Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.
Under all that floof, our furry friends have skin, just like us. Skin problems are one of the most common ailments dogs can suffer, with a wide range of causes, conditions, and treatments. These skin problems can range from mild to severe, with some being contagious to other animals as well as humans. Let’s take a look at some of the most common canine skin issues, their symptoms, and how to treat them.
Just like their humans, dogs can have allergic reactions to food and environmental factors that result in inflammation and infection, called dermatitis. Environmental irritants can include tree and grass pollen, dust, mold, cat dander, mites, and more! Known as atopic dermatitis (atopy), symptoms of environmental allergies can include redness, an itchy rash (particularly on the face, feet, chest, and stomach), rhinitis (inflammation in the nose similar to hay fever), and secondary bacterial and fungal skin and ear infections. Allergic reactions to food can result in similar symptoms, though they are less common than environmental irritants, and occur year round vs. seasonal.
Parasites are organisms that live off of other organisms, often causing harm to their hosts. Because their bodies are covered in fur, dogs unfortunately make ideal hosts for these parasites. Below are some of the most common parasites found in dogs:
- Mange is a skin condition caused by mites. Often found on neglected or stray dogs, this disease leaves sores and lesions on the skin, resulting in hair loss, severe scabbing, and itchiness. The two types of mange include sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.
- Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, is the most common type. It is highly contagious to both dogs and humans, though the mites cannot live on human hosts for long. Dogs affected by scabies are often very itchy on their elbows, ear margins, belly, and ankles (hocks), and have crusty bumps and hair loss.
- Demodectic mange is caused by mites that normally live on dog’s skin and are usually harmless. A healthy immune system will fend off excess amounts of these mites, but if a dog has a weakened immune system, such as puppies, very elderly dogs, or dogs with otherwise compromised immune systems, the mite infestation can get out of control. This type of mange is not contagious to humans. Dogs with demodectic mange may have one small spot of hair loss usually on the face that resolves on its own without treatment, or they develop widespread redness, dandruff, and hair loss that requires treatment. Demodectic mange may or may not be itchy.
- Fleas are a parasite known to infest and bite dogs, causing your dog to itch profusely. If left untreated, this can lead to bleeding and hair loss. Fleas can infest homes and bite people as well, making them highly contagious for both pets and pet parents.
- Ticks are much larger than fleas and mites, making them more easily visible to the naked eye – though they can still be hard to spot. Ticks do not infest in the way that smaller parasites do, but many of them carry harmful diseases that can be passed to both dogs and humans through bites. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know if your pup has had a tick bite until they show signs of a tick-borne disease, such as fever, lameness and lethargy, swelling around the joints, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Fungal infections take place when a fungus overgrows and invades the skin tissue. The most common types of fungal infections in dogs include ringworm and yeast infections.
Ringworm spreads through direct contact with fungus, either through another animal, a person, or an object like a couch or food bowl. A ringworm infection can leave circular spots of hair loss, scabby, inflamed, or dry skin, dry and brittle hair, and rough and brittle claws.
Yeast infections are extremely common in dogs and come from an overgrowth of a normal fungus found on dogs’ skin. Causes of yeast infections in dogs include immune deficiencies, immunosuppressive drugs, and allergic reactions. If you notice recurring or chronic ear infections, itchiness, redness, a musty odor, hyperpigmentation, crusty, flaky, scaly, or thickened black skin, your dog may have a yeast infection. Yeast infections in dogs are not contagious to humans or other dogs.
Bacterial infections, otherwise known as pyoderma, in dogs indicate an underlying skin condition, as other conditions which cause itching, sores, and lesions allow otherwise harmless bacteria to overgrow. The bacterial infections themselves are not contagious, but their underlying cause may be. Below are some of the most common bacterial infections in dogs:
- Hot spots are red and swollen areas of skin that come from excessive licking, biting, or scratching one part of the body, typically the head, neck, and around the base of the tailThese are very painful and will rapidly worsen and spread if left untreated. Hot spots are typically caused by a flea bite allergy, however they can erupt from any condition that causes your dog to feel itchy, such as other parasites, allergies, contact dermatitis, ear and skin infections, and even stress and boredom.
- Puppy pyoderma, also known as impetigo, is a common canine bacterial infection. Puppies are more prone to this infection, and it is often seen on the belly as a series of red, raised pimples that may be pus filled. Sometimes they burst and form scaling. While some puppies can clear this infection on their own, other puppies may need a round of antibiotics or topical antibacterial treatment.
- Pyoderma – Other bacterial skin infections are usually secondary to allergic dermatitis, including flea, food, and seasonal allergies (atopy), but pyoderma can also stem from other conditions that suppress the immune system, such as thyroid disorders, adrenal disorders, or steroid administration.
- Folliculitis is often caused by a deep infection of the hair follicles with bacteria. Folliculitis shows up in the form of sores, bumps, and scabs, usually on pressure points (elbows, hips) or the chin. Underlying causes of folliculitis can include parasites, fungal infections, immune disorders, allergies, systemic disease, endocrine issues, and local pressure trauma from lying on a hard surface that irritates the skin.
Immune Mediated Disease
Dogs are susceptible to auto-immune diseases, just like humans. These conditions, like pemphigus, can cause dandruff, pustules, skin erosions, redness, hair loss, and thickened paw pads. This condition can mimic other problems like bacterial skin infections, but it doesn’t respond to antibiotics, and it’s typically not itchy.
Tumors and Cancer
Lumps and bumps are common in dogs, but not all lumps and bumps are cancerous. Lipomas, a typically benign, fatty tumor, is very common in older dogs. Usually, your veterinarian can take a fine needle sample of a few cells from the bump, stain them, and examine them under the microscope to tell whether a bump is cancerous, or not.
Diagnosis and treatment for dog skin conditions
Specific skin problems in dogs can be difficult to diagnose right away, as symptoms for dermatitis, parasites, fungal infections, and bacterial infections can be very similar to one another. Your vet will typically inspect your dog’s skin and perform any necessary tests. Additionally, they will want to know any details you can recall that may have led to the issue at hand. This can include new products in your home, bringing your dog to a new environment, or observing symptoms in your dog at a certain time of day.
Treatment options will depend on the ailment, but this can include topical ointments or sprays, special shampoos, supplements, or medications given by mouth or injection.
Cost of treatment for dog skin conditions
The cost of treatment has a large range depending on the condition and severity. Initial consultations can cost a few hundred dollars, while dermatological treatments can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Because skin conditions in dogs are so common, it is best to be prepared with pet insurance to avoid paying steep bills out of pocket.
How pet insurance can help
Finding out your dog has a skin problem can be stressful, but the good news is that most of these conditions can be cured. If your pup gets hurt or sick, pet insurance can help you say ‘yes’ to the best care, even when it’s costly. To ensure you stay ahead of any problems, make sure to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior and note any changes to their environment, diet, and body.
Check out how Pumpkin insurance plans can help cover eligible skin problems in dogs and more.
*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company, a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information