Skin problems in dogs

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Skin conditions in dogs can be caused by many things. Allergies are one of the most common causes of skin problems and can be due to a whole variety of things ranging from parasites, like fleas to food ingredients. Atopic dermatitis is the term used for allergies to environmental things such as pollen, dust mites and certain plants.

Allergic reactions can cause intense itchiness and scratching, which is no fun for you or your dog. It’s often the scratching and self-trauma that then go on to cause many of the other signs we see such as:

  • Hair loss

  • Red, inflamed skin

  • Crusts or scabs

  • Excessive licking and nibbling of the skin

  • Restlessness and broken sleep

What can you do to help with your dog’s skin condition?

Your vet may try to help manage your dog's skin condition in various ways including injections, oral medications, nutritional management, topical shampoos, dips, ointments, and environmental treatments.

If your vet has performed a biopsy or has prescribed a medicine, be certain to closely follow instructions for care and activity restrictions. Use environmental sprays and foggers only as directed and watch your dog closely for signs that the condition is recurring. Do not hesitate to call the clinic if questions or problems arise.

Food for thought

Nutrition can help dogs with adverse food reactions, and certain food ingredients can be really beneficial for supporting skin function and helping reduce inflammation and itching. There are a few different foods available that are formulated to help with skin issues. Ask your vet to recommend a high-quality, complete, and balanced food that’s suitable for your dog’s condition.

Flea control

Preventative measures taken before you see fleas can save you and your dog a lot of discomfort. It’s impossible to eliminate fleas altogether, as all dogs will encounter them on walks and out in the garden. A more realistic goal is flea control, which involves targeting fleas at all stages of the flea life cycle with one of the highly effective topical or oral products available today. Your vet can recommend a product that is appropriate for your dog, taking into account other pets and family members in your household, too.

Environmental treatment is also important in flea control. Frequent vacuuming removes flea eggs in rugs and carpets, but be sure to promptly dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the cylinder in an outdoor bin. Laundering your dog's bedding and any blankets they like to lie on is also advised. Your veterinarian may also recommend a household spray.


Ticks spread diseases such as Lyme disease, which can affect both people and pets. If you live in or visit the countryside with your dog, you should check them for ticks regularly.

Do your best to keep your dog from roaming through tall grasses and woods. If you have been out walking in such areas, have a look for small lumps on your dog’s skin (similar to a wart).

Prompt removal can prevent the spread of tick-borne illness. It can be difficult to remove the tick yourself without leaving part of the tick behind. It’s best to take your dog to the vet instead, who will be able to fully remove it with the correct equipment.

IMPORTANT: Skin problems can have many causes. If you notice any of the signs we’ve mentioned such as scratching and licking, consult your veterinarian. It can sometimes be a lengthy process getting to the bottom of the root cause but the sooner you see your vet, the sooner your dog will be back feeling comfortable again.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS