Disease and Illnesses of dogs – Skin Disease


Skin disease is a very common problem in dogs and can present in many forms. General symptoms include;

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Scratching or chewing the skin
  • Hair loss
  • Pustules and scabs on the skin

There are many ways of treating canine skin disease and the exact medication needed will depend on the underlying cause.

Below are the main categories of skin disease.

Skin infections cause red papules and pustules on the skin. There can sometimes be fluid exuding from the skin too. Skin infections, also called dermatitis or pyoderma are often caused by bacteria but can also be fungal in origin. The treatment is often antibiotics which can be given as oral tablets or sometimes as a topical cream. Medicated shampoos such as Malaseb may also be useful. Skin infections can be secondary to wounds or often allergic reactions. If they are recurrent then your vet may advise further investigation of the skin to see if there is an underlying cause such as an allergy.

Dogs can have allergies that manifest as skin disease and this includes ear disease. Your dog will appear itchy and the skin may well be inflamed and red. These allergies can be to a wide range of things such as pollens, food, dust mites or fleas. Dogs that are prone to allergic skin disease are said to be atopic. If possible, the best way to treat allergic skin disease is to remove the underlying cause but this is not always easy to determine. 

  • Steroids can be used to relieve the itch and reduce inflammation. Although they are effective, they do not treat the underlying cause and steroids, if used long term, can have some undesirable side effects. They are useful to break the cycle and give the skin a chance to heal.
  • Antihistamines such as Piriton can be used to control the allergies and these can be used long term if needed.
  • Cyclosporin is a drug that is used in atopic animals who are predisposed to developing allergic skin disease. Atopica is the name of the medication that contains the cyclosporine. It alters the skins immune system so that it doesn’t overreact to the substances causing the allergy. This is usually prescribed after further tests such as skin scrapes, biopsies or allergy testing have been done.

These are a very common cause of skin disease but also easy to prevent. Fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) can cause skin irritation, especially in animals who suffer from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) where they can have a severe reaction to just one flea bite. Mites can also cause skin disease, some of the most common being ear mites (Otodectes cynotis), Sarcoptes scabeii which causes mange and harvest mites (Neotrombicula autumnalis) which can cause skin lesions around the head and paws.

Treatment of parasitic problems involves application of topical spot on liquids such as Stronghold or Advocate, which are applied to the skin on the back of the neck. Monthly application of these products also acts as prevention of parasite infestations.

Immune mediated: 
Immune mediated disease occurs when the immune system starts attacking parts of the body and this can occur in the skin. Pemphigus folliaceus and Lupus are examples of immune mediated skin disease. Affected areas will be ulcerated and there may be a crusty appearance to the skin. This is often diagnosed after more common diseases have been ruled out and your vet will usually need to take a biopsy of the skin to make the diagnosis. Treatment involves medication that suppresses the immune system such as steroids or azothaprine. These are often long term treatments.

Manifestation of Internal disease:
All of the above are primary skin disease problems but other systemic diseases can also have secondary skin symptoms. Hormone imbalances especially have effects on the skin. Cushings, an excess of the steroid hormone cortisol, causes thinning of the skin and a sparse hair coat. Low thyroid hormone can cause hair loss which is often symmetrical. These skin changes can alert your vet to the presence of more severe underlying disease.

Above we have mentioned some specific treatments relating to specific disease but there are also general things that can be done to maintain healthy skin in dogs.

Regular topical flea treatment with products such as Stronghold or Advocate (these products are licensed as POM-V so will require a prescription from your vet) is very important as even if the main problem is not parasite related, any infestation will complicate matters and animals prone to skin disease are likely to react badly to skin parasites.

Supplements such as Evening Primrose Oil (Efavet) and Omega oils (Yumega) are really good and keeping the skin and coat in good condition and stabilising the skin, helping to control inflammation.

Shampoos such as Episoothe and Sebocalm, if used regularly, can help to keep the skin in good condition and if these are not enough then medicated Shampoos such as Malaseb, or Microbex (for which a wiritten prescription is required) may be recommended by your vet.

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