Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health, so it’s important to keep it in prime shape. When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes—including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these—may be to blame.
First check your pet’s ears and teeth, as these are often the source of odour-causing bacteria in pets. Simply keeping your dog clean by routinely bathing him may be all that is needed to stop the smell.
Perfumes for dogs are not likely to be of toxic concern to most pets when used according to label directions. However, dogs with dermal allergies can develop skin irritation and those with nasal allergies might be affected by the smell. If you wish to use pooch cologne, administer only as directed and consult a vet if the pet has any history of allergies.
If grooming proves fruitless and your dog smells consistently stinky, please consult your veterinarian to check for an underlying cause or infection.
Other Skin Problems
- Scratching, licking or chewing at skin
- Redness or inflammation
- Hot spots (one particular area where itching is intense)
- Round, scaly patches on the face and paws
- Dry, flaky or otherwise irritated skin
- Hair loss, bald patches
- Drainage of blood or pus
- Swellings, lumps or skin discoloration
- Rubbing face against furniture or carpeting
Causes of Skin Problems One of the following may be causing an abnormality with your dog’s skin and should be investigated by a veterinarian.
- Fleas. Bites and droppings from these pesky insects can irritate your dog’s skin, and some pets can have an allergic response to the saliva following a bite. Some dogs may also be sensitive to flea-treatment products; certain flea collars, for example, may cause redness and irritation around the neck.
- Ringworm. This highly contagious fungal infection can result in inflammation, scaly patches and hair loss. You’ll want to treat it immediately to avoid other pets and people in the household from becoming infected.
- Seasonal or food allergies. Your dog’s scratching may be due to her sensitivity to allergens from common substances like pollen, weeds, dust, mites, trees, mold or grasses. Many dogs, like people, get dry, flaky skin in the winter. Many dogs develop allergies to common ingredients in dog foods, such as beef, chicken, wheat, corn or soy. Even fillers and colorings can be seen as foreign by your dog’s immune system and lead to itching and rashes.
- Skin infections. Dogs can develop irritating bacterial or yeast infections when the skin is damaged due to the presence of another skin disorder.
- Sarcoptic mange. This skin disease caused by infection from the Sarcoptes scabei mite results in extreme itching and skin inflammation similar to an allergic response.
- 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.
- Stress or boredom. A dog may lick her skin (especially her legs) excessively for many reasons. Some lick when not given adequate opportunity for activity or mental stimulation.
- Metabolic or hormonal problems. Several common hormonal problems can cause change in skin color, coat consistency, thickness and distribution.
Knowing When to See the Vet
You should schedule an exam with your vet as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin or hair, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on his fur.
Your vet may perform diagnostic tests in order to find the cause of your dog’s symptoms, including a skin biopsy, test for ringworm, microscopic examination of the hair and skin for presence of parasites or infection, and blood tests to assess your dog’s overall health.
Mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites, common external parasites found in companion canines. Some mange mites are normal residents of your dog’s skin and hair follicles, while others are not. While most dogs live in harmony with their mites, never suffering any consequences, mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they reproduce.
There are two types of mange: “Sarcoptic” mange and “demodectic” mange. Sarcoptic mange(Sarcoptes scabei) is also known as canine scabies, and is caused by mites that are oval-shaped, light-colored and microscopic. This type of manage is transferred easily between hosts.
All dogs raised normally by their mothers possess demodectic mange (Demodex canis) mites on their skin, which are transferred from mother to pup during the first few days of life. There are three types of demodectic mange that affect canines:
- Localized cases occur when mites proliferate in one or two small, confined areas. This results in isolated scaly bald patches—usually on the dog’s face—creating a polka-dot appearance. This is considered a common ailment of puppies and dogs less than 18 months old. Approximately 90% of cases resolve with no treatment of any kind.
- Generalized cases, in contrast, affect a larger area of the dog’s skin. Secondary bacterial infections make this a very itchy, and often smelly, skin disease. This form of mange could also be a sign of a compromised immune system, hereditary problem, endocrine problem or other underlying health issue. Treatment depends on the age at which the dog developed the disease.
- Demodectic pododermatitis, one of the most resistant forms of mange, is confined to the foot and accompanied by bacterial infections. Deep biopsies are often required to locate these mites and make a proper diagnosis.
General Symptoms of Mange
- Demodectic mange tends to cause hair loss, bald spots, scabbing and sores, and accompanying bacterial infections can make for an itchy and uncomfortable disease.
- Sarcoptic mange tends to result in restlessness and frantic scratching, with symptoms that generally appear one week after exposure. It also can result in hair loss, reddened skin, body sores and scabs. The most commonly affected areas are a dog’s ears, elbows, face and legs, but it can rapidly spread to the entire body.
- Demodex mites can be transferred from one dog to another, but as long as the dog is healthy, the mites simply add to the dog’s natural mite population and no skin disease results. Isolation of dogs with even the most severe cases is still felt to be unnecessary. Though in rare circumstances, dog-to-dog contagion is possible. It is very rare for mites to be transmitted to humans or to cats.
- When sarcoptic mange is detected, the dog is typically isolated to prevent the condition from spreading to other pets and humans. When passed to humans, sarcoptic mange causes a rash of red bumps, similar to mosquito bites.
Take your dog to a veterinarian, who will perform a physical exam, analyze skin scrapings and try to confirm the presence of mange mites with a microscope. It can be difficult to identify mange mites if they’re buried deep in a dog’s skin, so your vet may rely on clinical signs or your pet’s history to make a final diagnosis.
Depending on the type of mange and the breed dog, medication may be given orally or topically by injection, shampoo or dip. Some infected dogs may also require special treatment for secondary skin infections. Treatment should be accompanied by skin scrapes every two weeks.
Please note: many skin treatments can be toxic to dogs, so check with your vet before beginning any treatment program for mange.
If your dog has been diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, you’ll need to thoroughly clean or replace his bedding and collar and treat all animals in contact. If you suspect a neighbor’s dog may be infected, keep your pets away to keep the disease at bay. Be sure to bring your dog to the vet periodically as recommended for skin scrapes to ensure the mites have been eradicated.
Hot spots are red, moist, hot and irritated lesions that are typically found on a dog’s head, hip or chest area that can become quite painful for the dog. Anything that irritates the skin and causes a dog to scratch or lick himself can start a hot spot, including allergic reactions, insect, mite or flea bites, poor grooming, underlying ear or skin infections and constant licking and chewing prompted by stress or boredom.
Dogs who are not groomed regularly and have matted, dirty coats can be prone to developing hot spots, as can dogs who swim or who are exposed to rain. Additionally, dogs with hip dysplasia or anal sac disease can start licking the skin on their hind-end. Thick-coated, longhaired breeds are most commonly affected.
Hot spots often grow at an alarming rate within a short period of time because dogs tend to lick, chew and scratch the affected areas, further irritating the skin.
Treating Hot Spots
You should visit your vet for an exam as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on his fur. Your vet will attempt to determine the cause of hot spots. Whether it is a flea allergy, an anal gland infection or stress, the underlying issue needs to be taken care of. Your veterinarian will prescribe the care and medications needed to make your dog more comfortable and allow the hot spots to heal. This may include the use of an Elizabethan collar to keep your dog from biting and licking existing lesions.
Treatment may also include the following:
- Shaving of the hair surrounding the lesion, which allows air and medication to reach the wound
- Cleansing the hot spot with a non-irritating solution
- Antibiotics and painkillers
- Medication to prevent and treat parasites
- Balanced diet to help maintain healthy skin and coat
- Dietary supplement containing essential fatty acids
- Corticosteroids or antihistamines to control itching
- Hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
Make sure your dog is groomed on a regular basis, and you may choose to keep your pet’s hair clipped short, especially during warmer months. Follow a strict flea control program as recommended by your veterinarian.
To keep boredom and stress at bay, make sure your dog gets adequate exercise and playtime with his human family or canine friends.