atopic dermatitis, or atopy, is a common cause of pruritus (itching) in dogs. It is an inherited predisposition to inhalant allergies such as pollen and dust. While humans develop respiratory signs from inhaled allergens, dogs often experience extreme itching that causes them to scratch, chew, lick, and rub the skin. Many dogs also develop hair loss and skin irritation.

    Left untreated, canine atopic dermatitis may lead to secondary skin infections. Signs of atopy typically arise in dogs between six months and three years of age. Fleas and other external parasites may exacerbate canine atopic dermatitis.

    Treatment of canine atopic dermatitis begins soothing the itchiness with anti-pruritic medication, antihistamines, and/or steroids. The veterinarian will also look for signs of external parasites and skin infections and treat these as needed.

    Skin allergy testing may be necessary to determine any specific allergens that affect your dog. Once the allergens are identified, allergen-specific immunotherapy may be recommended. This requires injections of a specifically developed allergy serum.

    You can take steps to decrease some environmental allergens by frequently washing bedding with hypoallergenic detergents and changing air filters often. However, this will not eliminate allergens. Dogs with atopic dermatitis will likely need lifelong treatment and experience periodic flare-ups.

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  • 05 of 13

    External Parasites

    dog skin parasites demodectic mange
    Puppy with demodectic mange Todorean Gabriel / Getty Images

    External parasites are organisms that live on or in the skin. There are several types of external parasites that can affect dogs.

    Fleas are the most common and cause itching to dogs that are allergic to them. Serious flea infestations can cause severe skin disease. Dogs may also develop anemia from the blood loss, especially puppies and small dogs. Fortunately, there are many types of effective flea control products on the market. Your vet can help you choose the right flea control for your dog.

    Ticks attach to the skin and ingest blood. Ticks can cause skin reactions, but the greater danger is the diseases they can pass to the dog, such as Lyme disease, ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Many flea control products also have tick control ingredients. Talk to your vet about available products.

    Demodectic mange is the most common type seen in dogs. It is not abnormal for a small number of these mites to live on the skin because the immune system keeps them to a minimum. However, puppies and immunocompromised dogs may have more mites. This can lead to patches of hair loss and itching. Treatment may include topical applications, medicated baths, and oral drugs.

    Sarcoptic mange, also called scabies, is a contagious form of mange that causes extreme itching, hair loss, redness, and scabs on the skin. Treatment may involve multiple topical and oral medications and baths.

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  • 06 of 13


    Folliculitis in dogs skin problems
    Folliculitis may appear as red bumps on the skin Anant_Kasetsinsombut / Getty Images

    Folliculitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the hair follicle. It occurs when one or more of the hair follicles becomes irritated and inflamed. Dogs with folliculitis develop bumps on the skin around the affected follicles. The bumps may be itchy or even painful. Bacteria is the most common cause of folliculitis; most often the bacteria Staphylococcus is present. Bacterial folliculitis is also called superficial pyoderma. Other causes of folliculitis include fungal infections, trauma, and parasites.

    Folliculitis may occur on its own or in conjunction with another skin problem. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may involve antibiotics, antifungals, antipruritics, and more.

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  • 07 of 13

    Food Allergies

    Black puppy cleaning his paw after a long hike
    Food allergies cause itchiness Cavan Images / Getty Images

    Food allergies are relatively common in dogs, though not as common as inhalant allergies that cause canine atopic dermatitis. Dogs with food allergies experience symptoms similar to atopy, such as itching, redness, flakiness, and hair loss. Chronic ear infections often occur as well. Gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea sometimes occur along with skin issues.

    Treatment of food allergies in dogs requires a specific food trial that eliminates common food allergens. Most dogs with food allergies are allergic to a specific protein in the dog food, such as chicken, beef, lamb, eggs, fish, soy, or gluten. Your vet will recommend a special diet solely for eight to twelve weeks. This will help the vet determine the best diet for your dog to prevent the recurrence of food allergy signs. Antipruritic drugs are typically used in the beginning to offer the dog some relief. Your vet will treat any secondary skin issues as well. Be sure to report any skin problems that recur throughout the course of the food trial.

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  • 08 of 13

    Immune-Mediated Diseases

    pemphigus foliaceus in dogs skin problems
    Pemphigus foliaceus causes crusty lesions on skin

    Caroldermoid/Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

    Sometimes the immune system fails to recognize the body's own cells and attempts to destroy them. Immune-mediated or autoimmune skin issues are not as common as other skin problems in dogs, but there are a number of autoimmune diseases that can affect their skin. Many can become quite serious and require attention from a veterinary dermatologist. Some of the more common immune-mediated skin conditions seen in dogs include Discoid Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Bullous Pemphigoid, Pemphigus Foliaceus, and other forms of pemphigus.

    Vets typically treat autoimmune diseases with medications that suppress the immune system response. These may include steroids, cyclophosphamide, and azathioprine.

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  • 09 of 13


    dog skin infection pyoderma
    Dog with skin infection ThamKC / Getty Images

    Pyoderma is a general term that refers to a bacterial infection of the skin. Superficial pyoderma affects the upper layers of the skin. Bacterial folliculitis is one form of superficial pyoderma.

    Deep pyoderma affects layers of the skin deeper than the follicles. It is less common but more serious than superficial pyoderma. The skin may have a discharge and scabs may develop. Deep pyoderma can become very painful for dogs.

    Antibiotics are necessary to treat pyoderma and long-term antibiotic therapy may be necessary. Additional treatments include medicated baths and antibacterial topical treatments.

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  • 10 of 13


    ringworm in dogs
    Veterinarian using a Wood's lamp (blacklight) to check for ringworm GaiBru_Photo / Getty Images

    Ringworm, despite its name, is not a worm but a fungal infection that affects dogs, humans, and other animals. It is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be spread between animals and humans. Ringworm is technically called dermatophytosis because it is caused by fungi called dermatophytes.

    Ringworm in humans causes itchy, red lesions on the skin that are round or oval in shape and are surrounded by scaly skin. In dogs, these round lesions may or may not appear; instead, the dog may have patches of hair loss, scaly skin, redness, or darker pigmentation. Toenails may also be affected by ringworm. Itching may or may not occur.

    If the vet suspects ringworm, they may test for it by examining the skin under a Wood's lamp. The lamp produces a type of blacklight that, when shined on the skin, will reveal a green fluorescent appearance. This is not a definitive test, but a simple way to initially evaluate the skin. Next, the vet will typically take a sample of the skin and analyze it. A fungal culture is often necessary to determine if dermatophytes are indeed present. Additional tests may be necessary depending on the case.

    Antifungal medications are necessary to treat ringworm in dogs. In addition, the vet may recommend medicated baths, dips, or other topical treatments.

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  • 11 of 13


    dog skin disease seborrhea
    Seborrhea can cause scaly skin ThamKC / Getty Images

    Seborrhea in dogs is a skin disease that causes excessive flaking and scaling of the skin due to defective keratinization. Keratin is an important part of skin, nail, and hair follicle regeneration. There are two types of seborrhea in dogs. Seborrhea sicca causes dry flakes and scales to develop on the skin. Seborrhea oleosa is an oily form. The skin will appear greasy and the flakes or scales will be oily. Many dogs will have a combination of each.

    Seborrhea in dogs tends to affect the skin where there are the most sebaceous glands. It is often seen along the back and in areas with skin folds such as the armpits. There are two forms of seborrhea seen in dogs.

    Primary seborrhea is a genetic or inherited condition that affects certain dog breeds. There is no cure for primary seborrhea, but medications are available to manage the disease.

    Secondary seborrhea is far more common in dogs. It is caused by other skin diseases, such as a yeast infection. Secondary seborrhea is treated by determining the underlying condition and treating it.

    Both forms of seborrhea can be managed with medicated baths and other topical treatments.

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  • 12 of 13

    Skin Tumors

    dog With histiocytoma
    Histiocytoma on a dog's skin Lianne McLeod

    There are several types of skin tumors, cysts, and bumps that can appear on the skin. These growths may be malignant or benign. The following are a few common types of skin growths seen in dogs:

    • Skin tags: benign growths that only need removal if they cause discomfort or get infected
    • Histiocytomas: non-cancerous but may grow large enough to become a problem
    • Melanoma: a type of skin cancer
    • Squamous cell carcinoma: another type of skin cancer
    • Mast cell tumors: cancerous tumors that appear on the skin

    Some skin growths do not require treatment. Others may need to be surgically removed. Some cancerous growths require chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Be sure to see your vet if you notice any new skin growths on your dog.

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  • 13 of 13

    Yeast Infections

    dog with malassezia dermatitis
    Dog with malassezia dermatitis dimarik / Getty Images

    Skin yeast infections in dogs are also called Malassezia Dermatitis. This type of skin problem occurs when there is an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast on the skin. Yeast infections cause itching, redness, and hair loss. Malassezia is often a component of ear infections as well. Yeast infections in dogs often develop secondary to other skin problems like allergies. Bacterial infections may occur at the same time as yeast infections.

    Treatment of yeast infection in dogs involves treatment with antipruritic and antifungal medications. Medicated baths and topical treatments may be recommended as well.

You may be able to prevent some skin problems from affecting your dog. Make sure your dog is on effective flea control year-round. Bring your dog to the vet for recommended check-ups (usually once or twice a year). Your vet may be able to detect subtle signs of skin problems before they get severe. Keep your dog clean and feed a good quality diet. Contact your vet at the first sign of a skin problem so your dog can get relief as soon as possible.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
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  1. Parker W. M. (1981). Autoimmune skin diseases in the dog. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne22(10), 302–304.