Dog Dermatology - What you should know about your dogs skin

What causes skin problems in dogs?

That's kind of a hard question, as it's a very broad list. It can be anything from allergies and parasites to certain endocrine disturbances like thyroid issues. Any and all of those can cause skin problems of umpteen different varieties.

Dr. Broussard
The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic

Are dermatology issues painful for my dog?

Sometimes yeah, depending on what they are. There are some that may simply cause hair loss. That's not particularly a painful thing. But the most common things we see are allergies, dermatitis, and inflammation. Those hurt because they itch. The skin is red, it's irritated, and it may burn. It's no different than if you had a rash or poison ivy on your arm, so the same type of thing could apply to a dog.

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

The most common things that I see are hair loss, scratching, scabbing, or sores on the skin. You can also have redness on the skin. You can have hair loss in or around the eyes. Ear infections are another very common thing, so redness or excessive wax and odor from the ears. The feet are also a big one, as they will lick and chew at their feet for a lot of conditions. Fleas, flea dirt or flea droppings can cause these as well as ticks. Any of those would be some of the first signs of skin conditions.

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

If I have a very advanced skin dog come in, typically I look at three different things. Number one is doing a skin scraping. As the name implies, skin scraping means we take a very somewhat dull blade, but actually scrape the surface of the skin and put that on a slide. And we're typically looking for parasites. And I'm not talking about fleas. I'm talking about parasites that live in the skin like mange, demodex mange, and sarcoptic mange. That would be step one that can be done.

Number two is ears. It's very, very common in dogs with allergies—especially will have an otitis or infection or inflammation of the ears—that they'll have a secondary infection in those ears. So we take a wax sample from the ears. We put that on the slide, and look under the microscope. That's a very common thing we do there. In some cases, we will also need to do what's called a DTM, which is where we pluck hairs and test for things such as ringworm.

So again, those are all tests that can be done. There is sometimes a simple staph infection that can be diagnosed just by a physical exam because we see those all the time.

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

Common skin problems are allergies and allergic dermatitis, if you will. Atopy is another name for it. Staph infections are also very, very common. Yeast infections of the skin and or ears are also very, very common. Ear mites (not as much in dogs, as this is more of a cat thing) can occur in dogs. Ear mites can do it. Fleas, ticks, demodex mange, and sarcoptic mange, are some of the big ones.

And then you also have other skin problems that can be brought on with autoimmune diseases such as pemphigus and lupus. So those are some of the conditions that we do see. The treatment, as you can imagine, varies. It really depends on what the diagnosis is as to how to treat it. So I really don't want to spend too much time on treatment because we have no basis to know what we're treating.

What if my dog's skin problems go untreated?

Depending on what they are, some can be very, very serious and have your dog living in discomfort. Some are less noticeable. What comes to mind is a chronic alopecia that I'll see in older Boxers. It's a symmetrical hair loss and nothing else. The skin's not red, they don't itch, it doesn't burn, nothing. The dogs have no clue they have it. If that goes untreated, you just have a dog with a little bit less hair.

But if you have severe allergies, whether it's flea or food or anything like that and those dogs are itching to beat the band, that's going to lend itself to secondary bacterial and fungal infections. That's going to have a dog in misery. Some of those dogs lose weight. Some of those dogs don't want to play or do anything. They're just miserable. So it can be either one of those ends of the spectrum, depending on what condition they do have.

What is the difference between atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis by definition is atopy. Atopy is a fancy word for environmental allergies. So meaning, if I go outside and I'm allergic to pine trees and I live next to a pine forest, I'm going to have atopic dermatitis. Perhaps if I'm a dog, I will. So that is environmental allergies. And it's typically in the air. I can just inhale those allergens and be affected by that process.

Contact dermatitis, as the name very much implies, is if I touch something. Maybe I'm allergic to St. Augustine grass and that's what's in my backyard and I'm a dog and I go lay in the grass. Well, obviously I just contacted what I'm allergic to. So it's usually a very localized area in the area that has been exposed to the offending allergen.

What are curable versus incurable skin problems in dogs?

Curable infections are instances when you have a staph infection, a bacteria infection for no underlying reason, and nothing that's going to be chronic. Maybe your dog just was sick from something else, such as an immune system that was a little bit depressed and they got a staph infection. We treat that with the appropriate dose and duration of antibiotics. It heals up and everybody lives happily ever after. That can be one scenario.

The incurable things such as allergies—how do you cure allergies? You can't, as God made them that way. They may require treatment for the remainder of their lives. And quite often, they do. So that's something that's incurable. Some of the others that are really incurable are the autoimmune diseases I mentioned earlier, such as pemphigus and lupus and those types of things. You can control those and you can treat them, but you can't cure them. So some of these conditions are just going to have to be managed for the life of the dog.

Dog Dermatology - FAQ

Dr. Broussard
The Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic

Hi, I'm Dr. Broussard with The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic and, in today's segment, we're going to discuss various skin conditions in dogs. My assistant, Chole, and I have written down a list of questions, and we're going to run through those together to hopefully give you a better understanding of certain skin conditions in dogs. Chole?

What are some common skin conditions in dogs?

The most common things we see—especially here in South Louisiana in the spring and summer—is allergic dermatitis. Some people call it atopic dermatitis. It’s all referring to the same thing, in that dogs are allergic to something in their environment, and then their skin becomes inflamed and irritated. Because the skin is inflamed and irritated, often those will be followed by bacterial skin infections.

Those are the most common things we see, but to make a little bit more thorough list, you also have parasitic diseases, ticks, mites, and fleas. Those things are also very commonly seen. And, occasionally, we'll see fungal skin conditions. Thankfully, these aren’t as common, as they can be a little tough to cure.

Can anxiety or stress cause skin conditions in my dog?

I wouldn't answer that in a way where I would say it could cause skin conditions, but I think it can exacerbate skin conditions. As we all know, stress is a real thing, and it is a factor when it comes to our immune systems and how they function. So an animal that is continually stressed will probably be more likely to have a weaker immune system, which means things like staph or fungal disease have a much better chance of gaining a foothold and causing an issue. So can it cause skin problems? Probably not, but can it make an existing skin problem much worse? Absolutely, yeah.

Could a grooming product be the cause of skin conditions in my dog?

Yes, but the only way I can think of that happening is if your dog would be specifically allergic to an ingredient in that grooming product, maybe a medicated shampoo. Most of the hypoallergenic ones, by their very name, should not induce an allergic reaction. But yeah, certain ones that do contain antihistamines, antibiotics, antifungals, and other things like that do run the potential of causing an issue.

How can I care for my dog's skin at home?

At home, it's probably just good, simple hygiene. Make sure the dog's coat is cared for and that there are no significant mats. With long hair breeds, you either want to get them groomed often or just simply brush them often, particularly in the summer months where the shedding is going to be worse. A lot of dogs struggle with dry skin in the summertime, too, so using things like shampoos that contain aloe and oatmeals are great, as they are hypoallergenic additives that also help to clean them.

The other thing I would mention, too, is that fatty acids are very important for dogs' coats, so check the ingredients of your dog’s food. Perhaps your food has fatty acids naturally occurring in it but, if they don't, maybe add fish oils or something along those lines to the food. What you're looking for is what's called Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Those are the two that most of the big food manufacturers look for and try to include because those have been proven to be beneficial for skin and coat.

Are there any natural over-the-counter products or supplements I can use on my dog's skin?

Fish oils would be the first one that comes to my mind. While there are veterinary options, you can probably find very comparable OTC products as well. Beyond that, not really. Topical things, yes, but anything oral additives? I wouldn't think so. I would discuss that with your veterinarian first before trying any kind of at-home remedies.

If you still have any other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook if you'd like. But please do reach out, we'll try and get back to you as fast as we can.