Dog Skin Conditions

Dogs suffer from skin conditions with greater frequency than cats. Although most canine skin issues aren”t life threatening, they can make your dog seriously uncomfortable. Some causes include:

  • allergies
  • chyletiella mites
  • fleas
  • hot spots (bacterial infections)
  • ticks.


Many canine skin irritations result from allergies. While humans tend to have both respiratory responses and skin reactions to allergies, dogs allergies are most often present as skin conditions.

Allergies in dogs may be caused by direct contact with an allergy trigger, such as through ingestion or inhalation of the allergen. Allergies to flea saliva and dust mites commonly cause problems in dogs.

Determining exactly what causes allergies in dogs takes some detective work. Possible culprits include:

  • cleaning agents
  • dairy products
  • flea saliva
  • food ingredients
  • gluten
  • house dust mites
  • lawn chemicals
  • pollens.

Once the allergen is identified, the best treatment is to prevent your dog from coming into contact with the allergen. Corticosteroids may provide some relief, as can antihistamines and medicated dog shampoos. Ask your vet for the best methods of treating allergy-caused skin conditions.

Cheyletiella (Walking Dandruff)

Cheyletiella describes skin conditions caused by large cheyletiella mites. Because cheyletiella mites are quite large and easily visible, cheyletiella is often called “Walking Dandruff. “

Cheyletiella cause a number of conditions in dogs, including:

  • crusting
  • dandruff
  • papules, spots and small swollen areas
  • pruritus, (itchiness)
  • redness and skin inflammation
  • scales and scruff
  • walking dandruff, large populations of Cheyletiella mites on skin.

Cheyletiella mites can also infect cats, rabbits and other small pets. While cheyletiella cannot live on humans, dog owners can suffer from rashes if bitten by cheyletiella mites.

Treating cheyletiella requires bathing the dog in mite-killing shampoos, usually containing selenium sulphide. To prevent re-infection, spray your house with an insecticide spray. As cheyletiella mites also infest dog bedding and toys, replace each of these, as well.


Demodex mange is one of the more serious skin issues to afflict dogs. While demodex itself isn”t serious, it indicates a suppressed immune system and the possible presence of cancer.

Only ten percent of demodex cases in adult dogs are due to other conditions. While demodex starts off as a localized, less serious condition in older dogs, as it becomes generalized, it poses a serious threat to their lives. Demodex is not contagious to healthy animals.

Because females transmit this condition to their pups, all dogs carry demodex. Consequently, young puppies may develop some demodex symptoms as their immune systems cope with the mange. However, this is rare and not usually a concern in young puppies.

If demodex does arise, puppies may experience hair loss and limited itchiness, usually around the head. Although localized demodex tends to resolve itself over time, bathing helps get rid of this condition in puppies.

In contrast to the localized form, the generalized form of demodex can be fatal. Generalized demodex causes a number of conditions, including:

  • hair loss
  • itchiness
  • pyoderma (pus-filled “acne “)
  • scales.

Treatment of generalized demodex in pups requires anti-mite shampoos, degreasing shampoos and antibiotics.


Fleas are among the most common causes of canine skin issues, either due to irritation from their bites or allergic reactions to flea saliva. Treatment involves:

  • insecticide sprays to kill fleas in the house
  • replacing infected dog bedding
  • shampooing with flea-killing products
  • topical medications, such as Advantage
  • vacuuming to remove eggs from the environment
  • veterinary insecticides.

Hot Spots

Hot spots (also known as pyotraumatic dermatitis, sometimes called wet eczema or summer sores, are some of the nastiest looking skin conditions to affect dogs. Redness and oozing most often accompany hot spots, but in general, hot spots are moist, raw skin patches and are usually caused by a bacterial infection of a cut or rash.

Because hot spots cause severe itching, they may cause a dog to injure itself from excessively biting or licking at the point of irritation. Sometimes hair can mat over the sore, which can disguise the size and severity of the hot spot. But dogs that have hot spots are typically highly agitated and could even snap at you if you get near the hot spot. While oral and topical antibiotics cure hot spots, antihistamines may simply provide relief from symptoms.

The best defense against hot spots is to frequently brush your dog and keep him well groomed. Matted hair traps moisture, promoting bacterial skin troubles. Hot spots, when treated properly, are not cause for concern but they should never be ignored.

Treating Hot Spots and Preventing Hot Spots

  • Cleanse: It”s good to cleanse the spots with cool water and a gentle, over-the-counter cleanser.
  • Cool Compress: Two to 4 times a day treat the hot spots with a wet, cool washcloth.
  • Creams: Some advocate applying a little over-the-counter human hydrocortisone cream to the hot spots. But check with your vet before doing so. You”ll want to make sure your dog won”t lick the spots when they are covered with cream.
  • Medication: Your vet may prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat the spots depending on the size severity of the hot spots.
  • Prevention: The best way to prevent hot spots is to prevent is to be sure the dog can”t lick or scratch the spots in the first place. Try an Elizabethan collar.
  • Shave: Nothing dries out the spots better than shaving the area that is affected.


Ticks are small parasites that attach to the dog”s skin, where it feeds off the animal”s blood. Left alone, ticks eventually fall off. As ticks can carry and transmit disease to your dog, prevent infestation by using tick sprays and shampoos regularly on your dog.

If a tick bites your dog, removing it can be difficult because the tick buries its legs in your dog”s skin. Once the parasite is removed, pieces of leg remain embedded in the skin, resulting in infected sores. Spraying the tick with insecticide will prevent its legs from becoming embedded in your dog”s skin. When it dies, the tick simply falls off.


Scabies are mites, scientifically known as sarcoptes scabei, that burrow into the dog”s skin. Dogs can contract scabies through contact with infected bedding and/or feces or interaction with an infected animal, either another dog or a fox (Foxes are a common source of scabies for domestic dogs).

Symptoms of scabies begin with itchiness at the ears and the dog”s elbows. As the mites spread, itchiness becomes more generalized, causing the skin behind the ears, in the groin and in the armpits to become thickened and inflamed.

Scabies is one of the few irritations that have a distinct smell. Many pet owners describe the smell of scabies as similar to mouse urine.

Treatment for scabies includes cream containing permethrin, which is safe for use on all breeds. Scabies requires several monthly treatments before symptoms disappear. Humans can also get rashes from scabies, although these are usually localized to the arms.

Finally, a note on licking and skin conditions: People often believe that when a dog licks them the tongue is cleaning, or even disinfecting, the region. The fact is that licking often makes skin conditions worse. In fact, about 90 percent of canine conditions would clear up by themselves if not aggravated by excessive licking. When dogs have skin conditions, if possible, prevent them from licking affected area to help them heal faster.