Common Skin Diseases in Dogs

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Common Skin Diseases in Dogs

Have you noticed your dog licking their paws frequently? Scratching behind their ears? Chewing at the area above or below their tail? Licking under their back legs? Perhaps you’ve seen areas of red skin with a rash, bumps, or sores. Many skin diseases cause discomfort and can even be painful for dogs, preventing them from getting rest and causing owners anxiety because they want to help their dogs get relief. Continue reading to learn about common skin problems and dermatitis in dogs and when it’s time contact a veterinarian.

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Common Skin Diseases in Puppies

The following are skin diseases, dermatitis, or problems most often seen in puppies or young dogs. Some of these skin problems can also be seen in adult dogs.

1. Puppy Vaginitis

Puppy vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina in female puppies of unknown cause. Symptoms include mild redness around the vulva with white or yellow discharge that can be moist, sticky or dry, and crusty. Puppies may scoot or lick their vulva excessively due to the irritation. They may also urinate more frequently. For mild cases, good hygiene may be all that is needed. In more serious cases, oral antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories may be prescribed by your vet to treat infection and pain associated with a secondary bacterial skin infection.

2. Impetigo

Impetigo is a common bacterial skin infection in puppies. Puppies develop fluid-filled blisters that may open and crust over. The blisters or bumps on the dog’s skin often occur on the belly where there is little to no hair. Impetigo can often be treated with a topical solution but in some cases may need additional veterinary care and treatment.

Common Skin Diseases in Puppies and Adult Dogs

Dog & Puppy Skin Problems

Adult dogs can experience many of the same skin issues as puppies, including fleas and ticks, ringworm, and mange mites (especially recurring demodectic mange). The following are common skin diseases seen in puppies and adult dogs:


Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a type of fungus that affects the skin, hair, and nails of dogs and can also be transmitted to people. Ringworm infection causes hair loss and itchiness with scaly skin and dandruff. The skin can also get red or darker in color and develop a secondary infection. Treatment requires persistent and appropriate medication, time, monitoring, and patience as well as cleaning the environment.

External (Skin) Parasites of Dogs

The good news about external parasites on puppies/young dogs and adult dogs is that they can be treated. However, some of these parasites can be serious, spread disease to other pets or even to people, and have serious health and even fatal consequences, especially for puppies.

1. Fleas

Fleas are readily apparent, as they can often be seen on the skin. Puppies and dogs will often scratch and may have bumps under the fur from flea bites or a secondary skin infection from excessive scratching. Pets can get intestinal worms called tapeworms from fleas. Puppies with overwhelming numbers of fleas can become anemic, as fleas are blood-sucking parasites, and if left untreated can result in death. Washing your dog with a mild shampoo and using a flea comb can help remove fleas from the fur. Most of the flea life cycle occurs off the dog and in the environment where they live, so treat the environment as well as all pets living in the household for fleas.

2. Ticks

Ticks spread disease by passing bacteria, viruses, and parasites to their host. Some of the symptoms of a tick-borne illness include fever, headaches, chills, and muscle aches. It’s important to remove ticks from your dog right away to decrease the chances of disease transmission. Always consult a vet before applying any type of flea/tick prevention on your puppy or adult dog.

3. Mites/Mange

Demodex, Sarcoptes, and Cheyletiella are three different types of mites seen in dogs. These mites cause skin problems including intense itching, hair loss, redness of the skin, scabs, sores, secondary skin infections, and flaky, dry skin also known as “walking dandruff”.

  • · Dogs with Demodectic mange, also known as demodicosis or “red mange”, can develop localized mild infection in one specific area or generalized demodicosis affecting larger areas of skin.
  • · Sarcoptic mange, also called scabies, is a highly contagious skin disease that affects dogs and can temporarily affect people.
  • · Known as “walking dandruff”, Cheyletiella causes symptoms including flaky, dry skin.

Treatment differs depending upon which type of mite is diagnosed and includes topical treatment, medicated baths and dips, injections, oral medications including antiparasitics, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. Some dogs will need a combination of treatments to effectively eliminate mange mites. Always consult a vet before applying any type of topical treatment on your puppy or dog.

4. Dog Lice

Lice are parasites that live on dogs, are species-specific (meaning that you cannot get them from your dog), and cause itching, inflammation, pain, and hair loss which can also lead to more severe health issues. Treatment often includes clipping the fur, medicated shampoos, and topical treatments as recommended by your vet. Typically, treatments are repeated regularly for a month, and cleaning all grooming tools, washing bedding, leashes, collars, and clothing are required to prevent reinfection.

Common Skin Diseases in Adult Dogs

Adult dogs can experience many of the same skin issues as puppies. In addition, adult dogs also develop skin problems including allergies, hot spots, lick granulomas, dermatitis, yeast infections, seborrhea, anal gland problems, hair loss, thinning or thickening of the skin, change in color such as loss of pigment or darkening of the skin, dry, flaky skin, skin rash on the belly, eczema, skin tumors, and immune diseases.

Alopecia in Dogs

Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss and is the most common skin problem seen in dogs. Alopecia is not a disease but rather a symptom of a disease or problem. Causes include external parasites such as fleas, ticks, sarcoptic/demodectic/Cheyletiella mites, lice, as well as bacterial or fungal skin infections, allergies, hormonal problems including thyroid disease, Cushing's disease, Addison’s disease, and more.

If you notice signs of hair loss or alopecia in your dog, schedule an appointment with your vet to determine the cause so that the appropriate treatment can be given and your dog can get relief from their symptoms.

Dog Skin Allergies

Skin Allergies, also known as atopic dermatitis or atopy (and sometimes compared to eczema in people), is a common skin disease in dogs with symptoms usually occurring from 18 months to 4 years of age. Signs include licking their paws excessively, scratching, itchy and inflamed ears often with a secondary skin infection, hair loss, red and scabby skin, dandruff and poor hair coat, inflamed anal glands with scooting and frequent licking, and secondary skin infections including red spots and oozing pustules.

Treatment depends on the particular allergen(s) causing the symptoms and ranges from medication, food trials, elimination diets, frequent bathing, supplements, or Allergen Specific Immunotherapy.

Hot Spots or Moist Dermatitis

Hot spots are areas of inflamed, infected skin with redness, irritation, clear discharge, and often quite painful. Dogs will lick or chew the area excessively and owners may notice that the area is warm or hot to the touch and often gets worse quickly.

If found early and not yet painful, hot spots can be treated at home by clipping the fur around the affected area, gently cleaning using mild soap and water, and carefully drying the skin. Large, painful hot spots will need veterinary care with dogs often needing sedation to clip and clean the area and administer pain medication and antibiotics as needed. Elizabethan collars (cones) help prevent dogs from licking the area and allow it to heal faster.

Dog Scratching

Acral Lick Dermatitis

Acral lick dermatitis, also known as lick granuloma, is a self-inflicted skin lesion. Dogs continually lick at one area of their leg causing hair loss, sores, and thickening of the skin. The area appears raised, red, hairless, and circular in shape. Often there is no underlying reason for this to happen and may be attributed to boredom, anxiety, or attention-seeking behavior.

There is no one treatment but rather many options to determine what works best for a particular dog such as topical treatments, oral medications, and injections. More involved treatments include frequently bandaging the area and/or placing an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking and allow the area to heal, or sometimes even surgery. In some cases, dogs need behavioral modification training techniques as well as antidepressant and/or antianxiety medications.

Yeast (Fungal) Dermatitis in Dogs

Yeast dermatitis, also known as Malassezia dermatitis or infection, often happens secondary to another underlying disease such as allergic dermatitis. Seen in the skin folds of dogs, under the armpits, under the back legs, and in the ears, yeast dermatitis Infection results in redness of the skin with hyperkeratosis or thickening, and hyperpigmentation or darkening of the skin. Generalized skin yeast infections tend to be itchy and infected dogs will scratch excessively.

Most cases of skin yeast infection can be treated with topical medicated antifungal shampoos, sprays, or creams. Severe cases of skin yeast infection will require oral medication, but it’s important to note that not all antifungal medicines are effective against yeast. Proper identification and diagnosis are needed for the treatment to be effective. The majority of canine Malassezia dermatitis cases are secondary to an underlying condition, and addressing the primary disease is essential in completely controlling the infection.

Cornification Disorders

Cornification disorders, also known as seratoseborrheic disorders (formerly known as seborrhea), is a skin problem with signs of hair loss, dandruff, dry, scaly, waxy haircoat with an unpleasant, foul smell, and dark, thickened skin. These signs are due to an underlying cause such as bacterial or fungal skin infection, skin parasites including fleas or mange mites, hormone disorders, allergies, diet, liver disease, immune-mediated diseases, and cancer. If an underlying cause cannot be determined, cornification disorders may be due to primary causes.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause or management of a primary cause as determined by your vet. This can include antibiotics, supplements, topical treatments including medicated shampoos and conditioners as recommended by your vet.

Anal Gland Problems in Dogs

Anal sac disorders can be caused by inflammation, impaction, or tumors. Anal sacs are small scent-producing sacs that sit just inside the anus. Dogs often “scoot” when these glands become over-filled, impacted, infected, or inflamed. Other signs of anal sac problems include licking frequently under or near the base of the tail, halitosis, or bad breath, fishy odor from around the tail area, crying when passing stool or having difficulty passing stool, bleeding from the anus, or a lump/bump on either side of the anus.

Causes of anal gland problems include allergies, stress, constipation, diet, intestinal worms, cancer, and more.

Speak to your vet about treatment options for underlying diseases such as diarrhea or allergies. Follow your vet’s advice about how often your pet’s glands need to be expressed and other preventive measures you can do to maintain healthy anal glands in your dog.

Dandruff: Dry, Flaky Skin

Like humans, dandruff formation in dogs can either be a primary condition or a secondary sign of an underlying disease. Dandruff is the abnormal accumulation of dead skin cells on your dog’s fur. The most common symptoms associated with dandruff are excessive scratching, along with hair loss. Dandruff formation has several possible causes, and the success of treatment ultimately depends on identifying and addressing the underlying cause.

Treatments include medicated shampoos, supplements, diet, topical treatments including treatment for external parasites such as mites, or hormonal treatments.

Skin Tumors

Skin tumors including histiocytomas, mast cell tumors, lipomas can appear anywhere on your dog, from nose to tail. Abnormal growths seen on the outside of their body such as the eyelids, tail, and between the toes, may be due to painful ingrown hairs, splinters, or other foreign objects.

Senior pets develop lumps and bumps that may be benign (non-cancerous) while others can be malignant cancer. Other causes of lumps and bumps on the skin include localized infections, fluid-filled cysts, hematomas, mammary tumors, testicular tumors, and eyelid tumors.

If you notice a lump or bump, contact your vet to determine the cause and appropriate treatment if needed. Growths due to infections often need antibiotics, pain medications, and possibly surgery. Benign tumors may simply need to be monitored for increasing size, as they can cause problems depending on the location. Your vet may recommend surgical removal if the tumor is growing. Sometimes when caught early, cancer can be treated (including surgery and chemotherapy), allowing your pet good quality time with minimal to no discomfort.

Dog Skin Tumors

Immune-Mediated Skin Disease in Dogs

Immune disorders in dogs such as Pemphigus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE) can be described as autoimmune diseases where a dog’s own immune system is attacking other cells in the body. These three particular diseases affect the skin but can also affect other organs in the body.

Symptoms of immune disorders that affect the skin include loss of hair, scabs, and open sores around the head, face, and ears. Over time, these can spread to other parts of the body including the paws, genitals, and rectum. Additionally, dogs may show signs of loss of pigment or color of their skin, bumps, blisters, and crusty skin as well as swollen joints, limbs, and lymph nodes.

Diagnosing a dog with an immune disorder includes a complete physical exam by a vet, blood work, and other recommended testing to rule out other diseases. Accurate diagnoses require a surgical skin biopsy.

Treatment options involve suppression of the immune system. Topical treatments can help with skin lesions. Certain supplements can also help improve the skin. Avoid sunlight if this worsens the condition. Treatment is often given for at least 6 months and some dogs can stop medications eventually while others need treatment long-term.

Read more:

Elbow Calluses in Dogs

Melanoma in Dogs

How to Prevent Flystrike in Dogs and Cats

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Published: 11/5/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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