9 common dog skin conditions: how to spot and treat them

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Dr Darcy Marshall, Sarah Pollard
little fluffy white puppy laying down licking their tummy

There’s nothing like a good scratch to relieve an itch. But if your dog is scratching more than usual, it could be a sign of a skin condition.

The skin is the first barrier of defence against harmful germs and irritants. Its condition can also give us important clues about our dog’s health. Allergies, parasites, infections and even stress can affect their coat and skin.

Skin concerns are the most common reason to visit the vet. According to PetSure, a whopping $23 million was spent on treating this issue in 2022.  

We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the symptoms and treatment of common dog skin conditions to help you and your dog ditch the itch.

Skin condition signs and symptoms to look out for

Skin conditions usually have more than one symptom. Look out for these other common signs:

  • Persistent scratching

  • Repeated licking

  • Patchy coat or dry and brittle hair

  • Hair loss

  • Redness and rashes

  • Hives

  • Pustules (bumps that contain pus and look like pimples!)

  • Lesions (wounds or scabs)

  • Scaly or crusty skin

  • Unpleasant smell 

  • Lethargy 

  • Changes in appetite 

1. Allergies

Like humans, dogs can experience an allergic reaction to something they’ve ingested or an environmental trigger.

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

close up of puppy's fur with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

When a flea bites a dog (or human, for that matter), it releases saliva into the bloodstream that contains antigens. The dog’s body identifies it as an allergen and releases histamines, which cause localised swelling, redness and itchiness.

Flea allergy dermatitis symptoms: Flea bites form small red itchy bumps on the skin. You may also spot flea dirt (faeces) that are little brownish-red spots. If your dog has FAD, there will be itchiness and possibly hair loss in the “flea triangle” — the area from the middle of the back to the base of their tail and down their rear legs.

Flea allergy dermatitis treatment: If it is a mild reaction to a few bites, you can give them a cool bath with a soothing medicated shampoo. If the bites have triggered FAD, your pup may require treatment from their vet. Protect your pup against fleas by using flea prevention treatments or aids.

Environmental allergies

close up of cavoodle's neck with an atopic dermatitis rash

Environmental allergens cause a whopping 90% of allergic reactions in dogs.These might be seasonal triggers like grass, tree and weed pollens and other non-seasonal allergens including dust mites, storage mites, mould, yeasts, and smoke. Substances used to control undesirable weeds, pests, fungi and bacteria can also trigger allergic reactions.  

Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a common chronic inflammatory skin disease affecting 10-15% of the canine population in Australia. It's an allergic response to air-borne particles entering skin through a weakened immune barrier. Contact allergies are also triggered by skin contact with the allergen, like running through long grass or rolling on the ground.

Environmental allergy symptoms:

  • Persistent itching or rubbing

  • Ear infections

  • Chewing or licking paws

  • Sneezing

  • Watery eyes

  • Hives, sores, redness or rashes

  • Hair loss

  • Greasy or tough, dry skin

  • A yeasty smell

Environmental allergy treatment: Treatment depends on the trigger, so consult your vet for advice.

Try to limit your pup’s exposure to the allergen where possible and give them a good wipe down with a damp cloth after a walk. Speak to your vet about which medicated shampoo and moisturiser would be the best option for your dog.  

Antihistamines can be given but always check the correct dosage with your vet. Antifungals or antibiotics can remedy secondary skin infections. 

More significant treatments may include allergen immunotherapy (AIT) or immunomodulatory medications including atopica, cytopoint and Apoquel, which may be required for short term relief for some dogs.  

Due to the potential side effects and the possibility of their diminishing effectiveness over time, Lyka’s in-house veterinarians prefer to use the smallest dose of immunomodulatory medication and focus on reducing the immune system’s reactivity by minimising inflammation and oxidative stress.  

Phytonutrients like curcumin in turmeric and quercetin in blueberries have potent antihistaminic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that support your pup’s immune system and minimise the allergic response.  

A diet rich in omega fatty acids from flaxseed oil, fish oil and cold-pressed safflower oil also helps to reduce inflammation and boost skin resilience.  

Lyka statistic skin issues anti-inflammatory ingredients statistic

Food allergy dermatitis

close up of dog's fur with a food allergy dermatitis rash

A cutaneous adverse food reaction (CAFR) describes food allergies or sensitivities that affect skin health. It’s a common canine concern, usually triggered by a food intolerance to an ingredient.

Food allergy dermatitis symptoms:

  • Itchy skin and ears

  • Sores on their paws

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Weight loss

  • Lethargy 

  • Behavioural changes 

Food allergy dermatitis treatment: The most effective treatment is an elimination and rechallenge trial to identify and remove the offending food from your pup’s diet for six months or longer. 

There’s a strong connection between a dog’s gut and skin health. Removing the trigger ingredient allows the gut to heal enabling some dogs to tolerate the food again. 

Lyka’s in-house vets prefer high-quality, real food, novel protein diets for elimination trials over hydrolysed food. They find them to be more effective at healing the gut lining, are free from storage mites and dogs prefer to eat them. Speak to your vet about whether an elimination trial is suitable for your dog.  

2. Dandruff

Dandruff describes flakes of dead skin that are visible on your dog’s coat. You may also notice them on bedding, blankets or other surfaces they’ve been relaxing on.  

It can be a sign of other issues like dry skin, parasites, allergies, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, infection or irritation. 

There are three main types of dandruff: 

Seborrhea sicca (dry seborrhea) 

Symptoms: white flakes with scaly skin 

Treatment: Identification of the underlying cause is the primary concern. Management of seborrhea sicca may include antibiotics or antifungals, medicated shampoo, omega-3 supplements, and other vet-prescribed oral or topical treatments. 

Seborrhea oleosa (oily seborrhea) 

Symptoms: oily skin and a distinct odour 

Treatment: The treatment of seborrhea oleosa is the same as seborrhea sicca, see above.  

Walking dandruff (Cheyletiellosis) 

Symptoms: redness, scaly skin, bald patches. It may look like the dandruff is moving, but this is a highly contagious parasitic infection caused by mites. 

Treatment: A topical treatment from the vet may be required. The mites are usually susceptible to ingredients in flea and tick control medications, so keep these up to date, too. 

Keep your pup well-groomed to prevent matting, which irritates the skin and causes dandruff. Treat dry skin with a soothing dog dandruff shampoo to ease the issue.  

Adding omega-3’s to your pup’s diet can reduce itchiness and dry skin by up to 50%. Give your pupper their glow back with a diet that’s rich in essential fatty acids.

3. Yeast infections

close up of dog's ear with a yeast infection

It’s normal to find yeast on the skin of all creatures, but when there’s an overabundance, it can cause issues. Yeast loves a warm, dark and moist environment, so check for an infection on your dog’s paws, belly, pits, ears, skin folds and groin.

Yeast infection symptoms: If your dog has a yeast or fungal infection, they might have a rash on their tummy, or their skin might appear greasy, thickened, flaky or discoloured — we’re talking pinky red or greyish brown. You might also notice excessive scratching, rubbing or licking, hair loss or an unpleasant musty odour. If it’s in their ears, they will probably tilt and shake their head more often than usual.

Yeast infection treatment: Usually, yeast can be kept in check by your dog’s natural immune system. When there’s a yeast infection, it’s usually a sign that their immunity has been compromised by an underlying issue, such as:

  • Hypothyroidism: Underperforming thyroid glands lead to low levels of the thyroid hormone, which then weakens the skin and immune system.

  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease): A growth in the pituitary or adrenal gland leads to an overproduction of cortisol, which also weakens the skin and the immune system.

  • Flea/Tick medicine: Some flea/tick preventative medications can put stress and strain on your pup’s immune system.

It may also be worth exploring whether your dog is intolerant to the shampoos you’re using. Oatmeal-based shampoos have been implicated in making some yeast issues worse. Although there are no studies to support this, some holistic vets advise exercising caution if the situation isn’t improving while using oatmeal shampoo. 

Consult your vet who will swab the affected area, diagnose the problem and prescribe the appropriate medication for the yeast and any underlying issues.  

Many holistic veterinarians suspect that a diet containing omega 6-rich, high glycaemic index simple carbohydrates (wheat, corn and other cereals) can contribute to a yeast infection via a mechanism known as diet-driven inflammation.  

Research has shown that ear infections, which often stem from yeast infections, are more likely to occur when dogs have a high proportion of simple carbohydrates in their diet. Ingredients like wheat, corn and other cereals can feed a yeast infection via diet-driven inflammation. Opt for a fresh food diet, like Lyka, which reduces inflammation and increases immune function. 

4. Ringworm

close up of vet applying topical treatment to dog with ringworm lesion on nose

Despite the name, ringworm isn’t a worm, it’s a fungal infection. It’s highly contagious and spreads via direct contact with the skin lesion. The spores can also spread via your dog’s coat, bowls, bedding, carpet and other furniture.

Although ringworm in dogs is very contagious, the risk is greater for pets who are stressed or have weakened immunity, so it’s common in animal shelters or boarding kennels.

Ringworm symptoms:

  • Red skin lesions (often in a ring-shaped rash)

  • Scaly skin

  • Itchiness

  • Broken hair and hair loss

  • Rough and brittle claws

Ringworm treatment: Your vet can use a special UV light to spot ringworm infections or can swab and test the affected area. Usually, a pup is prescribed a topical treatment for the skin and an oral anti-fungal treatment.

Malnutrition or a diet lacking in one or more nutrients can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies. Diets that are limited in variety and lower in nutrients, such as ultra-processed foods like kibble, can negatively affect a healthy immune system.

By feeding a fresh, wholefood Lyka diet, your pupper will have a better chance at building a strong defensive barrier. Supercharge their immune system further with the Mind and Body Multi Supp — our supplement combination to boost gut health, immunity, and skin and coat health.

5. Shedding and hair loss

close up of bald spot on the base of dog's tail

Although shedding is a normal biological process, it can be more prominent in some breeds and some climates and seasons.

Excessive shedding can occur as a result of excessive itching, which is a symptom of many skin conditions rather than a specific sign of disease. It can also occur as a result of other underlying conditions including endocrine disorders, like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.

Shedding and hair loss symptoms:

  • Shedding more than usual

  • Dry, brittle, patchy or thinning coat

Shedding and hair loss treatment: Excessive shedding or fur loss can often be a result of a poor diet. Commercial, highly processed pet foods often use cheap, low-quality ingredients that don’t contain all the nutrients your dog needs to maintain a healthy coat.

Fish oil is one of the best supplements to add to your pup’s diet, as omega 3’s provide essential proteins and nutrients to hair follicles and skin, reducing hair follicle inflammation — a factor that can directly contribute to hair loss.

6. Mange/Demodex

close up of chihuahua's face with hair loss and severe redness around eyes and mouth

Demodectic Mange or Demodex is caused by microscopic parasitic mites that live in hair follicles. Most dogs and humans have a few of these mites on their skin — they can be harmless if the host’s immune system is strong and healthy. For mange to develop, the pup’s immune system needs to be compromised or immature.

Mange/Demodex symptoms: Mange dog skin conditions can be localised to a small area and cause red, scaly skin and patches of hair loss, usually starting on the face, especially around the eyes. If Demodex is generalised, it can cause scaling, swelling, crusty skin, self-inflicted wounds (from scratching) and significant hair loss (alopecia).

Mange/Demodex treatment: Localised mange can recede without intervention. Serious cases can be treated with topical medication and special shampoos.

Support your pup’s immune system with a diet full of natural antioxidants like Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Beta-Carotene.

7. Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis (ZRD)

ZRD is a rare skin disorder resulting from zinc deficiency or malabsorption in the small intestine.

ZRD symptoms: Red, scaly, crusty, thickened skin. Lesions are often found around the pressure points (elbows and paw pads) and/or around the eyes, nose and ears.

ZRD treatment: ZRD can be prevented with a complete and balanced diet, which contains the appropriate level of bioavailable zinc. Avoid phytates that are found in legumes, whole grains and seeds, as these can reduce the body’s ability to absorb zinc and other important minerals.

The ratios of zinc, calcium and copper within our Lyka recipes and the lack of phytate content support the effective absorption of these essential minerals.

8. Hot spots (pyotraumatic dermatitis)

close up of dog's fur with a red hot spot lesion

Hot spots are very common skin complaints in dogs, usually caused by an underlying issue such as an allergy, bite or infection. They can be found anywhere on the body, but are frequently found on the head, hips and legs.

Hot spot symptoms: Red and inflamed skin lesions that may ooze pus or form a scab. Hot spots are usually caused by self-inflicted trauma to the skin that triggers a vicious cycle of scratching and licking that enlarges the wound. Warm, humid weather can exacerbate the problem.

“Flea bites and humid weather can often increase the risk of hot spots, especially in golden retrievers.”
Dr. Matthew Muir, Lyka Co-founder and Integrative Veterinarian 

Hot spot treatment: In treating hot spots, address the underlying issue first, then treat the wound to prevent further infection and discourage further itching and licking. Clipping the hair short can encourage the wound to dry and form a scab, but you may need to use a cone or a protective barrier over the area to stop further damage.

A processed diet high in pro-inflammatory omega-6, usually from carbohydrates, can contribute to chronic hot spot issues. Try a real food diet with anti-inflammatory ingredients and omega-3s to provide vital skin-boosting nutrients, like Lyka. 

9. Folliculitis

Inflammation of the hair follicles (folliculitis) is a common skin condition triggered by bacterial or fungal overgrowth, parasites, hot spots, allergies, or other underlying problems.

Folliculitis symptoms:

  • Swelling

  • Redness

  • Itchiness

  • Pustules

  • Hair loss

Folliculitis treatment: Your vet can diagnose if there is an underlying cause and provide you with appropriate treatment that may include topical medication, special shampoo or antibacterial or antifungal treatment.

Ditch the itch with real food

Skin conditions are common and can be persistent leading to secondary issues if they’re not addressed early on. Vet-prescribed treatment to manage the condition and a nourishing real-food diet to support ongoing skin health may be the ideal combination for your dog. 

The close relationship between your dog’s skin and their digestive system makes optimal nutrition vital. Lyka real food meals are formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists using select skin-nourishing ingredients to help develop resilient skin from the inside out.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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