Possible Causes of Your Dog's Skin Issues

Dog scratching himself outside
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Irritated skin can really make your dog miserable. It's no picnic for you either, as you listen to your buddy scratch, lick, and chew himself all night. Next thing you know, you are lying awake at night wondering why in the world your poor dog is so itchy and how you can help him.

Unfortunately, there are many health issues that can cause your dog's skin to be itchy, and sometimes pinning down the problem can be a lot of work.

Here are some of the potential causes of your dog's red, itchy, irritated or flaky skin. Once you and your vet get to the root of the problem, your dog can finally get some relief and you can get some sleep!

External Parasites in Dogs

It's relatively common for dogs to be affected by one or more external parasites. These tiny critters live on or in your dog's skin and can cause a lot of irritation and itching. Here are two of the most common skin parasites:

  • Fleas: Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to flea saliva (caused by flea bites).
  • Mange: Sarcoptic and demodectic mange are both caused by different skin mites. Proper diagnosis and identification by your veterinarian are critical for correct treatment.

Skin Infections

Skin infections are relatively common in dogs. An infection may be caused by contact with a microscopic bacteria or fungus that infects the skin. In many cases, these infections are secondary to the irritation caused by allergies.

  • Bacterial Infection: Pyoderma is a bacterial infection typically caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria. Bacterial infections are often secondary to allergies and sometimes cause hot spots in dogs. This is perhaps the most common type of skin infection seen in dogs.
  • Yeast Infection: Malassezia Dermatitis is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of the body's normal yeast. Yeast infections may also be secondary to allergies.
  • RingwormDespite its name, this is not an actual worm. It's actually a contagious fungal infection that can affect pets and humans. Ringworm causes round patches of itchy skin and hair loss.

Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Canine atopic dermatitis is caused by environmental allergies, like pollen and dust mites. These microscopic particles can give your dog itchy skin, inflamed ears, and goopy eyes. There are medications available to help ease the irritations that go along with allergies. For severe skin problems, your vet may recommend allergy testing.

Food Allergies in Dogs

It is quite common for dogs to have food allergies. Most dogs with food allergies are usually allergic to the protein source in the food, such as chicken or beef. Some dogs are allergic to carbohydrate ingredients like corn, wheat, or soy. Dogs with food allergies do best on limited ingredient diets that consist of one main novel protein (something the dog has not been exposed to much, like duck or fish) and one main novel carbohydrate, such as sweet potato. If you're not sure your dog actually needs a limited ingredient diet, you may consider choosing a high-quality diet (many owners prefer a natural diet) to see if that helps.

 Work with your vet to find the right food for your dog.

Treating Your Dog's Skin Problems

Many options are available to help soothe your dog's skin and address the primary cause. Your veterinarian will be able to help you start a treatment program that will hopefully have your dog comfortable again in no time. However, it's important to understand that skin problems in dogs are often ongoing issues that cannot be cured. These skin issues must be managed by you and your vet over time. It's important to be proactive about skin issues in your dog so they do not get out of control. If so, you can help keep your dog as comfortable as possible.

Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT