Flakes of dandruff and hair loss are common signs of poor skin health in dogs. Of the many disorders, diseases and parasites that can cause inflammation and itchiness, some are highly contagious and can spread to other animals or even people. These symptoms can also indicate poor nutrition or dysfunction of internal organs and glands.
Skin infections and infestations will continue to worsen if left untreated, turning a local problem into a general disorder. The discomfort also compels your dog to overgroom and dig hard with his claws, which causes further damage to the skin. Contact your veterinarian or schedule a check-up to diagnose and treat your pet's skin problems.
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You may not notice a flea or two, but you will definitely notice when they arrive by the dozens or hundreds. Infestations of these tiny, mobile parasites can get out of hand quickly, since females start laying eggs within a day of finding a host, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Flea bites are extremely irritating, which prompts your pet to lick or scratch obsessively to relieve the discomfort.
Some dogs are particularly sensitive to flea saliva and may experience an allergic reaction when bitten. This makes the damage from bites far worse than normal.
Mites are even smaller than fleas, so you may not be able to see them without the aid of a magnifying glass. The Sarcoptes scabiei mite is highly contagious between canines, while infestations of the demodectic mite are associated with immune deficiency. Both sarcoptic and demodectic mange are uncomfortable for your pet. Inflammation and itching may appear in a limited area before spreading across your dog's body.
Controlling these tiny pests requires patience and persistence. Parasite control often hinges upon application of a preventative or other ongoing topical management to kill eggs and larvae. Your vet may also recommend medicated shampoo and soothing ointment to control skin irritation. Vacuum the house and clean out fabrics that may be infested, like blankets and dog beds.
Bacterial infections, or pyoderma, develop following skin damage or immune system dysfunction. They often appear alongside parasites or allergies as the dog breaks his skin from excessive scratching, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Bumps and pustules may also emerge from the damaged areas. A course of antibiotics for several weeks is the standard treatment for pyoderma.
The ringworm fungus is an opportunistic pathogen that preys upon animals and people alike. It can spread after contact with infected skin and may linger around the home or in sheltered outdoor areas for over a year. Infection produces circular lesions of dry, hairless skin all over the body. Application of topical medication is the standard treatment for ringworm and other superficial fungal infections.
Keep dogs with ringworm away from other pets and family members. Wear gloves when touching your pet and wash your hands thoroughly, especially after applying medicine.
Fluctuation in hormone levels has a profound impact on your dog's overall health, including the quality of his skin and coat. An oversupply of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands, also known as Cushing's disease, is a common disorder in canines. In addition to hair loss and skin damage, the disease also increases appetite and thirst.
Some dogs with Cushing's disease struggle to stand or walk. Blood clots can also appear in the lungs, leading to labored or rapid breathing.
Dysfunction of the thyroid gland also impacts skin health. Hypothyroidism occurs when the gland becomes smaller or damaged, which lowers hormone production, according to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Thyroid hormone imbalance is usually managed with oral medicine administered on a routine basis indefinitely.
Allergies are enough to make anyone miserable, including your pet. Many canines are sensitive to certain foods and environmental irritants, like dust or pollen. These substances trigger a harmful reaction that prompts the dog's immune system to attack skin and other tissue. The skin damage from allergies also increases the risk of a bacterial or fungal infection.
Allergy symptoms are managed by identifying allergens and minimizing exposure to them. Triggers are diagnosed by changing to a hypoallergenic diet and examining the local environment for irritants, as instructed by your veterinarian.
Vacuum your home once a week and clean your dog's bedding to reduce contact with allergens.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- ASPCA: Allergies
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Cushing's Disease
- ASPCA: Skin Problems
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Hypothyroidism
- American Veterinary Medical Association: External Parasites
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Pyoderma in Dogs
- Mar Vista Animal Medical Center in Los Angeles, California: Ringworm