Dog Dermatology

If you’ve been up for several nights, if not weeks now, with a dog that seems to itch all night long, you’ve likely turned to the internet to get your dog some relief and, quite frankly, so that you can finally get some rest. Dogs are very prone to sensitive skin and other dog dermatology issues. We’re glad that you found us! At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come from veterinarians and not from even the most altruistic of keyboard warriors such as pet bloggers. That’s why we’ve taken frequently asked questions on dog dermatology, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S., and compiled their replies to get you helpful information that you can trust.

While we've sourced all of the dog allergies information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.

What causes skin problems in dogs?

Dogs’ skin issues can be caused by anything from allergies and parasites to certain endocrine disturbances like thyroid issues. The skin problems will also vary depending on each dog and situation. You could also simply have a dog that is sensitive to many things, such as food or even the products you use to clean your dog and their beds, etc.

Are dermatology issues painful for my dog?

They can be. Mostly, dog dermatology issues are very uncomfortable versus painful, as the dog wants to scratch, and it's irritating to them. Some skin issues in dogs can cause hair loss, but the most common things veterinarians see are allergies, dermatitis, and inflammation. Those hurt because they itch. The skin is red, irritated, and it may burn. It's no different than if you had a rash or poison ivy on your arm so that the same thing could apply to a dog.

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

There are many signs of skin issues in dogs, and they can vary depending on the source of the problem.

Some signs and symptoms of skin issues in dogs are:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Hair loss on the hair coat or around the eyes
  • Scabbing
  • Skin lesions
  • Red spots
  • Raised bumps
  • Ear infections
  • Possible GI issues or diarrhea
  • Redness, excessive wax, or redness in the ears

The feet are also a significant source of skin issues in dogs, as they will often chew them and ultimately worsen the skin condition. Fleas and flea dirt or flea droppings and ticks are often the root cause of these skin conditions.


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

The first thing that most veterinarians will do is skin scraping. As the name implies, skin scraping means we take a somewhat dull blade, scrape the skin’s surface, and put that on a slide. What vets are typically looking for with a skin scraping are parasites that live in the skin, such as mange, Demodex mange, and sarcoptic mange. We do all of these things to use the microscope to see what's happening with the dog’s skin on a microscopic level.

The second step is typically an ear examination. It's prevalent in dogs with allergies—especially those that have an otitis or infection or inflammation of the ears—to have a secondary infection in those ears. The veterinarian will take a wax sample and put that on a slide to look under the microscope. In some cases, veterinarians will do what’s referred to as a fungal check or “DTM,” where we pluck hairs and test for things like ringworm.

We may do a skin cytology, where we take some tape and get some skin cells from your dog. And then lastly, a vet can diagnose a staph infection with a simple physical exam, as those can be observed through a skin check.

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

Most veterinarians will tell you that the number one thing clients bring their dogs to the clinic for are skin conditions, so they are quite common.

Some of the most common skin conditions in dogs are:

  • Allergies and allergic dermatitis (Atopy)
  • Staph infections
  • Yeast infections of the skin and or ears
  • Ear mites can occur in dogs, although we typically see those more in cats
  • Fleas, ticks, Demodex mange, and sarcoptic mange
  • Skin problems brought on by autoimmune diseases such as pemphigus and lupus

It’s nearly impossible to go into the treatment, as it will vary from skin condition to skin condition.

What if my dog’s skin problems go untreated?

If they go untreated, the skin problem is going to fester and get worse and worse. The dog will become more uncomfortable, and the infections that arise secondary to what's going on will worsen. The treatment will also take much longer, and your dog's going to have to be on much more medicine. Not to mention a dog with these kinds of bacterial or fungal infections is often miserable, lethargic, and may not even want to play. Again, the treatment can even be for several months too, so it's imperative to get them checked as soon as possible.

What are curable versus incurable skin problems in dogs?

Curable skin conditions would be some skin infections, parasites, and other things like that. Even some skin masses and cancers that we can remove are curable. Curable infections are also instances when you have a staph infection, a bacteria infection for no underlying reason, and/or another condition that’s not chronic. For example, your dog might have gotten sick due to 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, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Incurable skin conditions would be different cancers that we can’t remove, or we can only partially remove them. Auto-immune type diseases such as pemphigus and lupus may be incurable. We can manage them, but there's not a cure for them. Allergies are often incurable, too, as we mostly manage them in the dog for the remainder of the dog’s life but never really cure them.

What is the difference between atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis, by definition, is atopy or environmental allergies. By way of an example, if a dog that’s allergic to pine needles lives next to a pine forest, they’re likely to get atopic dermatitis or environmental allergies. They’re typically in the air, so the dog can inhale the allergens and be affected.

Contact dermatitis, as the name very much implies, is if the dog with allergies touches something that causes the reaction. If, for example, they’re allergic to St. Augustine grass and that's what's in their backyard, laying in the grass will cause a reaction due to the contact with it. It’s typically a very localized area that has been exposed to the offending allergen.

If you have any further questions about dog dermatology or you want to help end your pet’s suffering from painful skin issues, please reach out to your vet to make an appointment. Don’t have one? We can help you find a local veterinarian!