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Dog Skin Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Breeds Prone to Them

Updated on March 11, 2017
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Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.

A chow chow
A chow chow | Source

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.

Stick tight fleas
Stick tight fleas | Source

2. Fleas

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.

4. Food

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.

Scabs on a dog
Scabs on a dog | Source

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.

2. Scabs

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.

3. Inflammation

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.

5. Rashes

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.

A dog with pus in a facial area because of an auto immune skin disorder.
A dog with pus in a facial area because of an auto immune skin disorder. | Source

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.

Treatment

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.

Pemphigus erythematosus on a dog's nose.
Pemphigus erythematosus on a dog's nose. | Source

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.

Phemigus Vetegans in a dog
Phemigus Vetegans in a dog | Source

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.

Treatment

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.

Phemigus Foliaceus on a dog's head.
Phemigus Foliaceus on a dog's head. | Source

4. Ringworm

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.

Treatment

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.

Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
This mange is all around the bodyThis mange is localized
This mange is all around the body
This mange is all around the body | Source
This mange is localized
This mange is localized | Source

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.

Sarcoptic Mange

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.

Treatment

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.

Demodectic Mange

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.

Treatment

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.

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    • profile image

      Mitchell Lopez 4 months ago

      "17th World Dermatology Congress” welcomes all the speakers, delegates(both from academy and business) sponsor’s and other research expertise which is going to be a part in Dubai, UAE held during September 25-26, 2017 . This conference will help to exchange and share your views and experience on the Dermatology . Dermatology has evolved into one of the most dynamic specialties in medicine. Dermatology is also dedicated to correct the appearance disorders. Indeed, the skin, the largest organ of the human body, is often a place of disease. Skin exposure to environment influences and its importance to the good-looking and well-being requires extra care that can be provided by Dermatology. This conference provides beautiful platform for business networking and luxurious stay at the most beautiful city Dubai which includes the prominent attractions Burj al arab, Burj-Khalifa, Burj-Khalifa-Lake, Deira-Clocktower, Mall-Of-The-Emirates, Palm-Jumeirah-At-Night, wild-wadi, Bastakia.

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      erick 3 years ago

      all

      Add Your Comment...my chow chows

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Sounds like cherry eye or another infection...do bring it to the vet. Stop the dog from rubbing it's eyes by putting an Elizabethan collar on.

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      wanda barrios 3 years ago

      my small five yr old chiguagua has a lump under his eye full of blood n yucky stuff it rupture today wat can i do ??

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      I understand. A skin disorder is so difficult to cope with! Thanks for sharing.

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      BODYLEVIVE 3 years ago from Alabama, USA

      We've had a dog with a serious case of Demodectic Mange. He was hospitalized but never regained all of his hair back. It was a hurting thing for us and we couldn't do anything for him. We had to make a pen off the ground so he did lay in the dirt. The vet gave us medicine that we had to bathe him in twice a week. We did all that was asked but we soon had to give him up.

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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Devika.

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      Elliott Raggio 3 years ago from Hove

      i've got a canine and this hub proves to be really really helpful..thanks a lot..i'm sure gonna share it with my friends

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Very interesting about dogs and skin disorders. An informative and useful hub.

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      Marcie63 3 years ago

      Addi have a Tea Cup Chihuahua that has redness on her paws, around her mouth, around her eyes(sometimes) and on her chest with a large patch on her back. She is not scratching more then normal. There is no open sores, no puss. She is shedding but it does not seem to be more then normal. She is 5 years old current on everything, vet said she thought it was an allergy to something and to give her Childrens Benadryl, which I have from time to time it helps a little but not much. We have changed her food from wet/dry mix to straight dry and have even changed the band. She is a bit over weight at 5 1/2 lbs. It look better some days then back to bright red the next with no chane in anything. I am at a loss as yo what it coul be! But it does seem to be getting worse. Help please, she is my baby and I feel so bad because I cannot help her.

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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Sounds like abscess. Do have a check with the vet to confirm!

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      Bridget 3 years ago

      Our Golden Retriever is experiencing nodules on the skin, one a time, along her back. They begin small, then grow in size to a full dime size and full of green puss, then leach and heal but leave black round spots until they're gone. Do you have any idea what this could be?

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      It is probably an allergic reaction...or she probably requires supplements to stop hair loss. An infection is possible too. Get them to probe a little further.

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      elissa 3 years ago

      I'm wondering if maybe she can have an infection. Or what to ask my vet to look for because seems to me I've went to three vets and they are idiots

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      elissa 3 years ago

      My dog doesn't have redness or any patches of hair loss. But recentlyhad fleas but is treated monthly and i don't know if its due to winter but she is a chow and is losing fur on her belly and by her on her inner and back of legs. I'm bring her to the vet often shese on an itch relief med but doesn't help much

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      Pete 4 years ago

      I came back to say that everything seems to be ok now. I read more information about the meaning of those fatty acids and now changed dogs diet totally to bit more better and I could cut down the added oils. Funny thing is that my dogs ate and pooped way better when I added the krill oil for dogs.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Pete, I think the cheapest way I can think of is to change the dog's living circumstances. If you can find ways for it to avoid the allergies, it will be the best course, because any treatments are usually quite expensive.

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      Pete 4 years ago

      I started feeding krill oil to my dogs for flaky skin as recommended here www.oilfordogs.com. It seems to work but I am wondering if there is cheaper way? there are some recommended amazon products on their site but I am interested other opinions too.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Lady Deonne! I hope that the vet can help with the problem! Thanks for sharing!

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      Deonne Anderson 4 years ago from Florence, SC

      Very well researched and presented subject. Your pictures speak volumes about how allergies and other skin problems can affect our beloved dogs.

      My Red Nosed Pit has been having problems with her breathing. She has an appointment with the vet for this Wednesday. Her brother also has seasonal allergies.

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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      If only they could indeed, Thelma! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Poor dogs! If they only can tell us what bothers them. Thanks for this well researched, useful and informative hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub, useful and so much detailed information about skin disorders affecting dogs. Poor dogs, they can't even tell us what is troubling them.

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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Francene! Nice to see you here too!

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      Francene Stanley 4 years ago

      Wow! That's some list for the poor doggy palls. I hope the information is useful to some owner/friends.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Mike, indeed they are. But if treated on time, they don't suffer too much, don't worry! Thanks for sharing!

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      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Poor dogs,, Those pictures are so sad :( .. it so much painful seeing animals suffering..

      Thanks Michelle for giving us so much in this hub, you did an excellent research.. voted and shared!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Dana! Oh dear....glad that he's doing ok now....hope the remedies don't have to be long term, though!! Thanks for coming by!

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      Dana Strang 4 years ago from Ohio

      This is fantstic. So much great info... I had a coworker that had a bulldog who was sooooo itchy. Turns out it was food allergies. His allergy tests also showed he was allergic to HUMANS! How crazy. A dog allergic to people. Poor thing. He is doing well now.

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Lipnancy. It's indeed painful to see an animal suffer! Thanks for coming by!

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      Better Yourself 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Interesting hub! Thankfully I haven't had a dog with a skin disorder and I didn't know there were so many. Thanks for sharing - always good to know what to look for.

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      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Oh those pictures are so sad to look at. Great hub.

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for the compliment, toknowinfo!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Butler could be allergic to something there, Meldz, so best to be careful! Thanks so much for coming by!

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      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Thanks for putting this excellent hub together. It is very well written and explained and very full of useful info.

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      ignugent17 5 years ago

      Very useful Michelle. I feel pity to those dogs who are affected by different skin diseases. Thanks for sharing this information.

      The skin of Butler turns red when he goes to the pond.

      Voted up and more. :-)

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      My blessings to Missy, Keith. Glad this was useful.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Spaniels do qualify, Lord, and they have their share of skin problems. Thanks for the compliment!! Still much for me to learn about animal care. I hope this is helpful!!

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      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      We're taking our dog, Missy, to the vet asap because she's showing some of the very same symptoms you have stated. Thank you for another informative hub, Michelle!

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      Joseph De Cross 5 years ago

      Well done Michelle. There is so much put in this hub, that a vet student would love to have it for reference. Seems that you know more than the average writer about puppies and puppy love. I had a Cocker Spaniel and she didn't have much issues. I'm not sure if she qualify for a blue dog, but she was light colored. Thanks for giving us so much in a hub.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Healthy life, and I wish the best of happy health to your schnauzer! Glad you find this useful too!

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very well researched hub on skin disorders for dogs. My miniature schnauzer is my first dog so it's good to know what to watch out for. Some itching is normal but it's good to know to watch for excessive itching and hair loss and all the other skin conditions. Voted up and shared!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Fleas are terrible, Mary. When they manage to bite us somehow it's really itchy, so we can guess how it is for the dog. Thanks for sharing!!

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Richard!! Actually, I think more things affect them than they do us. Thanks for coming by!

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      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      Baby, my Miniature Schnauzer, is terribly allergic to flea bites! I have to use a product to keep the fleas off her. She will scratch until she has a "hot spot", then I have to put the lampshade collar on her so she can't scratch more.

      You did a lot of research on this Hub. I voted it UP, and will share.

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      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Michelle - Very informative. So many things can affect the pets we love. It's a matter of constant awareness to catch them as quickly as possible. Great Job and presentation! Up & Useful & Interesting!

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Denise! Could be mange....that often causes a bit of hair fallout. It's sad what they go through not that we suffer less when we are sick...for them, they've fewer ways of communicating their problems and helping their owners understand them. So I guess we've to be observant!! Thanks for coming by!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Interesting information, Midget. I've been noticing a lack of fur on my dog's 'elbow' area of one leg. Thanks for sharing this. Some of these skin disorders are so sad on these poor dogs. Great photos to help with the info. Rated Up/U/I

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Farmer Rachel. Yes, it's hard to see a nice dog suffering from any of these problems. I hope that it will help owners and dogs with skin trouble! Thanks for coming by!

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      Rachel Koski 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Very informative hub. Some of those pictures are sad and disturbing, but then again who wants to see a dog that is sick or suffering? You 0bviously did a lot of research and put a lot of time into this hub - great job!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Glad that the dogs are ok, Bill. And fortunately, you have a great vet. They really itch when they have skin disorder, so it's good to watch for it. Thanks for coming by!

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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Those were some ugly pictures! Ewww....those poor dogs. We have three dogs, and they have had their rashes, but never anything like those pictures. Crossing my fingers! Anyway, we have always had our treated by the vet and it has gone away quickly. Yuck! Glad I already ate breakfast! :) Good job; sharing!

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Diana. Those who suffer from these are indeed pitiful because they cannot say anything about their pain. And it's quite extreme. Thanks for the compliment! Researching dogs and finding out everything I can about them is something I truly love doing. Thanks for dropping in!

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      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Poor doggies. I am wincing after looking at some of their photos. As a teacher, I saw a few cases of ringworm on kids who had pets in the home. You have really done an excellent job in researching this topoic and I am sure it will help many pet owners in discovering the relief for the dog's ailments.

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Janine! Glad that you find it useful. Well, they do have a bit of mange by nature, and will experience some skin trouble...but I guess less was known about them then! Thanks for stopping by!

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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      Mary, thanks for coming by! Glad that you've found this useful. Sorry that Min Pin has allergies...but take heart that they're usually curable unless they get a form closer to Vulgaris. Yup, always something new to discover about dogs! WIll share more soon. Thanks for coming by!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Michelle, you have done your homework here and this is a well researched and laid out article on skin disorders in dogs. As you know growing up we did have a West Highland Terrier, but to be honest I truly don't remember him having any real skin conditions, but that was indeed a long time ago, so it is possible that I just don't remember anymore. Thanks for sharing this here and have voted up and shared all over too!!

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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      You've done a very comprehensive job here Michelle. While we love our dogs there are so many things we don't know about them. I've had dogs all my life and now my Min Pin has allergies. Never heard of it before but between him and now your hub I can see it is more common than I imagined. Always something with our beloved four legged friends.

      Voted this hub up, very useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      What are the symptoms, causes and types of skin diseases in dogs? Which breeds usually experience them?