Skin Problems in Dogs and What You Can Do About Them

It is not uncommon for dogs to have some type of skin problem during their lifetime, so it is important for the owner to recognize some of the more common issues that may occur. While all skin problems should be diagnosed by a veterinarian, recognition of what may be the problem can relieve the owner of any undue stress and worry.

Hot spots are very common infections in dogs. The underlying causes for hot spots include allergies, ear infections, irritated anal sacs, grooming problems and a host of other possibilities. These infections look raw, deep, and painful, but are actually not deep at all and eventually heal without scarring. Hot spots often surprise owners by appearing to spring from nowhere within just a few hours. They should first be treated by shaving the area so that the infection does not spread further. When the hair is clipped it is easy to see the margin of the infection and normal skin beyond. The treatment most often used is a mild water-based astringent or antiseptic; occasionally antibiotics and cortisone may be needed, but not in all cases. It is not a good idea to apply ointments or creams to the infected areas, because this serves to seal in the infection.

puppymangeMange is caused by mites, a tiny, crab-like parasite that feeds off the skin of pets and people. Demodectic mange happens more frequently in young puppies or dogs under stress. It has been thought that Demodectic mange is inheritable or caused from a suppressed immune system. For unknown reasons, the mites begin to reproduce rapidly, causing the symptoms of demodectic mange. The dog will have sores and infections that will be localized or generalized, depending on how much of their immune system is impaired. Sarcoptic mange, or “scabies” causes the most itching for the dogs. This mite burrows into the uppermost layers of a dog’s skin and irritates the dog. The dog continuously scratches the affected area, creating crusts or scabs. Skin scrapings are taken to help diagnose each of these conditions. Both of these are frequently controlled with dips.

Fleas are the bane of many animal owners. The bite of a flea can cause the dog to scratch, but unless they are truly a flea-allergic dog, they don’t usually cause too much problem. If the dog is allergic to the bite of a flea, they may cause excessive licking, hot spots and scabs. When the fleas are allowed to flourish, they can cause anemia and blood loss in the dog, as well as if the dog ingests a flea while chewing on an itch, the dog may develop tapeworm. It is important to thoroughly clean all bedding, the house and all pets in order to remove fleas from the environment. Diligence is required to break the life cycle and not be re-infested. There are various insecticides that are available to kill fleas, but be aware of any chemical reaction that this may create with your pets. There are also natural flea repellents such as citrus, rosemary, wormwood, pennyroyal, eucalyptus or citronella.


Ticks are also a big problem in the summertime. Because they are bloodsuckers, they can cause blood loss as well as transmit various diseases. To help control a potential tick invasion, clear out underbrush, weeds, and leaf litter around your property, as well as thin out any trees that are close by.

If you feel comfortable with insecticides, then apply it to the infected areas in April or May and again in June or July. This should help control the tick population.

There are also tick and flea collars that can be used to help prevent the tick from hitching a ride or attaching themselves to their host. The best strategy is to place the collar on the dog in March, or before the ticks are out, and regularly changing it throughout the tick season. Be sure to change the collar before the insecticide level wanes, as this causes the development of resistance in the insects. Remember that all tick and flea collars are potentially dangerous to your dog, as it exposes him directly to insecticides.

If your dog does get ticks, and there are only a few, then you can pull them out with a gloved hand, paper towel or specially designed forceps. Grasp as close to the head as possible and pull with steady pressure. Make sure to remove the head and mouth pieces also, and avoid squeezing or crushing the tick’s body. Dispose of the tick, preferably down the toilet. Clean the bite area with disinfectant. If the bite area becomes infected, take the dog to the vet as soon as possible.

If you are out in an area where there may be ticks, make sure to thoroughly check over your dog. Ticks tend to congregate in and around the ears, between toes, and around the head and neck, but the entire body should be checked over well.

Find more information on skin care and health issues in Lowell Ackermann’s book The Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs.

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