Dealing with Dog Skin Problems

Dog skin problems are a very common category of complaint, as any experienced dog lover will already know. Their skin can be finicky about every aspect of their surroundings.

In fact, dog skin problems are so common, some dog owners don’t realize it is a problem. Such owners ignore the itchy behavior, thinking it’s normal. But if your dog spends tons of time scratching, nipping and biting at his parts, then licking the affected area afterward, there’s likely a reason. It’s also likely that the cause of the itchy skin is something simple – it might not even require a trip to the vet.

Dog Skin Problems – Fleas

Fleas are everywhere, and that’s why they’re one of the most common dog skin problems. The most common place for fleas to roost is right above your dog’s tail. If that’s where he spends most of his time biting himself, you’re in luck, because minor infestations are not hard to cure.

Over-the-counter solutions exist for preventing and curing flea attacks. Typically you put a few drops on your dog’s neck, where he can’t lick it off. I prefer to use Frontline because it’s water resistant, and let’s face it, sweat is water. That means Frontline doesn’t interfere with my play time and exercise with the pups. Advantage is a bit less expensive, though – not a bad choice for apartment dwellers.

An important note – no matter what, don’t apply these medications more often than directed on the box. These are, after all, mild poisons! Used as directed, there’s no risk to your dog, but applying more than the recommended amount, or applying it more often than directed, is a risk. The instructions for Frontline say to use it once every month, but if your dog likes to swim in salt water, it’s ok to use it every 3 weeks – no more often than that.


If fleas continue to be a skin problem for your dog for too long, the fleas may become immune to the medicine you’ve been using. All it takes is one “weirdo” flea having babies, and you’ve got a whole generation of the buggers that suddenly just won’t die. In that case, you can switch to something like Promeris. It’s unique, uses a different active ingredient, and so the mutant strain of fleas won’t be immune to that. Note that Promeris is poisonous to cats.

If your dog’s flea problem is serious, Capstar is your heavy artillery against skin parasites. Half an hour after you feed your dog a Capstar pill, the fleas will start dying in droves. I feed my dogs Capstar pills in a hot dog every time I take them out to socialize at the dog park.

Finally, there’s the problem of treating your home. Every female flea is fertile, and every one of them can spawn around 30 new fleas a day, most of which fall off your dog into your carpet or furniture. For that, there’s Borax. Borax is a brand of boric acid and that stuff will dissolve a flea in no-time. Sprinkle it into your carpet, scrub it in with a rough brush or just drive it around with your foot. Wait a little while for the parasites to meet their demise, and then vacuum up the Borax very thoroughly.

Don’t waste your time with flea shampoos and dips. They irritate your dog’s skin more effectively than they kill fleas. You don’t want a solution that causes more skin problems than it cures!

Dog Skin Problems – Mange

A case of mange will cause a dog to easily bite and lick off patches of his fur.

There are different kinds of the mange parasite. Every dog is born with a few demodex mites clinging to his body, but the immune system quickly purges them. However, if the puppy’s immune system is weak, then skin problems can develop from the lingering mange.

Scabies is another type, and unlike demodex, scabies is a contagious dog skin problem. This is the kind your dog might come home with if you adopt a mangy adult.

Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your dog has mange by inspecting a skin sample under a microscope. Treating mange is as simple as a change of diet and a special shampoo. Some people report that dandruff shampoo meant for humans, is perfect for this – check with your veterinarian to make sure that’s a good idea for your dog’s skin and the specific kind of mange he has. Meanwhile, your dog’s diet needs to include fish oil or something rich in fatty acids, and rich in vitamins.

Dog Skin Problems – Allergies

Dogs can have all kinds of allergies, including skin allergies. Tracking down the specific allergen takes a bit of detective work – is it some fabric, some food, a shampoo, something carried in flea saliva …?

There are a lot of things that can create an allergic reaction in your dog’s skin. Problems can include:

  • Moisture. Dogs that love to swim might not be getting dried-off well enough, or there might be something in the water itself. This can cause bacteria to grow under the fur, causing eczema.
  • Pesticides and other chemicals. Not much needs to be said – some dogs are allergic to common, technically-non-toxic chemicals.
  • Yard plants might be the problem. The textures on grasses, grass seeds, etc – these will all cause certain dogs skin problems. Pollen is another possibility.
  • Common household mites. Dust mites are normally a non-issue, but some dogs are different.

Long story short, tracking down environmental causes for your dog’s skin problems can take a lot of trial and error. You might just want to go straight to the veterinarian, to solve the problem sooner. Blood testing will determine what your dog is allergic to, and that will make it much easier to track down the specific parts of his daily routine causing the skin problem.

Finally, there are dogs who are allergic to the sun. This is common especially in purebred dogs who are all-white, pale or albino. The thing to do for a dog with sunlight allergies is to buy them a wardrobe to keep direct sunlight off their skin. That covers prevention – for times when first aid is needed, Betegen is a good product to sooth the burning.

Dog Skin Problems – Dog Food Allergies

If your dog’s skin problems are being caused by dog food allergies, you’ll see symptoms like shaking his head because of ear infections, chewing at the pads of his paws, and scratching at his own face. The food allergy might be to his dog food, or treats, or maybe even related to table scraps he’s been getting.

The cause of skin problems related to your dog’s food, usually boils down to the protein. If you think this could be the problem, then the way to find out is to try a new kind of dog food that has a different kind of protein. You won’t see any improvement for up to four months after making the switch, and you must withhold any treats and table scraps or else you won’t really find out if the food change solves the dog’s skin problem.

You can confirm the ear infection by sniffing his ear – if it smells chalky, that’s an infection. To solve the ear infections, rinse your dog’s ears out with Chlorhexiderm Flush, which is an over-the-counter medication carried by pet stores. (A side note, not related to dog food allergies – you may want to use Chlorhexiderm every time your dog is bathed or goes swimming, for preventing infections.)

If there’s a dog food allergy at work, there will be some pink-colored inflammation inside your dog’s mouth, probably at the jaw line. Spray that with Betegen. Fitting your dog’s paws with baby socks will prevent chewing.

For a severe food allergy, your veterinarian might prescription your dog Prednisolone. If so, follow your vet’s instructions carefully about how to ramp-up the dosage. Be aware that your dog will need to make a lot more bathroom trips when on Prednisolone. Another prescription, that might be given to fight severe ear infections, is Mometamax.

Dog Skin Problems – Flea Allergies

Aside from being nasty little nibblers, fleas can also present allergens that lead to dog skin problems. The physical signs will look just like a rash, with patchy scabs and welts. Your dog will probably attack his fur as if there were fleas to fight, even when the fleas are gone and only the allergic reaction remains. The skin problems can start from just a single flea bite – it doesn’t take an infestation.

Applying aloe is a good move for soothing the itch of a skin problem caused by flea allergies. So long as you’ve ruled out other causes, there’s no need to visit your vet. Just take the proper steps I talked about above to rid your home and protect your dog from fleas, then apply aloe, and then you can safely wait for your dog’s skin problem to go away.

Dog Skin Problems – Summary

Take care of your dog’s skin problems at the first sign. Constant scratching is the least of the trouble. Mental health can suffer, and as I’ve mentioned above, sometimes the skin problem is accompanied by ear infections and other issues.

Learn all about dog training, or read about other dog health complaints.

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