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Our Guide to Common Skin Issues in Dogs

9 min read

Our Guide to Common Skin Issues in Dogs

Dog owners often struggle with various skin issues that can affect their pets' health and comfort. Recognizing and addressing these problems early is crucial for effective management and prevention. This guide aims to educate pet owners about the common skin ailments in dogs, outlining their causes, symptoms, and the best treatment options available.

Fleas and Ticks

Fleas and ticks are among the most prevalent external parasites affecting dogs, posing significant risks to their health and well-being. These parasites thrive by feeding on your pet's blood, leading to a range of uncomfortable and potentially serious health issues.

Symptoms of Flea and Tick Infestations: The primary indication of flea or tick presence is intense itching and scratching. Dogs may bite or lick their skin excessively, leading to redness, inflammation, and even hair loss. Physical signs include the sighting of fleas moving on the skin or ticks embedded in the dog’s coat. Secondary infections can occur as the skin becomes damaged and more susceptible to bacteria.

Health Implications: Beyond skin irritation, fleas can cause anemia, especially in young puppies, due to blood loss from multiple bites. Ticks are notorious for transmitting diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis, which can lead to more severe health complications including joint pain, lethargy, and more serious neurological problems.

Preventive Measures: Effective management of fleas and ticks involves regular preventive treatments. Options include topical solutions applied directly to the dog’s skin, oral medications that disrupt the life cycle of fleas and kill ticks, and flea collars that release chemicals to repel or kill these pests. It’s crucial to choose a method suited to your pet's specific needs and to use these treatments as directed by a veterinarian.

Alongside direct treatment, managing the environment is crucial in preventing flea and tick infestations. Regularly wash your dog's bedding, vacuum floors, and clean furniture to remove any existing fleas and their eggs. For ticks, keep grass and bushes trimmed and minimize exposure to wooded areas where ticks are commonly found.

Immediate Treatment: If your dog is already infested with fleas or ticks, immediate action is required to alleviate their discomfort and prevent further health issues. This includes using flea combs to manually remove fleas and carefully extracting ticks using tweezers, ensuring not to squeeze the tick’s body or leave the head embedded in the skin. After removal, cleanse the affected areas with antiseptic solutions to prevent infection. Consult your veterinarian for appropriate medicated shampoos, topical applications, or oral medications to effectively eliminate the parasites.

Hot Spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis)

Hot spots, or acute moist dermatitis, are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs, characterized by rapid onset and intense irritation. These inflamed, infected areas on a dog’s skin are hot to the touch, hence the name "hot spots." They can appear suddenly anywhere on a dog’s body, but are most frequently found on the head, hips, or chest.

Causes of Hot Spots:

Hot spots often begin as a minor irritation and escalate rapidly due to the dog's natural response to lick, chew, and scratch the affected area. This behavior can exacerbate the problem by introducing bacteria into the open wounds. Symptoms can include:

  • Red, moist, and irritated skin that appears rapidly
  • Hair loss in a localized area
  • Oozing sores due to infection
  • Intense itching and discomfort, which causes distress in the affected dog

Treatment of Hot Spots:

Prompt and aggressive treatment is crucial to prevent the spread of infection and provide relief:

  1. Clipping and Cleaning: The area around the hot spot must be carefully clipped and cleaned to allow air to reach the wound and to facilitate the application of treatments. This should ideally be done by a professional groomer or veterinarian.
  2. Topical Medications: Application of non-irritating antiseptic solutions can help cleanse the area, followed by medicated sprays, creams, or ointments that reduce inflammation and promote healing.Products likeZarasyl Companion Barrier Cream can provide a barrier to help the healing process.
  3. E-Collars or Protective Gear: To prevent the dog from licking or biting the affected area, it may be necessary to use an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) or other protective devices.

For more information about hot spots, you can read our in-depth article here.


Mange is a troublesome skin disease in dogs caused by various species of mites. It manifests in mainly two forms: sarcoptic mange (scabies) and demodectic mange, each caused by a different type of mite. These parasites burrow into or on the skin, causing intense irritation and a host of skin issues.

Types of Mange:

  1. Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies): Highly contagious among dogs and can be transmitted to humans. The mites burrow into the skin, causing severe itching and discomfort. Symptoms typically include relentless scratching, redness, and hair loss, often starting from the ears, face, and legs.
  2. Demodectic Mange: Caused by Demodex mites, which naturally exist in small numbers in most dogs' skin but can cause problems when a dog's immune system is compromised or not fully developed. This type tends to lead to patchy hair loss and mild to moderate skin irritation but is not considered contagious.


Accurate diagnosis of mange requires a veterinarian to take skin scrapings from the affected areas. These samples are then examined under a microscope to identify the specific type of mites responsible for the condition. This step is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment.

Treatment Approaches:

  • Medicated Baths: Antiparasitic shampoos can help reduce mite populations on the skin, providing relief and preventing further damage.
  • Topical Medications: Spot-on treatments that are applied directly to the skin can effectively kill mites and control their reproduction.
  • Oral Medications: For severe cases, especially those involving sarcoptic mange, veterinarians might prescribe oral medications that kill mites systemically. These treatments can be more effective and less stressful for the dog compared to frequent baths.
  • Environmental Control: Since mites can survive off the host for a period, cleaning and treating the dog's environment (bedding, crates, etc.) is also an essential part of the treatment to prevent re-infestation.

Effective management of mange involves both treating the current infection and taking steps to prevent future outbreaks. Strengthening the dog’s immune system through proper nutrition and care is crucial, especially for managing demodectic mange. Regular veterinary check-ups ensure that the mange is fully resolved and help catch any recurrences early.

Fungal Infections (Ringworm)

Ringworm, contrary to its name, is not caused by a worm but by a fungus that affects the skin, hair, and nails of dogs. This fungal infection is scientifically known as dermatophytosis and is highly contagious, affecting not only dogs but also other animals and humans. The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, making communal areas and pet shelters common hotspots for outbreaks.

Symptoms can include:

  • Circular patches of hair loss that may appear red and scaly
  • Itching, although not as intense as with parasites like fleas
  • Occasionally, the affected areas may appear inflamed or crusty
  • In chronic cases, the nails can become brittle and misshapen


  • Antifungal Shampoos and Dips: Regular bathing with medicated shampoos can help to remove spores from the skin and hair, reducing the spread of the fungus.
  • Oral Antifungal Medications: For more severe cases, or in situations where topical treatment alone is ineffective, oral antifungal medications may be necessary. These medications can be more effective at eradicating the infection but require close monitoring for potential side effects.
  • Topical Antifungal Ointments: Applied directly to the affected areas, these can provide targeted treatment and often help speed up recovery.

Environmental Decontamination:

Since the fungal spores can survive for months in the environment, thorough cleaning of the dog’s living area is essential to prevent re-infection. This includes:

  • Washing all bedding, brushes, and toys that the dog has come into contact with.
  • Vacuuming and steam cleaning carpets and furniture where spores may reside.
  • Using a disinfectant that is effective against fungal spores on hard surfaces.

Preventive Measures:

  • Keeping your pet groomed and dry, especially after outings where they may come into contact with infected animals or environments.
  • Regular veterinary check-ups can help catch ringworm infections early, especially in kennels or multi-pet households where the risk of transmission is higher.

Managing ringworm effectively requires both treating the infected dog and rigorously cleaning the environment to prevent the spread to other animals and humans. With consistent treatment, most dogs recover completely without long-term effects.

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections in dogs are typically caused by an overgrowth of the fungusMalassezia pachydermatis. This yeast is normally found in small numbers on the skin but can become problematic under certain conditions, leading to infections that are uncomfortable for the pet and concerning for the owner.

Yeast particularly thrives in warm, moist environments, making a dog’s ears, paws, armpits, anal area, and any skin folds prime targets for infection.

Symptoms can include:

  • Greasy Skin: The affected areas may appear unusually oily.
  • Unpleasant Odor: A strong, musty smell often accompanies yeast infections.
  • Itching and Redness: Dogs may scratch incessantly, leading to further skin irritation or even wounds.
  • Changes in Skin Color and Texture: The skin may become darker and thicker in chronic cases.
  • Ear Problems: Yeast infections commonly affect the ears, causing inflammation, a brown or yellow discharge, and a noticeable odor.


  • Antifungal Medications: These can be administered orally or as topical creams and ointments, depending on the severity and location of the infection.
  • Medicated Shampoos: Shampoos that contain antifungal agents like miconazole or chlorhexidine can help reduce yeast levels on the skin. Regular bathing as prescribed by a veterinarian is crucial in managing outbreaks.
  • Ear Cleaners: Special medicated ear cleaners can help treat and prevent yeast infections in the ears.

Preventive Care:

  • Regular cleaning and drying of ears, especially after swimming or bathing, can prevent yeast from taking hold in the ear canals.
  • Maintaining general cleanliness and grooming, particularly in breeds with numerous skin folds, is essential.
  • Ensuring a balanced diet and managing allergies effectively can help keep yeast growth in check.

Effective management of yeast infections in dogs requires a combination of direct antifungal treatment and addressing broader health issues that may be contributing to the problem. Regular follow-ups with a veterinarian are crucial to adjust treatments as needed and to keep the infection under control.

Autoimmune Skin Diseases

Autoimmune skin diseases in dogs are a group of conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own skin cells and tissues, leading to various dermatological issues. Among the most common of these diseases are lupus and pemphigus, each with distinctive characteristics and treatment approaches.

Common Types of Autoimmune Skin Diseases:

  1. Lupus: There are two types of lupus that can affect dogs—Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE). SLE is more severe, potentially affecting multiple organs, while DLE primarily affects the skin, particularly the nose and face.
  2. Pemphigus: This is a group of autoimmune diseases divided into several forms, including pemphigus foliaceus, which is the most common and typically affects the skin on the head, face, and back with crusty patches and ulcers.

Symptoms can include:

  • Ulcers and Sores: These painful lesions can appear anywhere on the body but are commonly found on the face and paws.
  • Crusting and Scaling: Especially noticeable around openings such as the eyes, ears, and nose.
  • Depigmentation: Areas of skin may lose pigment, especially with conditions like DLE.
  • Hair Loss: Can occur in and around affected areas.
  • Itching and Pain: Depending on the severity and type of the disease.

Treatment Approaches:

  • Immunosuppressive Medications: Drugs such as corticosteroids or cyclosporine are commonly used to suppress the immune system's abnormal response. These medications require careful monitoring for potential side effects.
  • Supportive Skin Care: Topical treatments to protect and heal the skin can help alleviate discomfort and prevent secondary infections.
  • Diet and Supplements: Some evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids and a well-balanced diet might support skin health and potentially reduce immune system hyperactivity.

Management and Prognosis:

Managing autoimmune skin diseases in dogs often requires lifelong treatment and regular follow-ups with a veterinarian. Adjustments to medication types and dosages are common, depending on the dog’s response to treatment and any side effects encountered. While these diseases can be challenging to manage, many dogs can lead a good quality of life with appropriate treatment.

Early recognition and intervention are crucial for the best outcomes in managing autoimmune skin diseases. Regular veterinary visits and attentive care from the pet owner are essential for monitoring the condition and adjusting treatments as needed.


Understanding and addressing common skin issues in dogs is essential for maintaining their overall health and comfort. Early recognition and intervention can significantly impact the effectiveness of treatment and prevention strategies. Fleas and ticks, hot spots, mange, fungal infections like ringworm, yeast infections, and autoimmune skin diseases each present unique challenges and require specific approaches to manage effectively.

By being vigilant and proactive, dog owners can minimize the discomfort and health risks associated with these conditions. Regular veterinary check-ups, proper grooming, and maintaining a clean living environment are critical steps in preventing skin problems. Additionally, appropriate use of medications, whether preventive or therapeutic, ensures that skin issues are managed efficiently and effectively.

Ultimately, a well-informed pet owner is a dog’s best defense against skin ailments. With the right knowledge and tools, we can ensure our furry companions lead healthy, happy lives, free from the discomfort of skin problems.

To learn more aboutZarasyl Companion Barrier Cream and how it may help aid the healing process, click here.