Lifestyle & Grooming

What Your Dog’s Skin is Telling You

Dalmation Scratching Its Back on Grass

You want your dog to have the healthiest skin possible! Your dog's skin and coat can also tell you a lot about their internal health. The information below can help you understand:

  • What causes skin allergies in dogs
  • Why your dog’s skin discomfort could be happening
  • How you can help
  • When it's time to be concerned

Common Causes of Skin Allergies in Dogs:

If your dog is showing signs of allergies, often times the cause is in their environment. The most common causes are:

  1. Hypersensitivities to flea bites (aka flea allergy dermatitis): causes skin allergies in about 40% of dogs. You may not see any fleas, but if you notice hair loss and red skin at the base of the tail, it is usually caused by fleas. This can be alleviated by speaking with your veterinarian about veterinary-prescribed flea control medication. In some cases, treating your pet’s environment is needed to stop the life cycle of the fleas.
  2. Environmental allergies (also called atopy): occurs when your dog encounters allergens in the environment. This results in histamine release leading to skin inflammation. Some of the most common environmental allergens are: pollen, dust, grass, or even another pet in the house.

Both flea bite hypersensitivity and atopy symptoms include scratching, itching, and biting at particularly irritating areas, which can lead to painful hot spots.

Moist dermatitis (aka Hot Spots): This occurs when moisture is trapped by hair, most commonly in hot, humid climates. “Hot spots” are usually large red sensitive areas covered by hair. Treatment usually includes shaving of the hair, pain relief medication, and sometimes antibiotics. While this can be extremely unpleasant for your dog, there are easy ways to help:

  • Treating the primary problem of flea bite hypersensitivity and atopy
  • Make sure your pet is completely dry after bathing or swimming. Blow drying at low heat/no heat can help with keeping your pet completely dry
  • Use pet grooming wipes to wipe down your dog after walks
  • Try anti-itch, hypoallergenic shampoo with soothing ingredients like oatmeal & aloe
  • Ask your veterinarian for recommendations for medicated sprays and/or antihistamines

Dog Food Allergies Are Rare, But Real

Only about 10% of allergic skin problems are because of adverse reactions to a food. But you’d never guess it, right? According to veterinary dermatologists, the growing fear around dog food allergies is all thanks to clever marketing that encourages feeding more exotic-sounding diets that “many times have no effect on alleviating your pet’s potential allergies.”

The best way to truly determine if your dog has a food allergy is a dietary elimination trial, which can take several months (but it's not a skin allergy test, so no needles!). Enlist the help of your veterinarian, who can recommend a new test food with ingredients that your dog has never had before.

Gradually introduce your dog to their new diet. Don’t feed your dog anything else during this trial period except the test food (this includes flavored oral medications and most treats), and watch for allergic reactions over the next 8-10 weeks. If your dog seems to have gotten better, feed them the original food again and watch for allergic reactions. If symptoms come back, then your pet likely has a dog food allergy to an ingredient in the original food.

Lumps, Bumps, and What They Can Tell You

Just like itching is a common symptom of so many different conditions, so are lumps and bumps. Here are some of the most common reasons why your dog develops lumps and bumps:

  • Lipomas (aka Fatty tumors): Appear most frequently in middle-aged or older dogs (especially around the ribs, although they can show up anywhere) and are considered a natural part of aging. Larger and overweight dogs are especially prone to fatty tumors, but these lumps are harmless unless they’re causing your dog pain or making it hard for themto move around.
  • Sebaceous cysts: Dogs can get a blocked oil gland that looks like a pimple that contains white goo when burst. Gross, but thankfully not dangerous or painful (unless it gets infected).
  • Papillomas (aks Warts): Puppies and young dogs tend to get warts around their mouths that go away in time as their immune systems strengthen. When older dogs get them, it’s a sign that their immune systems have weakened which is normal with aging. They are not dangerous and don’t need to be removed unless they bother your dog.
  • Abscess: A buildup of pus under the skin that’s caused by an infected bite or wound. Talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible for the best plan of action.
  • Mast cell tumor: The most common skin cancer in dogs, with Boxers, Boston Terriers, Labradors, Beagles, and Schnauzers being the most susceptible. Clinical appearance varies widely and can mimic almost any other skin or subcutaneous lesion. If you notice a new growth on your dog and are concerned, please consult your veterinarian.

While only about 20-40% of lumps and bumps on dogs are considered malignant, it’s important to be a proactive dog owner. So, when should you start to get concerned? As T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM for petMD puts it, “Truthfully, you are really only guessing without getting your veterinarian involved.” Unless you’re 100% positive about the cause of the bump, take your dog in for an exam, especially if...

  • The lump appeared suddenly and is growing quickly
  • It’s changed in shape, color, or size
  • Your dog’s appetite or energy level is different
  • You’re seeing redness, swelling, pus, and/or an opening in the skin
  • Your dog is in pain

Tips for Soothing Your Dog’s Dry Skin

Though it seems like such a simple issue, dry skin in dogs is anything but. Dry skin and itchiness can actually be an indication of a wide variety of problems, from the environmental to the medical. Some of the possible root causes your veterinarian may diagnose include:

  • Cold weather and dry air
  • Excessive bathing and/or harsh soaps
  • Environmental allergies and/or flea bites
  • Skin Parasites like mites (that can cause mange) or lice
  • Infections (including bacterial and fungal infections like ringworm)
  • Diseases like Cushing’s disease, hyperthyroidism, autoimmune disorders, and more
  • Poor nutrition

Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to determine the root cause of your dog’s dry skin without an examination, so work with your veterinarian to help find an appropriate solution. Depending on the cause of your dog’s dry skin, the following solutions could help:

  • Using a humidifier when the air is cold and dry
  • Fewer baths and using veterinarian-approved soothing shampoos
  • Air drying your pet after baths with low heat/no heat blow dryers
  • Regular grooming to prevent buildup of dirt, dry skin, and other gunk
  • Keeping skin folds clean (here’s lookin’ at you, wrinkly pups!)
  • Preventative measures against parasites from your veterinarian
  • Feeding a high-quality, well-balanced diet

The Right Nutrition for Your Dog’s Skin & Coat

High-quality nutrition plays a key role in promoting a dog’s healthy skin and coat, beginning with protein. Protein is crucial for the development of new hair and skin, and not enough protein can case the skin to lose its protective barrier, become more susceptible to infection, slow down the healing process, and lead to a patchy, dry, dull, brittle coat.

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are also crucial in a dog’s diet to help prevent the loss of water and other nutrients in the skin. If your dog is deficient in these key nutrients, they’ll start experiencing scaly skin, matting of hair, loss of skin elasticity, hair loss, a dry and dull coat, and lack of hair regrowth.

Other key nutrients for healthy skin and coat include vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc.

Skin problems in dogs – whether it’s dealing with skin allergies, bumps, dryness, or anything in between – can be complicated. That’s why it’s important to provide a diet rich in the vitamins and minerals your dog needs for healthy skin and coat. Start your blend today to build a diet tailored to your dog’s unique preferences and needs.