What causes skin problems in dogs?

There are a variety of reasons that cause skin problems in dogs. In Texas, our most common cause is actually flea infestation or ticks followed pretty closely by allergic skin disease whether that's food or environment. We certainly also see contact irritation, autoimmune diseases, and infectious diseases. It's quite a variety so we certainly have things we see more often, but that's not always the answer.

Dr. Katherine White
Highland Park Animal Hospital

Are dermatology issues painful for my dog?

Absolutely. We know very well that itchiness, puritis, chewing, and scratching can be quite painful. Most humans report they can't sleep through the night, they're miserable and we often see that in our pets too. So absolutely, it's very uncomfortable.

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

The most common signs we see are itchiness. For dogs, this can look like scratching but it's much more common that we're going to see that as chewing, licking, or rubbing. So you may see your dog rub its face on the ground or its back end on the ground. Dogs may also lick or almost corncob chew up and down their arms. These are the most common signs we see in dogs who are really itchy.

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

The tests depend on what we see on exam. We can do anything from cytology to skin scraping to all the way to biopsy. We're always going to start with an exam because that's really going to help guide us on what our next steps are and what level of concern we have.

What are some common skin problems in dogs and how are they treated?

The things that we see most commonly here are going to be hair loss, skin lesions, whether that's little pimples or red bumps or even ulcerated areas or some people call them hot spots, same thing. You might also see bright redness or changes in hair coat like it's brittle or oily. As we get into the more problematic conditions, we might see some more intense things like really severe skin lesions or change in color of hair and things like that. Not just old dog changes, but complete loss of pigment, things like that.

What happens if my dog's skin problems go untreated?

The biggest concern we have is that it can lead to systemic infection. We see dogs with really severe skin infections that end up with really enlarged lymph nodes. They don't feel good and they may even develop a fever, especially with something acute like really bad hot spots or with autoimmune diseases. It may be the first sign of something that's actually much more serious where they're going to actually start getting other organ issues. However, the most common thing we're going to see is just really severe infections in a miserable pet.

Can you explain the difference between atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is essentially the dog's version of human allergies. If you've met a human who has something like chronic asthma, or chronic rhinitis, they've seen an allergy doctor, usually they're allergic to something in the environment. So pollen is the most common, like trees, grass, and ragweed, all the same things dogs are allergic to. They just express their allergies quite differently than us. Instead of having membranes falling or sneezing, they express it through their skin. So atopic dermatitis is truly an allergic chronic dog. Contact dermatitis is more like if you have something that touches the skin and it irritates it in that area. So you'll see it on places like the bellies or maybe around their eyes. So places basically where you don't have as much hair is usually where you see it. It can be pretty hard to tell at home to be honest. Never hurts to give them a bath. Make sure that's not part of what's going on, but if it's more than a day I'd still recommend coming in.

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