What is the Most Common Skin Condition on Dogs?
The most common skin condition on dogs is an allergic skin disease, otherwise known as allergic dermatitis.
Allergic dermatitis is a genetically inherited predisposition to adverse effects upon exposure to an allergen. In other words, dogs are just as prone to allergic reactions as humans.
And just like humans, there's a wide range of skin conditions that can affect your dog beyond allergic dermatitis.
The more you know about these skin conditions, the better you'll be able to recognize signs and symptoms in order to catch a problem early.
In this post, we’ll get into:
- The most common skin conditions on dogs
- How to diagnose your dog’s skin condition
- Treatment actions you can take to help
Let’s dive in!
How do I know if my dog has a skin condition?
Is your dog pawing, scratching, or licking at their skin more than normal? Do you notice any redness, hair loss, or rashes?
Those are some of the earliest warning signs that a skin issue is brewing, but there are other red flags you should watch for.
If you notice any of these on your dog, they’re likely suffering an adverse skin condition:
- Skin pigment changes
- Bacterial infections
- Lumps / bumps
- Skin sores or lesions
- Dry skin/flaky skin/scaly skin
- Intense itching
- Hair loss / bald patches
- Hot spots of inflamed skin
- Excessive itching and scratching
- Dry, flaky skin
- Lesions and scabs
- Excessive licking
- Bald patches
- Hot spots
Note that skin diseases often share symptoms. To get a definite diagnosis, you’ll need to consult your veterinarian. That said, let's look at some of the most common skin conditions on dogs.
Types of Skin Conditions on Dogs
Under your dog's fur coat is a layer of skin that's just as susceptible to conditions as the skin on your own body.
Here are some of the most common skin conditions that can affect your furry friend, plus an in-depth look at causes, types, and more.
Also known as Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy), it's an allergic reaction to external allergens (like environmental, food, and contact allergies).
These allergens can include pollen, dust mites, mold spores, animal dander (dead skin), and grass.
The only thing dogs love more than humans is eating. Sadly, they can be allergic to many types of food, including proteins (chicken, fish, etc.), eggs, grains, fats, and even byproducts.
When your dog's body incorrectly identifies a certain ingredient as harmful, the result is an allergic reaction. Note that food allergies differ from food intolerance.
Food intolerance is a digestive issue, while a food allergy is an immune system issue. Both are treatable, but food intolerances are much less serious than allergies because there's no risk for anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction that attacks the airways).
Dogs can be allergic to substances they come into direct contact with, like certain cleaning substances or bedding/blanket materials. No matter the cause, allergic dermatitis can turn any carefree dog into a ball of fur.
Symptoms of atopy can include:
- Intense itching
- Lesions and scabs
- Hair loss/patchy areas
- And even bacterial infections
In some cases, the itching can get so intense that it leads to self-mutilation, a disorder more commonly known as "lick granuloma."
Fungal infections are caused by an overgrowth of fungus on or under your dog's skin. Ringworm and yeast infections are two of the most common types.
Ringworm is caused by a mold-like parasitic fungus that's highly contagious (easily spread) to both animals and humans.
Usually, it starts as a red, ring-shaped patch of skin that's dry and scaly. If left untreated, the ringworm fungus can spread to your dog's claws and nails, causing thickening or brittleness of the nails.
Over time, it can also cause patches of hair loss and crusty lesions.
Important: Ringworm is HIGHLY contagious.
You can get ringworm from your pet, and your pet can get it from you.
Not only can it spread to other pets and humans, but if your dog's infected with ringworm fungus, your home is likely contaminated too.
If you suspect your pup might have ringworm, be sure to take immediate action. It's best to quarantine them from other pets and wash all bedding, grooming tools, collars, leashes, bedding materials (blankets, pillows), and toys.
Finally, observe your skin and your family as well. By the time you spot ringworm, you could have been infected for a few weeks.
Yeast infections are a type of fungal infection caused by a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia pachydermatis.
This may be surprising, but yeast naturally occurs on the skin of dogs. It's usually kept in check by other organisms (like good bacteria) and their immune system, your dog's primary defense against bad organisms.
However, if your dog's immune system is compromised (for example, by an immune deficiency, allergy flareup, or immunosuppressive drugs), yeast can overproduce, leading to a yeast infection.
This is especially true if your dog is outside often (e.g, a working dog) or has a damp environment (like folds in its skin) that encourages yeast growth.
A yeast infection has symptoms like other types of fungal infections: hair loss, redness, inflammation, and a musty odor. Your dog may also start developing crusty, thickened, scaly, or flaky skin. Chronic ear infections are another classic sign.
Unlike ringworm, a yeast infection is not contagious.
Tiny mites are the culprits behind this extremely common skin condition in dogs. These mites will burrow into your dog's skin, eat sebum and dead skin cells, and reproduce.
The two common types of mange are sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.
Sarcoptic mange (aka canine scabies) is caused by a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. It's highly contagious between dogs. Your pet can get it from direct contact with another infected dog. These mites can also survive for several days on inanimate objects like dog toys, beddings, and bowls, so disinfect these items if your dog is infected and has been in contact with them.
Sarcoptic mange is very itchy and can cause scabs, sores, inflammation, and bald patches. It's most evident in a dog's ears, face, and legs, but it can also spread on the rest of its body.
If your dog has a sudden onset of intense, unexplained itching, they may have sarcoptic mange.
This condition is caused by another type of mite, called Demodex Canis. While dogs can infect another one with these mites, a healthy pup's immune system usually keeps the number of mites to a minimum.
When demodectic mange occurs, it's because a dog may have an immune deficiency — because of genetic predisposition, an environmental factor (like malnutrition), or drugs like steroids. As a result, their skin cannot fight off the mites' growth or keep them under control.
Demodectic mange can cause patchy, red skin with hair loss and crusty lesions.
Has your dog started losing a significant amount of hair without an obvious cause? Is he going bald in one particular area, like over his back or flanks?
Your dog may be suffering from alopecia. Alopecia is hair loss (balding) that can result from nutrient deficiencies, metabolic diseases, genetic diseases, and a range of infectious diseases.
Alopecia is often called "diffuse." This means that your dog's hair loss is all over his body, and he appears to be going bald. It can also be called "focal," if only one area of your dog's body (like his back) is affected.
Finally, dogs may also have self-inflicted alopecia. This can happen due to too much scratching, self-mutilation because of anxiety or traumatic events, allergies, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other similar causes.
Yes, dogs can get dandruff, too.
Just like in humans, dandruff is often caused by dry skin. This can be due to the natural lack of oil in dogs' skin (like on their paws), which results from aging, environmental factors (like cold winters), and diet.
Dandruff can also be caused by seborrhea, a condition that results from the overproduction of sebum by your dog's oil glands.
This can be due to hormonal imbalances caused by a host of factors, including Cushing's disease, a lack of enzymes in your dog's liver or kidneys that would normally process sebum, and the use of certain drugs like glucocorticoids.
Dry, flaky skin
There's a wide range of reasons your dog may have dry and flaky skin.
Aside from the skin conditions above, it can be a direct effect of cold weather or low humidity inside your home.
The products you use on your dog (like shampoo) can also dry out his skin.
Finally, some dogs' skin loses moisture when they eat an extremely high-protein or high-calorie diet (which is sometimes done to fight kidney disease).
Your dog's skin is not a sterile environment, and it shouldn't be. The skin of a healthy dog is home to natural organisms like good yeast, bacteria, and fungi.
That healthy flora relies heavily on balanced pH levels, which refers to the amount of acid and alkaline in your pup's skin.
One way to understand the importance of having a balanced pH is by thinking about your dog's skin as a fortress under siege: the enzymes in the healthy bacteria are like archers on the wall, defending against invaders.
If that pH level gets out of whack, the good bacteria lose and your dog becomes vulnerable to many skin issues.
Rebalancing those pH levels restores the peace in your dog's skin microbiome. This shows itself through improved coat condition, better skin, and faster healing.
Dog Skin Conditions That Smell
Some canine skin conditions can make your dog smell bad.
For instance, a dog with a yeast infection usually smells of musty mold or, interestingly, like corn chips. The smell is strongest in their ears, paw pads, and folds around their body.
Mange in dogs often has a similar smell. Not because of the mites, but because of the bad bacteria and yeast overgrowth that invades your dog's skin and fur. The foul odor is particularly concentrated in their ears.
Aside from yeast infection and mange, your dog may also stink because of dandruff, infected wounds caused by scratching and chewing on their skin, and infections caused by harmful bacteria.
What are the crusty spots on my dog?
Crusty spots are a common symptom of many skin conditions in dogs. Crusty skin starts off as small patches that are dry, scaly, and flaky.
As it progresses, crusty skin becomes thickened because of the debris or infection that the scales have trapped under them. If your dog picks at the crust and it breaks, it can create open wounds and get infected.
Some skin issues that can lead to crusty spots are ringworm, demodectic mange, and yeast infections.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Dog Skin Conditions
Does your dog exhibit any of the symptoms above?
First, don't panic.
Most skin conditions are treatable and can provide immediate relief if you get your dog the help they need.
How are dog skin conditions diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam, as well as take a medical and dietary history to figure out what's going on. You'll need to show them all the symptoms you've noticed and answer some questions about your dog's lifestyle.
Vets can also conduct the following tests:
This laboratory test detects the presence of IgE antibodies in your dog's blood. These antibodies are a defense response to allergens.
This test checks for mites or fungus on your dog's skin. The sample is examined under a microscope to see if they contain mange mites or fungus.
To perform this test, the vet takes a very small sample of skin tissue that is then sent to a lab. The lab results help the vet determine what type of infection or condition your dog has so they can design a treatment plan.
This test examines hair follicles. It can help diagnose skin conditions that result in hair loss, like mange or seborrheic dermatitis. It can also yield useful information like genetic coat issues your dog may have.
The vet may take a swab of your dog's skin lesions to determine what type of bacteria are causing the infection.
This test works similarly to the bacterial culture by swabbing a skin lesion. The lab results help your veterinarian identify the type of fungus infecting your dog's skin.
Routine Lab Tests
As part of the diagnostic process, most vets will order routine tests like CBC, urinalysis, and serum chemistry panels to determine if the skin condition is related to some other medical issue.
Finally, your vet will take the results of the tests and correlate them with information from your dog's physical exam. This will help them determine what type of condition is causing the skin issue, and how to treat your dog.
How are dog skin conditions treated?
Whether it's caused by allergies, bacteria, or fungus, the treatment protocols for dog skin conditions are similar:
Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may prescribe antibiotics, antifungal agents, or both. They'll also probably give you some medicated shampoo to use on your dog.
For more severe cases, your vet may recommend a medicated bath. These baths kill bacteria and fungus by delivering a high concentration of medication to your dog's skin.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
Your vet may also recommend changes to your dog's food, environment, and activities. For example, they may prescribe hypoallergenic food for dogs with food allergies. You may also be given a list of foods to avoid feeding your dog.
Is your dog allergic to pollen? You may have to find another way for your dog to exercise because they should avoid activities where they'll be exposed to grass and trees.
Oral Therapy and Allergy Serum
If your dog's condition is related to allergies, your vet may prescribe antihistamines or allergy serum injections to help reduce or eliminate the inflammation.
Flea, Mite or Tick Treatments
If your dog's condition is caused by fleas, mites, or ticks, you'll need to treat the parasites causing the problem. Your vet can recommend the most effective method for extermination.
Therapeutic Dog Treats and Supplements
As part of the treatment plan, your vet might also recommend supplements and therapeutic treats to help improve your dog's coat health.
These can contain omega fatty acids, essential minerals, or other ingredients that help soothe itchy or irritated skin.
While medications do their job inside your dog's body, you also need to support that healing process on the outside.
Topical therapy for dogs includes shampoos, conditioners, and rinses you can use to restore your dog's skin to its natural healthy state.
Additionally, specially-formulated topical treatments like Petbiotics can speed up healing, relieve symptoms, and rejuvenate your dog's skin and coat.
Our Lavender Prebiotic Dog Shampoo works by boosting your dog's healthy skin flora to produce a natural alkaline enzyme. This enzyme is gently absorbed beneath your pet's dermal layers and immediately works to start rebalancing pH.
This safe and all-natural process helps your dog heal faster and get back his shiny, soft, and lustrous coat. It also works for dogs with normal skin!
Putting the Pieces Together
A healthy dog is a happy dog, and part of that is the correct diet, a protective environment, and maintaining their skin microbiome and pH balance.
Combined with a vet-designed treatment and wellness plan, the steps you take today can improve your dog's health and help them live a long and happy life.
Common FAQs about dog skincare
What tests will be performed to diagnose my dog's skin condition?
Depending on the symptoms your dog is exhibiting, their breed, and where you live, your vet might perform a skin scraping or biopsy to determine what kind of condition they're dealing with.
They'll also need some blood work done to help identify any secondary medical conditions that may be causing your dog's skin issues.
What are some common skin problems in dogs and how are they treated?
The most common skin conditions in dogs are allergic dermatitis, mange, ringworm, dandruff, and yeast infections.
What if my dog's skin problems go untreated?
Many canine skin conditions don't go away on their own. Often, they get progressively worse, especially if your dog's immune system is compromised.
This can lead to secondary infections that are much harder to treat. In severe cases, it can interfere with your dog's sleep and daily routine, leading to anxiety, other behavioral changes, and can even be fatal.
They can also contaminate other pets and possibly even humans in the home.
How can I prevent my dog from developing these problems?
The best way to prevent skin problems is to take your pet in for regular checkups and make sure they're up-to-date on their vaccinations.
In addition, there are ways to reduce your dog's exposure to outdoor allergens by keeping them indoors or minimizing their contact with areas where there are a lot of weeds, grasses, or flowers.
Finally, giving your dog a high-quality diet and using nutritional supplements can help improve their skin and coat health.
How can I tell what my dog is allergic to?
Everyone's allergic to something, and your dog is no different! They may be allergic to common things like fleas, pollen, or grasses, but also feathers, mold, dust, and even certain foods.
Which things trigger your dog's allergies will depend on their breed and age, as well as their particular body chemistry.
The most effective way to identify your dog's allergies is to talk to your vet about the symptoms you're seeing, their breed and age, and lifestyle. Using a combination of tests to determine your dog's symptoms, your vet can help you develop an elimination diet, treat them for any secondary infections or conditions, and prescribe medications to help your dog feel better.
Can anxiety or stress cause skin conditions in my dog?
Definitely. In particular, anxiety and stress can cause alopecia or hair loss/balding. Emotional and psychological distress also weakens your dog's immune system, making them more vulnerable to developing skin conditions.
If your dog is suffering from anxiety or stress, consider using calming treats and supplements that help promote emotional wellness.
For example, lavender is a very effective treatment for anxiety and calming. Its scent is an excellent mood regulator, associated with feelings of relaxation and ease.
Regularly bathing your dog with a lavender-scented shampoo can help improve their overall condition and help soothe nervous behaviors.
How do I know if there are mites on my dog?
Mites are microscopic parasites that are very difficult to see with the naked eye. If your dog has mites, you may notice them scratching, licking, biting, and chewing excessively.
If you're worried that your dog has mites, give your vet a call to set up an appointment. They will conduct tests like skin scraping or parasitic cultures to determine if your dog has mites and order the appropriate treatment.
Are there any natural over-the-counter products or supplements I can use on my dog's skin?
Yes, but you need to be careful when selecting the right products to use on your dog.
Remember that their skin is sensitive, especially to certain chemicals and potent scents.
Look for all-natural, organic products that don't contain GMOs, dyes, and harsh chemicals.