What Can I Do for Dog Skin Problems?

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Sad Sick DogThis summer appears to be an especially brutal one when it comes to our pups and their skin health. As if allergies weren’t enough, the drastic climate conditions on (dry spells, humidity, temperature extremes, rain) may be wreaking havoc on your dog’s coat.

How to Take Care of Your Dog’s Skin

Our Pet Doc points out how dry conditions are this time of year, and gives some tips you can do to help prevent skin dryness and damage problems (dermatitis):

  • Leave in conditioner after bathing your dog.
  • If you recently changed up your dog’s food, they may be having troubles with the new food. Try switching them back to one that they haven’t had reactions to in the past.
  • Try giving your dog fish oil capsules at mealtime (1000mg once a day for the average size dog. Slightly less for smaller dogs, slightly more for larger dogs).
  • If they’re having trouble sleeping at night because of prolonged itching, you can try and give them some Benadryl (one milligram per pound of body weight, not to exceed 50mg twice daily).
  • If itching (pruritus in the medical world) is the biggest problem, there’s a chance your dog has fleas. You can easily check for these by combing your hand against the hair. If they’re there – you will see them jumping all over the place. Remember to administer tick and flea medications (i.e. Biospot, Advantix, Frontline) regularly during warm months.

Dog Skin Problems

When a patient rolls into the vet office with a “skin problem,” the vet usually knows it could potentially be a long day. Why? Because there are so many different types of skin issues that occur for a variety of reasons. Here are some common skin problems/ allergies/ diseases in dogs:

Environmental Dermatitis

This category addresses skin problems that occur as a result of your dog’s interaction with the environment. Problems may arise from a change in the environment your dog interacts with – the grass, plants, dirt, bugs, etc. they come in contact with. Then there’s the issue of water, which can lead to a more serious skin problem often referred to as a hot spot.

Preventing “Hot Spots” or Moist Dermatitis

If your dog is licking their leg or other body part furiously, and even chewing at the hair, they may leave a patch of skin exposed. If they continue to mess with this area, it could leave them vulnerable to moist dermatitis (a lesion on the exposed skin area from moisture – ie. rain, water, or from constantly licking the wound that can get infected when exposed to bacteria). If you start to see such an area on your dog, please see your vet immediately.

Nutritional Dermatitis

A common cause of dog itchiness and skin problems stem from a lack of proper nutrition. The sad thing is, there’s plenty of pet foods out there that advertise themselves as containing everything your pet needs, when in fact they are very lacking in the basics. Your dog is not meant to be a vegetarian. It’s therefore important that their food contain meat as a top, if not the first, ingredient. Vitamins and supplements containing Omega fatty acids that are approved for dog consumption can also help.

Fleas, Mites  and Other Critters

There are a number of critters, not just fleas, but a whole variety of mite species, that can give your dog skin and health problems. Your best bet, if your dog’s skin problem does not go away, is to roll in and see your vet and let them diagnose. There are several medicines that can be purchased to proactively keep these pests away, especially during warmer months when fleas and ticks flourish. Keep in mind that this past winter was very mild relative to normal, so fleas and ticks (along with mosquitoes and other bugs) are expected to be much more of an issue so get started now with treating your pup. Frontline, Advantix and BioSpot are among the more popular brands to protect your pet.

Skin Allergies and Your Dog

While your dog’s skin problems are likely caused as the result of poor nutrition, fleas, mites or “hot spots,” it is possible that your dog has skin problems as a result of skin allergies. Unfortunately, as increasing numbers of dogs are being poorly bred. These animals are becoming more and more prone to developing health conditions including allergies. At the present time, skin allergies are the most common reason that pet owners take their dog to the vet. Skin allergy symptoms are frustrating for both dogs and pet owners because there seems to be no reason for the symptoms that are being displayed. Fortunately with a trained eye and a little detective work it is possible to find the culprit for skin allergies in most dogs.

What is an Allergy?

An allergy is a reaction by the body to some sort of stimulant exposure. This stimulant can be something that is inhaled, something that is eaten or something that the dog is otherwise exposed to. It is important to note that a skin reaction does not necessarily result from skin contact with an allergen; it can just as easily result from consumption of an allergen. As the dog’s immune system recognizes the allergen as a “foreign body” it launches its defenses to attack the allergen and repel it from the body. In human beings this type of allergic reaction is most often seen with sniffling, sneezing, coughing and eye watering. In dogs the most common display of an allergic reaction is itching of the skin.

Types of Dog Skin Problems Caused by Allergens

Insect Allergies or Flea Allergy Dermatitis

The topic of dermatitis caused by fleas and other insects has already been covered above. These reactions occur as a result of an allergic reaction to the bite of the insect or to the insect itself.

Treatment for this type of skin problem involves elimination of the offending insect and treatment of the bite area with medication prescribed by your veterinarian (usually oral antihistamines or an anti-itch cream.)

Inhaled Allergens

Inhaled allergens, also known as canine atopy refers to allergens that a dog is exposed to by breathing them in such as pollen, mold and dust.

If your dog breathes in an allergen and shows symptoms of distress you should contact your veterinarian who may suggest administration of an antihistamine like Benadryl. It is CRUCIAL however, that you obtain information for the correct dosing of this human medication for your dog based on their weight and current health status.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are caused by consumption of food containing a particular ingredient which causes the body to mount a defense against the offending ingredient. Food allergies can also include drug allergies.

Food allergens are the cause of approximately ten percent of all allergy symptoms seen in dogs. The fact is however, that food allergies are seen with increasing frequency in dogs these days as increasing numbers of poorly bred dogs are seen. This is just one reason why it is important for dogs to be bred only by those with the future of the breed in mind, those intent on breeding only healthy animals for betterment of the breed. Food allergies can usually be determined by a process of elimination in which certain food ingredients are removed from the diet one at a time in order to track the progress of symptoms. Some of the most common food allergies in dogs include: wheat, corn, soy, chicken and eggs. It is important to note that there is a difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. Food allergies result in symptoms such as skin problems and itching. Food intolerance presents with other symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea but does not include symptoms common to allergies. Food allergies in dogs is like a human who goes in to anaphylactic shock after eating something with peanuts in it, food intolerance is like a human who gets an upset stomach any time they eat spicy food.

Food allergies can be treated by switching to an allergy friendly variety of dog food. After a short period on the new diet, skin problems caused by the allergy will begin to clear up.

Contact Allergies

Unlike some of the other allergens listed, contact allergies are allergies caused by direct contact of a substance with the skin, for example chlorine in a swimming pool.

If your dog comes in to contact with an allergen that causes skin problems it is important to rinse off that allergen with cool water and consult your vet for any concerns over skin damage.

Hives and Your Dog

Hives are another skin problem that your dog may face at some point in his or her lifetime. Hives are a specific type of allergic reaction that affects dogs as well as humans and other animals. Hives appear as round raised bumps that itch. The fact that these bumps are raised causes the hair on the dogs coat to stick out in spots and swelling is also common in other areas of the body such as the eyelids. Unlike some allergic type reactions, hives are fast to appear and generally within half an hour of exposure to an allergen they will develop.

What Causes Hives?

As with humans that develop hives, hives in dogs can be caused by a number of factors including insect bites, topical applications and medications. For the most part once a stimulant that has caused the hives to appear has been removed, the hives will disappear within twenty four hours. Since the causing factor of hives can generally be pinpointed due to the rapid appearance of the reaction, treatment is usually applied quite quickly.

Treating Hives

Depending upon what has caused the outbreak of hives treatment for your dog may differ. For most instances however, a veterinarian will recommend application of an antihistamine to control the swelling and discomfort of the hives themselves. In cases where hives have been caused by application of a shampoo or other topical ointment to the skin, dog owners should also rinse the dogs coat and skin to remove any excess allergen.

Have Your Experienced Dog Skin Problems?

Has your dog been itching, had fleas, allergies or other skin problems? If so, we would love to hear from you on any tips, advice or stories that might be helpful for other readers like you.

The pet doc is a veterinarian who has consulted with our site for many years. While he is still practicing and licensed, he volunteers his time to help us educate you, our readers, and has asked to donate this time and contribution anonymously. HIs 10+ years of experience in the field is invaluable as he helps to answer our reader’s pet-related questions. And hopefully, you will find his insights and helpful tips as much as we do.

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14 Comments on "What Can I Do for Dog Skin Problems?"


My dog has been sick around 9 times in the last 20 hours , also won’t eat or drink I think he might of picked something up when I walked him last night , I’ve managed to take him out side for 2 mins he also has dhyoria now what’s the best thing to do please .

Kimberly Alt
Kimberly Alt

Sorry for the late response Gemma, we do not moderate comments on the weekend and we recommend contacting a vet whenever your dog is ill. Is your dog better now?

Cydney Otoole
Cydney Otoole

I have a 13 yo French Bulldog who has had mild seasonal (summer/fall) allergies for the most part of her life. She developed follicular dermatitis and was always treated with steroids and at times antibiotics. 6 mos ago she developed Acute Pancreatitis from what I believe to be overuse of steroids. Since the pancreatitis episode her hives have been horrible, oozing, scabbing and itchy. I had to switch her to a low fat senior diet (Fromm’s Gold Coast Weight Management) I bathe her in Malaseb shampoo, give her Quercetin. Recently switched her to All Provide (gently cooked) Turkey Crumble. Her skin was doing well for a few days and is the worst ever now. She will be seeing a veterinary dermatologist in late Nov for allergy testing but for the time being, I’m at a complete loss. I just want her to be comfortable and not incessantly itch. Any advice would greatly be appreciated.


Our Staffordshire bull terrier has had sores on his back for months, he’s been treated with various courses of antibiotics and steroids by vet, but they didn’t make a difference. The sores start out looking like hives and then they open, weep a bit and heal, all within 24 hour period, in different places but only on his back and nowhere else. They are not itchy but they are sore. We changed his food after they started to identify if it was a food allergy, he’s now on Hills Science metabolic & mobility for a couple months but it’s not making a difference! Anyone have any ideas?

Michelle Davis
Michelle Davis

My dog has the exact same thing. What could be causing this?

Rebecca Gonzalez
Rebecca Gonzalez

My American Pit Bull Terrier has the same problem. Bumps on his back, and sides and they don’t itch. When he gets them bad, they are like tiny scabs and when the scabs come off there’s a tiny hole like as if something bit him. He is an indoor dog so he’s not exposed to flies or mosquitos. He doesn’t have fleas because he’s taking confortis and is checked all the time. After numerous vet visits, steroids and antibiotics, the vet diagnosed it as atopic dermatitis and put him on apoquel. It has helped incredibly. I still don’t understand why he gets all these bumps in the first place. I keep wanting to rule out allergies because the sores don’t itch. But I do know that apoquel and fish oil have helped incredibly. Does anyone else’s dog have these bumps that don’t itch? Or scabs that easily come off exposing a tiny hole?


This sounds exactly like what is going on with our American Bulldog. No treatment we have tried from 3 different vets has worked either.

Rebecca Gonzalez
Rebecca Gonzalez

Have you tried prescription apoquel? You can google it. It works pretty well with my American pit bull, until the weather changes, then he needs an extra allergy shot to clear up the hives.


My English coonhound just started licking her paws and then the hives started. She had them last year and the vet gave her prednisone. I gave her one and the hives went away. Now it is 2 am and the hives are back and she has been licking the inside of her legs. I woke up and gave her a cool bath and washed her with non fragrant soap and gave her another pill. I sprayed her cortisonal spray but she has not settled yet.

Please help.

Kimberly Alt
Kimberly Alt

Oh no, we are so sorry for your pup Michele. Have the hives gone away? If not, we recommend seeing a vet asap!


From my experience a well-balanced diet is part of it, but don’t be fooled by the expensive, "natural" gourmet dog foods. Those ended up giving my dog more fits than the plain old, less expensive Nutro blue bag for large dogs. If you take good care of your dog and take them in for routine check-ups to get rid of allergic problems you shouldn’t be running into too many skin problems, diet aside.


I completely agree with your information. But sometimes food you’re feeding your dog could be inferior and causing these symptoms, so first identify the problem, and then look at the symptoms your dog is having. Hair loss, skin irritation, itching and scratching are likely due to nutritional problems.


My yellow lab has been licking at her hind legs for a while now, and I just realized that she’s gone as far as bite the hairs off her leg! At first I thought it was just an itch issue, but now it appears to be more serious. When I’m around I can remind her to not lick there, but meanwhile, I don’t want the area to get infected. Short of going to the vet (which I plan on doing) is there anything I can do in the interim?


This is the summer of itchy dogs! Over 2/3 of the cases our Pet Doc is seeing in his vet office are somehow related to dog itchiness.

You can give your dog a little Benadryl and small doses of fish oil (capsules), and try to keep the area she’s licking as dry as possible until she can see the vet.

You may also want to keep her inside more, at least until the wound subsides and she’s had an opportunity to be examined.


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