No dog deserves to be uncomfortable. So let's face it: skin problems in dogs are common...but complicated. Since your dog's skin and coat can be an external sign of his internal health, we're digging into some of the most common skin issues your pup might experience: why they could be happening, how you can help, and when it's time to be concerned.

What Causes Skin Allergies in Dogs?

Well, what makes you sneeze and itch? If a dog is showing signs of allergies, oftentimes you can look to his environment. Hypersensitivities to flea bites (aka flea allergy dermatitis) are the most common form of skin allergies in dogs, with about 40% of dogs affected. Environmental allergies, also called atopy, are the second leading cause of allergies, and occur when a dog’s body releases excess histamine while exposed to higher concentrations of an allergen like 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 parts, which can lead to painful hot spots. While this can be extremely unpleasant for your dog, there are easy ways to help:

  • 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

Could My Pet Have a Dog Food Allergy?

Dog food allergies are rare – 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, or one that has hydrolyzed protein. Gradually introduce your dog to his new diet, don’t feed him anything else during this trial period except the test food, and watch for allergic reactions over the next 8-10 weeks. If your dog seems to have gotten better, feed him 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.

Why Does My Dog Have Bumps All Over His Body?

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:

  • 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 they’re harmless unless they’re causing your dog pain or making it hard for him to move around.
  • Sebaceous cysts: 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).
  • 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. They’re 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.

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

How Do I Help My 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
  • Parasites (that can cause mange) or lice
  • Infections (including 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
  • 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

How Can Nutrition Help a 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. Just to highlight the importance of protein in a diet: up to 30% of protein in a long-haired small breed dog’s diet is needed to maintain daily hair growth!

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (especially linoleic acid) 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, he’ll start experiencing scaly skin, matting of hair, loss of skin elasticity, alopecia, 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 do your best to give your dog a shot at a healthy skin and coat. The first step? Start with high-quality nutrition.

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