Dog Skin Rashes: Symptoms, Causes, and Cures
Just like people, dogs need good skin care, too. Some dogs never have any skin problems, but some deal with issues all of their lives. Some causes, if not controlled, will lead to excessive licking and scratching, which could lead to secondary infections, such as bacterial or yeast infections.
If your dog is biting and scratching himself, here are some common reasons for red, scaly bumps and ways to treat them.
Causes and Symptoms of Dog Skin Rash
Red, inflamed skin and/or crusty skin due to contact dermatitis usually show up on the belly or legs. This occurs when areas with thin hair or no hair come into contact with an allergen, such as grass, melting ice, poison ivy, soaps/shampoos, floor cleaners, carpet deodorizers, flea medication, insecticides, dyes, and materials such as rubber, wool, leather, plastic, or metals (nickel).
Acne-looking bumps on the dog's skin. More serious pus-filled blisters might appear and the skin may become scaly and crusted. Shows up on the abdomens and groins of young dogs.
Food Allergy or Sensitivity
Skin plaques, pustules, crusting or scaling, leathery skin, hyper-pigmentation, hives, and elongated marks on the skin. May be accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea.
Environmental Allergy (Atopic Dermatitis)
Happens seasonally. Itching often occurs on the feet and around the eyes and ears. May be accompanied by sneezing and watery eyes.
Fleas and Ticks
Itchy spots, red bumps, and hair loss. If your pet is allergic to flea saliva, the rash will look inflamed. If the rash occurs on the feet or head, the cause is likely something else because fleas avoid the paws and face.
Itchiness, scabs, sores, red skin, and hair loss often occur on the dog's face, ears, and legs.
Hot Spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis)
Itchy, inflamed skin that is hot to the touch. Commonly found on the head, hip, or chest area.
Infection (Bacterial or Yeast Infection)
Red, scaly skin, odor, and sticky discharge. Often occurs in the ear, between the toes on the paws, in the underarm area, or on the neck (under the collar).
Red tender skin only in one area (usually the folds of the skin). Scabs and sores, tiny red bumps, itchiness, and foul odor.
Some breeds are more prone to rashes than others. Golden Retrievers are susceptible to congenital ichthyosis, which causes scaling on the tummy. Arctic breeds are likely to develop zinc-responsive dermatosis, and Cocker Spaniels are prone to primary seborrhea (dandruff).
Hormonal Imbalances (Endocrine Disorders)
Could be caused by a poor diet. Hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease fall under this category. You may see changes in coat quality, drinking and urination habits, as well as rashes, hair loss, and dry or darkened skin.
Dry, flaky skin, and hair loss.
Acral Lick Dermatitis (Lick Granuloma)
This is compulsive licking (usually of the paws) that results in inflammation. Over time, your dog may develop hair loss and a rash. This may be caused by an allergic reaction to something that your dog walks on, like grass or floors/carpets cleaned with a chemical agent. It could also be caused by boredom.
A bacterial skin condition that occurs along with other conditions, such as mange, allergies, or injury. Usually appears as red, scaly bumps and accompanied with a lot of itching.
Dog Rash on Belly?
If your dog has a rash that is concentrated on the stomach, the scrotum/groin, and the legs, then the most common causes are either contact dermatitis or impetigo. This itch may turn into an all over body rash. Switch out your laundry detergent and check your cleaning supplies. Your dog may be allergic to the chemicals used to wash the bedding, the floor, or the couch.
If your dog suddenly gets a rash or an allergic reaction despite having no history of sensitivity, then it may be contact dermatitis. Symptoms usually develop after a period of repeated physical contact and skin sensitization, and contact dermatitis occurs most often on the stomach, the scrotum, and/or the legs (or in other places where there is thin hair or no hair).
Aside from poison ivy and poison oak, your dog could develop a rash by coming into contact with topical antibiotics, flea collars, flea medication, metals like nickel, grasses and pollens, soaps/shampoos, carpet deodorizers, insecticides, dyes, materials such as rubber, wool, leather, and plastic, poison ivy sap, road salt (melting salt), detergents, solvents, acids and alkalis, and petroleum byproducts.
Dyes and perfumes are also common irritants. If your dog has a contact allergy caused by detergent, for example, his rash will appear on the belly where his blanket or bedding has been touching it or where he has been laying on a rug or carpet. Switching to non-perfumed, sensitive-skin detergents and cleansers may give your dog relief.
How to Check
If your dog has been outside or in the woods, the rash may be from a plant irritant.
- Check your own laundry room and cleaning supplies. Did you switch to a new carpet cleanser? Is the laundry detergent that you use full of perfumes?
- Shampoos can also cause contact allergies. If you suspect that your dog's shampoo or grooming rituals are causing the issues, you’ll need to switch products. Ask your groomer to use a sensitive skin shampoo and to hold off on the perfumed powder and products. If you groom your dog at home, try an unscented pet shampoo or one that is medicated. Medicated shampoos often provide itch relief right away for your pet as you work to get the other factors under control.
- The only way to treat contact dermatitis is to avoid exposure to the irritant, whatever it may be.
- To get rid of the skin irritation, your veterinarian can prescribe an antihistamine.
- It's important that you keep your dog from licking the irritated area because it could lead to bacterial and yeast infections, which could further aggravate the skin and exacerbate the problem.
Impetigo, also known as a staph infection, is a highly contagious bacterial skin condition that appears in puppies. It is caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria. It shows up as bumps that may be mistaken for acne. If your puppy has a belly rash or a scrotum rash, then this is likely the cause.
Most mild cases resolve on their own, but you should help clear up the itching and prevent the bacteria from coming back.
- Prevent your puppy from licking or biting at the effected area.
- Clean your dog's living area.
- Give your pup a medicated bath two times a week for two to three weeks using a shampoo with benzoyl peroxide.
- If the case is not mild enough to be treated with topical treatments, your vet can prescribe oral antibiotics or a medicated ointment.
- Some people use hydrogen peroxide to kill the staph bacteria, but I recommend giving your vet a quick call to confirm that this is safe.
Food allergies can cause itchiness and irritating rashes all over the body. You may also notice accompanying symptoms, such as loose bowel movements or stomach distress.
Common Food Allergens:
- corn (very common)
What to Do?
If you suspect food allergies, a consultation with your vet is the best route to take. They can do a test to pinpoint the exact trigger.
You can also try doing an elimination diet by removing one ingredient at a time for period of a week. If the symptoms go away, reintroduce the food. If symptoms reappear, then you will know for sure what caused the rash.
Foods to Feed
Look for foods that are premium and high-quality or ones that specifically say "for sensitive stomachs". One PetHelpful author made a list of her top recommended hypoallergenic dog foods and treats. It's a great list to read. Foods that say “limited ingredients” are the best to start with. I would also recommend you buy foods with natural ingredients and try to stay away from products loaded with chemicals and preservatives. A common culprit of food allergies in pets is corn, which is often used as a filler in dry dog food.
Instead of relying on processed dry foods, you can also try making your own food. There are many homemade dog food recipes on the web. Make sure you research your dog's nutritional needs carefully and consult your vet before feeding it to your pet.
Dog With Food Allergy and Itchy Skin
Environmental Allergy (Atopic Dermatitis) Treatment
Pets can have seasonal allergies, too. If your pet has inhaled allergies, you may notice other signs along with the itching and rash, such as sneezing and watery eyes.
If you suspect that your pet may be allergic to irritants in the air, you can check the pollen index through a website like weather.com. If pollen is high, and your pet is exhibiting these symptoms and is itchy, he may have hay fever.
How to Treat
- Your vet can prescribe anti-histamines for your pet. Most dogs can tolerate over-the-counter medicines that have the active ingredient of Benadryl. According to 1800Petmeds.com, dogs can take .5 to 2 mg of Diphenhydramine for every pound they weigh. Doses should be given every eight hours. You can always run your dog by the vet’s office for a quick weigh-in (something most vets will do for free). They will also be the best person to ask for recommendations of what medication to take.
- Give your dog a bath with a hypoallergenic shampoo and conditioner (but don't over-bathe as it can lead to dry skin).
- Feed your dog fish oil. The omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation.
How to Prevent
- If coming in from the outside, wipe your dog's feet to remove pollen, dust mites, grass particles, and dander. This prevents them from spreading it all over their living area.
- Change furnace and air-conditioning filters.
- Vacuum often and steam clean the carpets, if possible.
- Keep windows closed during high-pollen seasons.
Fleas and Ticks Treatment
Even with regular baths and treatments, some dogs may still get fleas. They can be especially pesky in warmer areas of the country or in places where the winter was especially mild.
The best flea products are available at your vet’s office or at quality pet supply stores. Ask your vet for the best recommendation. If your dog has a flea allergy, then the condition is probably severe and may require a prescription drug. For general flea protection, products such as Advantage and Revolution are more likely to work and keep working. Some products even allow you to retreat more often than once a month if there is an infestation.
How to Check
Before you look for other causes, rule out fleas. You can bathe your pet and look for fleas in the bathwater or use a flea comb to search for the bugs and eggs.
Warning: Some dogs are allergic to flea treatments and may develop a rash from the product! If so, there are natural, non-toxic flea treatments you can use. You can even make a homemade flea collar to prevent fleas.
Your dog may develop lyme disease from a tick bite. The most common tick is the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick). Symptoms may not show up until two or three months after being bitten. Symptoms include fever, rashes, loss of appetite, lethargy, lameness, stiffness, and swelling of joints. This can progress to a fatal kidney disease.
Recently, a new tick, known as the lone star tick, has appeared in the central and southeastern regions of the U.S. It can transmit ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).
If you suspect ticks are the cause, see your vet right away.
There are two types of mange:
- Demodectic Mange: A skin condition caused by cigar-shaped mites that live in the hair follicles and feed on the oil glands of the skin. This is usually due to a weak immune system that is unable to fight off the mites. Puppies under two years old and older dogs are the most susceptible. A puppy may just have a naturally weak immune system, but if an older dog is inflicted, it may be a sign of hormonal imbalance or cancer .
- Sarcoptic Mange: This skin condition is also known as "canine scabies" and is transmitted from dog to dog. If your dog is frequently playing with other pups, then the mites may have migrated from one skin to another, and the female mite probably laid eggs and populated in your dog's fur.
- If your dog has localized mange, then the issue will resolve itself. You can help by giving your pup a bath, washing his bedding, and cleaning his living area to kill all of the mites. There are also some home remedies for dog mange that you can try. However, one thing you SHOULD NOT use is motor oil.
- To relieve the itching or to make sure mites don't spread, talk to you vet. They will be able to prescribe either topical or oral medication to help you dog fight off the infestation.
Hot spots is simply a broad term for any red, irritated spot on your dog’s skin. It can be caused by any of the above conditions. Hot spots can also lead to infection. So if your dog's rash becomes inflamed, red, oozing, or is an open sore, you will want to seek vet attention. The site could be infected.
Find out the cause. If you have trouble, talk to your veterinarian.
To treat hot spots you must ask for a vet prescription. They will prescribe hydrocortisone spray or hydrocortisone cream to stop the itching and promote healing.
They will also prescribe Gentamicin or Betamethasone spray, and possibly oral antibiotics. Sometimes, they may decide to give your pet a cortisone injection to jump start the healing process.
Heat Rash Treatment
Heat rashes are caused by the staphylococcus pathogen, staphylococcus pseudintermedius, which gets aggravated by humid and hot environmental conditions. Symptoms appear as tiny red bumps or boils, and can progress to an oozing, red rash with a bad odor.
How to Treat It
Wrap a cold compress or bag of ice around a towel and apply it to the area for 10 minutes.
Aloe vera is a great treatment for sunburn and will give instant cooling relief as well as help heal the skin.
Hormonal skin disorders include alopecia and dermatosis. Alopecia is characterized as balding and dermatosis is a skin disorder. Both are caused by genetics, diet, castration, female bodily changes, or a condition such as hypothyroidism. Hormonal imbalance symptoms include greasy skin, hair loss, dull-looking skin color, and is accompanied by other signs, such as lethargy, high cholesterol levels, weight gain, excessive weight loss, difficulty sleeping, depression, and a host of other problems.
If you suspect there is something wrong with your dog's hormones, then speak with a vet. The most common causes are listed below.
Types of Hormonal Imbalance:
- Cushing's disease
Hormonal imbalance could be easy to treat, depending on the cause. If it is caused by a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle, then switching to a nutritional, all-natural dog diet and getting plenty of sunshine and exercise will remedy the symptoms and balance your dog's bodily system.
If the hormonal imbalance is caused by something serious, like Cushing's disease, or it is related to the female menstrual cycle, then speaking with a vet is the only way to find a cure. Usually treatments involve hormone supplements, radiation therapy, or surgery. If you would rather go the natural path, seek a holistic health veterinarian. Holistic vets are usually better at finding natural remedies for curing hormonal imbalance.
This condition is characterized by oily, flaky skin and hair loss. Scratching will further irritate the skin and cause it to turn red and sore. Seborrhea, like dandruff in humans, is usually genetic but can be caused or exacerbated by a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle.
Breeds Most Likely to Be Affected:
- West Highland White Terriers
- American Cocker Spaniels
- English Springer Spaniels
- Basset Hounds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Unfortunately, dandruff cannot be cured—only controlled. Vets recommend bathing your dog with a shampoo that contains sulfur, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or coal tar.
- To help control the flaking and itching, feed your dog omega-3 fatty acids and a nutritional diet to keep their skin and hair healthy.
- Ask your vet if you can feed and apply coconut oil. Pure coconut oil is antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiprotozoal. It can kill yeast and fungi when taken orally or applied topically. It also helps soothe the skin and promotes healing.
If your dog is constantly licking his paws, it could lead to a skin infection that causes redness, itching, and hair loss. The causes are wide-ranging and include environmental allergies and anxiety. The most common reasons, however, is boredom.
- You must first prevent your dog from licking his paws any further.
- Then, find the cause of paw licking and use the home remedies prescribed for each cause.
If the Bump Is Under the Skin
If the bump is under the skin it could be a growth or lesion that needs to be biopsied. Sometimes even fatty tumors that are benign can irritate the dog and cause him to pick and scratch at it. But, since there is a risk of cancer, your vet can check the bumps and tell you what the issue really is.
Pets with itchy skin can feel irritated and restless. It can be frustrating for both owner and dog. If the rash does not show signs of infection, you can try treating it at home. If the rash continues though, seeking veterinary advice and guidance will make your dog happier and healthier.
Do you know why your dog is itching?
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- Anna Burke, "Dog Rash on Belly," American Kennel Club. August 29, 2017. Accessed November 4, 2017.
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- "Heat Rash on Dogs Symptoms, Home Remedies and Prevention," DogCatsPets.Org. Accessed November 4, 2017.
- "The Most Common Types of Hormone Imbalances for Dogs," TestCountry. Accessed November 4, 2017.
- "Skin Disease (Canine Seborrhea) in Dogs", PetMD. Accessed November 4, 2017.
- Marybeth Bittel, "Coconut Oil for Dogs: How it Cured My Dog’s Itchy Skin," Dogster. June 7, 2017. Accessed November 4, 2017.
- "Impetigo in Dogs," VetInfo. Accessed November 4, 2017.