Dermatitis in Dogs

dog on a bed

Canine dermatitis can be caused by many factors, ranging from parasites to allergies. Some forms are complicated to treat, which means that pet owners should do their best to protect their canine friends so that they don’t develop even the smallest sign of dermatitis to begin with.

In today’s article, we’re looking at the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of dermatitis in dogs and how you can prevent it.

What is Dermatitis?

Dermatitis can be defined as the inflammation of any layer of a dog’s skin. By contrast, dermatosis refers to a degeneration of a skin layer that might or might not be associated with inflammation.

There are several different causes to this health condition, and they range from flea bite hypersensitivity to food allergies. In both of these cases, dogs develop pruritus, and because they are so itchy, they scratch themselves to the point that they create small wounds and therefore, possible entryways for various pathogens – which can complicate the dermatitis case even more.

Dermatitis can sometimes be caused by other conditions, such as ringworm, mange (or scabies) or more complex health issues such as Cushing’s disease.

Atopic dermatitis, which is a more complicated form, can affect specific breeds. Some examples are the following:

Atopic dermatitis is the most difficult to treat of all, and that’s because the dog might be predisposed to it genetically and might have also developed it as a result of several different factors – microorganisms like bacteria or yeast, flea bites, improper hygienic conditions, and sometimes even changes in their behavior.

Very anxious dogs can develop one specific type of dermatitis where they incessantly lick their forelegs when their owners are away from home, for example.

Needless to say, the mechanical action itself, combined with the fact that there are germs inside the oral cavity of any dog can lead to an extremely complicated case of local dermatitis.

Signs of Dermatitis in Dogs

The symptoms can vary significantly from one dog to the next, depending on the severity of the condition and also what has caused it.

Generally, pet owners notice itching and excessive scratching, but there could be other signs, too, such as the presence of hair and skin on the floor, changes in the hair/skin color, or rashes that can be seen in sensitive areas like the dog’s armpits or underbelly area.

Atopic dermatitis can have some specific symptoms, such as the ones listed below:

  • Crusts
  • Skin bumps
  • Thick skin because of recurring dermatitis
  • Itchiness in the lower abdomen area or between the toes
  • Rashes on the ears, around the mouth, or in the bottom area

Flea allergy dermatitis is somewhat less specific in terms of the clinical signs that it causes. In this case, pets develop extreme itchiness and can scratch their body to the point that they hurt themselves.

Applying spot-on solutions against external parasites often helps the dog calm down in a period of 2-3 days, but some will exhibit itchiness for a week or more.

Dogs with food allergies and subsequent dermatitis can show mixed clinical signs, in that some might indeed relate to their skin health, whereas others might show symptoms of digestive distress such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or vomiting. In most cases, dogs that have this type of dermatitis are itchy in their ears, feet, and chest area.

How is Canine Dermatitis Diagnosed?

The veterinarian will do their best to determine what has caused the dog to develop dermatitis. They could use intradermal skin testing, a skin scrape (if they suspect that the dog has mange/scabies), or even collect a piece of tissue for a biopsy.

Generic tests such as blood work are almost always necessary because they can reveal whether the dog is suffering from Cushing’s disease, which can be a cause of dermatitis.

If no pathogen or specific cause is detected, there are several ways of going about things. For example, the vet might recommend an elimination diet to see whether the dog doesn’t actually have a food allergy.

There are also allergy tests available for various substances which might or might not be present in the pet’s food. Some animals can be allergic to various materials or chemicals in their living space.

Can Canine Dermatitis be Treated?

Not all forms of canine dermatitis can be treated as easily. Several options do exist, but a clear diagnosis can lead to correct therapy.

The treatment can range from anything like antihistamines and antibiotics/antifungals/parasite control products to medicated baths, supplements for skin health, and immunotherapy.

Corticosteroids might have to be used in the more severe forms of dermatitis simply because, despite them being somewhat risky, these medications are extremely effective when it comes to combating inflammation and skin irritation.

However, they are not recommended for diabetic dogs or those that don’t have a fully capable immune system on account of auto-immune diseases.

Preventing Canine Dermatitis

Practicing good flea control is one way of preventing canine dermatitis, but it is only limited to one form that dogs can develop. Ideally, you should not feed your pooch a diet containing possible allergens such as wheat, rice, soy, or other such ingredients.

Unfortunately, some dogs are extremely sensitive to certain protein sources, too, so you might have to switch their diets on a regular basis to prevent them from becoming allergic to all of them.

For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken, you can switch to turkey, but you should give them turkey-based meals today, then salmon-based ones tomorrow, and lamb ones the day after. Variety is key when it comes to preventing a food allergy.

Using pet-friendly cleaners and other pet-safe cleaning products is another way to prevent dermatitis.

Dogs that are bathed frequently also have a much higher risk of developing dermatitis simply because during the procedure, their pet owners and the products they use strip them of the oils that they are supposed to have on their skin and that act as protectants against possible pathogens. Don’t wash your dog’s coat if it’s not truly necessary – some vets advise bathing dogs only once every three months or so.

If you care for one of the dog breeds that we’ve noted to be more likely to get atopic dermatitis, make sure you take your pup to the vet clinic at least twice a year for check-ups – your vet might discover something you might not have noticed. Early diagnosis is important and can make a difference when it comes to treating canine dermatitis.

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