Skin Problems

Inquisitive dog

Check to see if your dog's breed is prone to:

Remember that a dog's skin is composed of only one layer, so it is much more delicate than a human's skin, which has three layers. A dog's skin depends on the hair and oils on it to keep it in good condition.

Some preventive steps:

  • Keep your dog properly fed to prevent dry skin
  • When bathing your dog, use dog-formulated shampoo to prevent dry skin
  • Groom your dog regularly; some problems are caused by matted hair providing breeding grounds for a variety of skin diseases, regular grooming also helps keep you aware of any incipient problems
  • Keep your dog flea and parasite free
  • Check your dog regularly for foxtails, burrs, and other sharp objects it may pick up when outside

Relieving dry skin

Some things to try:

  • Shampoos with lanolin
  • A good soak in cool water
  • Non-drying shampoo: e.g., Hy-Lyt EFA is non-allergenic
  • Medicated shampoos may help with allergy-induced problems
  • Avon's Skin-So-Soft(tm) added to the rinse water

Allergies followed by staph infections

Once a dog has an allergic reaction, it is quite common to have a secondary staph infection. Many vets aren't familiar with this. The staph infection may stay around long after the allergy is gone.

A vet that specializes in dermatology can be of great help in dealing with skin problems. See if your vet can refer you to such a person.

Some studies on primrose and fish oil in helping relieve or cure secondary infections from allergies are documented in DM, March 1992. More information may also be obtained from writing to the RVC Dermatology Dept, Royal College St, London. NW1.

It is beyond the scope of this FAQ to examine any of these skin problems in great detail, but here is a summary table of possible problems. Summarized from the summary tables in Carlson & Giffin, pages 67-69.

Itchy Skin Disorders

Intense itching, small red spots, typical crusty ear tips.

Walking Dandruff
Puppies 2-12wks, dry flakes move from head to neck to back, mild itchiness.

Itching/scratching on back, tail, hindquarters.

On poorly kept/matted coat dogs, uncommon, may have bald spots.

Irritation at site of bite, often beneath ear flaps or thin skin.

Damp Hay Itch
Severe itch from worm larvae, contacted from damp marsh hay (regional).

Inhalation Allergy
Severe itch, face rubbing, licking paws, seasonal (regional).

Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Scratching continues after fleas killed, pimple rash.

Contact Dermatitis
Itching/irritation at site of contact.

Allergic Contact Derm.
Repeated or continuous contact (e.g. flea collar), rash may spread.

Lick sores
"Boredom sores", licking starts at wrists/ankles.

Hormone-related Hair Loss or Poor Hair Growth

Thyroid Deficiency
Loss of hair (see Canine Ailments).

Cortisone Excess
Hair loss in symmetrical pattern, esp. trunk, skin is thin may also be from steroid treatments.

Estrogen excess
Greasy hair, hair loss in flanks/abdomen, wax in ears, loss of hair around genitals, enlarged nipples, dry skin, brittle hair.

Estrogen deficiency
Scanty hair growth, smooth soft skin.

Acanthosis Nigrans
Hair loss in armpit folds, black thick greasy rancid skin.

"Dandruff", hair/skin oily, yellow brown scales on skin, resembles ringworm.

Other Hair Loss, etc.

Collie Nose
Sunburn on lightly pigmented nose, loss of hair next to nose.

Scaly/crusty/red circular patches .5-2in diameter w/hair loss in center and red margin at edge (not from a worm).

Demodectic mange #1
Hair loss around eyelids, mouth, front leg, young dogs.

Demodectic mange #2
Progression of #1, patches enlarge & coalesce, pyoderma complications, affects all ages.

Calluses, elbow sores
Gray/hairless/wrinkled skin over elbow, pressure points.

With Pus Drainage (Pyoderma)

Puppy Dermatitis
Impetigo: pus filled blisters, crusty hairless skin on abdomen, groin; acne: purple-red bumps on chin, lower lip.

Hair pore infection
Pimple-like bumps on back, sometimes draining sinus, hair loss.

Skin Wrinkle Infection
Inflamed skin, foul odor in lip fold, facial fold, vulvar fold, tail fold.

Hot Spots
In heavy coated dogs, painful inflamed patches of skin with a wet, pus covered surface from which hair is lost.

Painful hot inflamed skin (wound infections, foreign bodies, breaks in skin).

Pockets of pus beneath the skin, swells, comes to a head & drains.

Puppy Strangles
Under 4mos, sudden painful swelling of lips, eyelids, ears and face, draining sores, crusts, and sinus tracts (prompt vet attention required, do not pop "acne").

Lumps or Bumps on/beneath Skin
(all lumps should be checked by vet even if not apparently painful)

Papillomas, Warts
Anywhere, including mouth, not painful can look like chewing gum stuck to skin.

(Bruises) - esp. on ears, from trauma.

Tender Knots
Esp. at site of shot or vaccination, painful.

Smooth lumps beneath skin, slow growth, possible cheesy discharge, possible infection, otherwise not painful.

Possibly cancerous lump
Rapid growth, hard & fixed to surrounding tissue, any lump from a bone, starts to bleed, a mole that spreads or ulcerates, open sores that do not heal (only way to tell for sure is a biopsy.


Skin problems are not easy to diagnose and cure, but there is a lot of research going on. Something that can help is to keep a diary for the dog. Every day, record what the dog ate, what the weather was like, whether it is itching or not, and anything else that might be relevant (visitors, for instance, when it is bathed, and so forth). It's sometimes hard to recall all the variables that might be affecting the dog, but if you keep a diary, sometimes patterns become very clear.