Dog skin problems

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 that provides breeding grounds for a variety of skin diseases. Regular grooming also helps keep you aware of any initial problems.

  • Keep your dog flea and parasite free.

  • Check your dog regularly for foxtails, burrs, and other sharp objects they 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-SoftTM 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 veterinarian can refer you to such a person.

Some studies on the role of 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 by writing to the RVC Dermatology Dept, Royal College St, London. NW1.


Skin problems are not easy to diagnose and cure, but there is a lot of research taking place to help develop our understanding. Keeping a diary for your dog can help your veterinarian diagnose a skin problem. Every day, record what your dog ate, what the weather was like, whether your dog is itching or not, and anything else that might be relevant (e.g., if you had visitors in your house, when your dog was bathed, and so forth). It's sometimes hard to recall all the variables that might be affecting your dog, but if you keep a diary, sometimes patterns become very clear.

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

    • Itchy Skin Disorders

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

      Walking dandruff 
      Puppies 2-12 weeks, 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 dermatitis 
      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 with .5 - 2 inch 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, affects 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 4 months, sudden painful swelling of lips, eyelids, ears and face, draining sores, crusts, and sinus tracts (prompt veterinary 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, especially on ears, from trauma. 

      Tender knots 
      Especially 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).


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