The skin is the largest organ of the body, leaving plenty of surface area for problems to crop up. In fact, skin allergies, non-cancerous skin masses and skin infections are among the top ten reasons dogs visit the vet according to a 2014 study.
Signs and symptoms of a possible skin issue include:
- Scratching, licking or chewing at skin
- Rubbing face or body against furniture or carpeting
- Dry, flaky, greasy or otherwise irritated skin
- Redness or inflammation
- Hair loss
- Hot spots
- Round, scaly patches
- Drainage of blood or pus
- Swelling or skin discoloration
If your dog has any combination of these symptoms, he or she should visit the vet for a dermatological workup.
Pinpointing the exact cause of the symptoms can be a little trickier, as many conditions have similar presentations on the skin. Common culprits among itchy, rashy pups are:
Fleas- When a flea bites its saliva causes an itchy reaction on the skin. If your dog happens to suffer from an all-too-common flea allergy, that reaction is far worse and can spread throughout the whole body. Fleas and their waste are visible to the naked eye, but fully eradicating a flea infestation can be difficult and costly. The best treatment is prevention.
Sarcoptic Mange- Sarcoptes scabei mites, otherwise known as Scabies are contagious to humans and other pets. They cause extreme itching and raised, inflamed rashes of the skin. The mites on the skin can be killed with a topical prescription cream, but eliminating the infestation includes washing every bit of clothing, carpeting and furniture in your home.
Demodectic Mange- Also known as Red Mange, Follicular Mange or simply Demodex, this overabundance of the Demodectic mite is most common in puppies and dogs with compromised immunity. Dogs without the immune strength to control the mites develop hair loss, sores and thickened, inflamed skin.
Ringworm- Despite the misleading name, ringworm is not a parasite at all. It is a highly contagious fungal infection that spreads easily between animals and humans. Ringworm causes itchy, scaly patches of hair loss and inflammation that sometimes have a “bullseye” appearance.
Seasonal or Food Allergies- Diagnosing allergies in dogs can be complicated and costly because the symptoms manifest in many different ways. In order to assist your veterinarian, be sure to bring a list of all foods your dog eats—including treats, bones and table food. The time of year your dog is most affected by skin irritations, any new bedding, change in laundry detergent or environmental factors should also be mentioned to rule out a contact allergy. Dry, itchy, and irritated skin related to unavoidable environmental allergies can also be remedied with a good skin & coat supplement to keep skin hydrated and coats healthy.
Skin Infections- Infections of the skin occur when opportunistic yeast or bacteria enter the body through abrasions on the skin caused by itching or a pre-existing skin condition. They can cause pain, itching, bleeding and often require powerful steroids and antibiotics to treat.
Grooming Products- Certain shampoos and grooming products can irritate your dog’s skin. Be sure to only use grooming products that are meant for use on dogs. If your pup is especially sensitive, ask your veterinarian to recommend products best suited to his or her skin type.
Stress or Boredom- Licking and chewing, especially at the legs, is a common anxiety response. Dogs experiencing stress from separation, changes in the home, etc may begin displaying this behavior. Dogs that are not getting enough mental stimulation or physical activity may also resort to self harm through itching or chewing.
Metabolic Diseases- The symptoms of metabolic diseases like Cushing’s and Addison’s, which affect the adrenal glands have very diverse symptoms that may include changes in the hair coat or discolorations of the skin.
Hormonal Problems- Imbalances in the reproductive hormones of some dogs can cause Alopecia, or generalized hair loss. Short-haired breeds like Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinschers are prone to Alopecia. Unspecified skin conditions, or dermatosis, can also sometimes be linked to hormonal imbalances.
Neurological Disorders- Certain disorders of the brain, spinal cord or nerves can lead to unexplained chewing or scratching of the skin. When the signals from the brain to the peripheral nerves become disturbed, it can lead to pain, itching or odd sensations that cause the dog to inflict damage to the skin. Other neurological diseases like Canine Distemper attack the brain and skin cells.
H/T to ASPCA