Dog Skin Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Breeds Prone to Them
While we are blessed with the pets in our lives, we also encounter problems with our pets that can be sad and/or frustrating. I refer, of course, to allergies and other skin disorders. Our dogs sometimes scratch and shed, and get ugly scars or hairless patches on their skin.
My Dog's Personal Encounter With Skin Irritation
Lately, my West Highland white terrier Cloudy has had huge fallouts of hair around her leg area. Terriers, especially the West Highland terrier, are among the breeds of dogs that have high instances of skin problems. Currently, she is due for a vet’s appointment to have her urine assessed so that we can determine if it is a reaction to a food allergy or if there is another cause.
Below I've listed the diseases, symptoms, and causes of some of the most common skin disorders in dogs. Hopefully, my research will help you understand the skin diseases a little better. It is important to note that this is only an introduction, so please consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis if your dog is showing any of the symptoms listed below.
Causes of Skin Disorders in Dogs
Other than allergies, skin problems in dogs can be attributed to a number of causes. Skin problems may result from any of the following.
1. Parasites and Fungal Growth
Parasites are an ornery contributor to skin diseases in dogs. An example of this is ringworm, a contagious fungal infection that may cause inflammation, scaly patches, and hair loss. It requires immediate treatment to prevent other dogs and people from becoming infected.
Parasitic diseases like sarcoptic mange, an infection caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, will produce an allergic response and lead to extreme itching.
When these nasty cretins bite, itchiness will follow. The saliva that fleas leave behind may also cause an allergic response. Aside from fleas, dogs may also have allergic reactions to the products used to get rid of them.
3. Seasonal Allergies
Your pet may develop a skin disorder as a result of a reaction to grasses that grow in the spring or summertime. They can also be allergic to pollen, weeds, dust, mites, mold, or grasses.
Feeding your pet the wrong food may also cause skin irritation as they may have allergic reactions to corn, soy, or wheat. Their immune systems may even reject colorings and fillers, just as ours do.
5. Skin Infections
Dogs can have both primary and secondary skin disorders. For example, they can develop bacterial or yeast infections as a result of a disorder that may already be present.
6. Grooming Products
Shampoos and grooming products may irritate your dog’s skin. Although it is tempting to wash our dogs with shampoo that we use, this can cause negative reactions. Be sure to use products only meant for dogs.
7. Stress or Boredom
Dogs may start licking their skin when bored or stressed. This is due to the fact that they do not have anything to do to stimulate their minds.
8. Metabolic Problems
Metabolic problems can cause coat dilution or discoloration. They may also lead to changes in coat consistency, thickness, and distribution as well.
9. Seasonal Changes
Skin may become flaky or dry during the winter.
Symptoms of Skin Disorders in Canines
1. Scratching, Licking, or Chewing
A dog usually licks or chews to ease the itch on the portion of skin that is irritated. He/she may also constantly scratch the affected areas as well.
The appearance of scabs may signal the presence of mange or irregularities in your dog's immune system. Mange is generally treatable but is not curable.
If your pet’s skin appears red or inflamed, it could be a sign of a problem related to the skin.
4. Hair Loss
Hair loss may occur if your pet has an allergy, especially around the leg or the underbelly areas.
My dog Cloudy experienced hair loss around her underbelly and legs. Temporarily, I use Nova Soothing Balm to relieve the itchiness, and it has helped the hair grow again.
Just like humans, dogs also develop rashes on the skin when they experience disorders.
6. Appearance of Blood or Pus
Dogs can develop abscesses, which is painful, warm, reddened skin with pockets of pus beneath. Puppies also experience diseases like folliculitis (a hair pore infection). Blood or pus may also be a sign of impetigo (hairless skin around the abdomen or groin). These symptoms may also be caused by acne. Yes, dogs get pimples too! Interdigital cysts between the paws, mycetoma, or swelling at the site of a puncture wound may also bring about these symptoms.
7. Swellings Lumps or Skin Discoloration
Some puppies experience facial disorders like "puppy strangles" (a painful swelling of the face) followed by the development of painful pustules. Lumps may also set into the skin or and the skin itself may be discolored.
When dogs experience irritation in the facial area, they might rub their face against furniture or carpeting to relieve the itchiness.
Types of Skin Disorders and Treatment
1. Hormonal Skin Diseases
These are skin disorders in dogs that arise because of an imbalance in hormone levels.
Black Skin Disease or Alopecia
This is not really a disease, but a loose term referring to hair loss that is hormonally influenced, progressive, and non-inflammatory. It causes hyper-pigmentation or black spots on a dog’s skin, hence the term "black skin disease."
Its exact causes are not widely known, but obesity, hormonal imbalance, and genetics are all suggested to be contributors to the disease. It does not affect a dog’s health and is only a cosmetic issue.
Too little is known about the disease to suggest prevention or treatment. However, weight management may reduce some of the symptoms, as would neutering, which will reduce any hormonal imbalance. It may also help with hair loss and pigmentation changes.
3. Autoimmune Diseases
Changes or damage to a dog’s immune system may cause pemphigus, a group of autoimmune diseases that result in the ulceration or crusting of the skin. Fluid in sacs or pustules may also develop. Some of these autoimmune diseases include:
Foliaceus: Symptoms may include scales, crust, pustules, redness, and itchiness. It mostly affects the head area but may appear on other parts of the body as well, including the gums and lips. The dog may also experience swollen lymph nodes, swelling, depression fever, and lameness. Bacterial infection may set in as a result of ulcerated skin, and itch that occurs from this may be painful.
Erythematosus: This disease shares the same symptoms as foliaceus except that skin lesions are confined to the face, head, and footpads. The lips may also lose their color.
Vetegans: These are pustule groups that form larger patches of lesions which ooze pus. This disease usually affects the mouth area. Besides painful pustules, the dog will show few signs of general ill health.
Vulgaris: This is one of the most serious forms of autoimmune diseases. With vulgaris, ulcers set into the skin. The dog may also have deep blisters and crusted skin as well. The disease affects the gums, but may spread to other parts of the body, including the underarm and groin. The dog will have an onset of fever or depression and experience anorexia if the mouth ulcers are terminal.
If severely affected, you must seek a veterinarian. Usually steroids are suggested to bring the condition under control. Some steroids, like Cortisol, may cause weight gain so the dog will usually have to switch to a low-fat diet.
Ringworm is a highly contagious skin disease that is either transmitted through spores or by coming into contact with the infected hair on dogs and cats. It usually invades hair follicles and mainly affects puppies and young adult dogs. Areas affected include the face, ears, paws, and tail.
The name comes about because of its appearance. Ringworm is characterized by hair loss and is accompanied by scaly skin and a red ring-like appearance. By itself, it is not an itchy skin condition, but the itch arises when bacterial infection sets in. Because it appears very much like other skin diseases, an accurate and thorough diagnosis from your veterinarian is necessary.
Vets will usually recommend using anti-fungal agents containing miconazole to combat the growth and progression of the fungus. The treatment and healing process usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks, during which the dog should wear an Elizabethan collar (cone) to prevent scratching.
5. Mange: Skin Disorder Caused by Parasites
The term “mangy mutt” usually refers to a dog that is somewhat dirty and has unfortunate encounters with this disease, which is caused by several species of tiny mites. If allowed to proliferate, these mites cause infections.
This type of mange is easily transferable between dogs. Also known as
"canine scabies," this type of mange is cause by a light-colored, oval-shaped mite that is microscopic. It tends to cause severe itching in dogs.
This type of mange is best cured with medicated dips, shampoos, and other prescription therapies. If administered regularly, the disease takes 4 to 6 weeks to resolve.
All puppies raised by infected mothers will have this type of mange passed from mother to pup when she cuddles it. Localized mange is usually confined to certain areas, but generalized mange can spread throughout the entire body. This disease results in hair loss and bald patches.
90% of cases, especially localized mange, usually resolve themselves.
Note: Please do not use old-time remedies like rubbing motor oil on a dog’s skin to ease the mange. This method will never touch the mites because they live beneath the skin. In fact, motor oil may increase skin damage.
Which Breeds of Dogs Are More Prone to Skin Diseases?
Generally, “blue” dogs, a term used to refer to dilute-colored or light-colored dogs, are the most prone to skin infections and hair loss. This is caused by a recessive genotype. These breeds include West Highland terriers, Yorkshire terriers, German shepherds, retrievers, and chow chows.