What is Dog Dermatitis and How Do I Treat It?

Dogs can develop skin issues easily and it can sometimes be hard to figure out what causes dermatitis. Keep reading to learn what dermatitis is and how to treat it.

May 12, 2024By Holly Ramsey
what is dog dermatitis how to treat it

Dog dermatitis comes in several forms including allergies, injuries, and genetics. When your dog is itchy, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what is causing the problem and how to treat it. Read on to discover the more common causes of dog dermatitis and how it is treated.

What is Dog Dermatitis?

dogs with atopic dermatitis
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Dermatitis is inflammation or irritation of the skin and just like humans, dogs can develop dermatitis and need medical treatment to properly treat the condition. The most common cause of dermatitis is from allergies that are absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Food allergies can also cause dermatitis. Most dermatitis issues in dogs occurs after one year of age, except puppy strangles.

Clinical symptoms of dog dermatitis include:

  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Itching
  • Abnormal redness of the skin
  • Raised bumps
  • Dark color of the skin
  • Scaling of the skin
  • Thickening of the skin
  • Excessive oil production
  • Unusual odor

Atopic Dermatitis

canine atopic dermatitis
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Also called allergic dermatitis or canine atopy, atopic dermatitis is where affected dogs are genetically predisposed to develop atopy. Affected dogs have a defect with their skin’s natural protective layer and most allergens that cause redness and itching enter the body through contact with the defective skin barrier.

Dogs with atopic dermatitis are prone to chewing, licking, or scratching and may have recurrent skin or ear infections. Seasonal allergies are a common cause of atopy but the disease can progress to year-round misery for your dog.

Signs of atopic dermatitis include areas of raised bumps, reddened skin, crusty patches, scratches, and thickened skin in certain areas. Itchiness often occurs on the lower abdomen, between the toes, in the armpits, or on the face. Breeds that are predisposed to inherit atopic dermatitis include Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Bulldog, German Shepherd, and Boxer.

H3 Treatment and Management of Atopic Dermatitis

The first step is to identify and avoid the source of the allergen. You will also want to increase how often you groom and bathe your dog, remember to use a gentle shampoo that will not irritate such as an oatmeal-based, fragrance-free shampoo. Topical anti-itch creams and antibiotics will also be prescribed to treat itching and secondary infections.

Your veterinarian may also do targeted therapy and allergy testing to create a desensitization and treatment plan. Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a life-long condition that can affect a dog’s quality of life.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

german shepherd flea dermatitis
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Flea allergy dermatitis, also known as flea bite hypersensitivity, occurs when a dog has an allergic reaction to the protein in flea saliva. Small raised bumps, crusty skin over the lower back, in the inner thigh area, and above the tail are a good indication that your dog is allergic to fleas.

You will most likely see hair loss and your dog will be restless, constantly chewing, licking, and itching their skin. Fleas or flea dirt or droppings will be visible when you part their hair in the areas they are itching. Symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis may develop within minutes of fleas biting or there may be a delayed reaction that occurs days later.

Generally, dogs over a year old will develop flea allergy dermatitis. If you know your dog has a sensitivity to fleas, speak with your veterinarian about the best flea preventatives for your dog. If your dog is already reacting to flea allergy dermatitis, your veterinarian will prescribe flea treatments which may be oral, injectable, or topical medication, medicated shampoo, and possibly even antibiotics to treat any secondary skin infections.

Food Allergy Dermatitis

food allergy dermatitis
Image credit: furryfolly.com

Food allergies can be some of the most difficult allergies to pinpoint. Dogs with food sensitivities will develop a reaction to either carbohydrates or protein in the food they are consuming, including treats and chewies. The most common symptom of a food allergy is itchiness and scratching. Dogs often chew or lick their feet and scratch their ears, chest, and abdomen.

Many dogs with food allergies also have gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, soft or loose stools, straining to defecate, excessive gas, and possible weight loss. Although any dog can develop a food allergy, some breeds are more prone to them including Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, French Bulldogs, and Westies.

An elimination diet is the only reliable way to diagnose food allergies and determine which food or foods are causing problems for your dog. The most common allergens in dogs are dairy products, wheat, beef, chicken, and lamb. Some dog owners have chosen raw diets over commercial dog food for their allergic dog.

How is Dog Dermatitis Diagnosed

pitbull with dermatitis
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Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your dog and may recommend certain tests to try and determine what is causing your dog’s skin problems. A skin scrape is the most common test and usually the next step after a physical examination. This will determine if your dog has any mites that are causing them to be itchy.

A skin biopsy, intradermal skin testing, and bloodwork may be performed. If these tests come back as inconclusive, your veterinarian may decide to try a medication trial where your dog is given a regimen of antihistamines and steroids to alleviate the allergic reaction. If a food allergy is suspected, a diet trial or elimination diet will be performed to determine which food or even foods is causing problems for your dog.

Do not try to treat your dog’s dermatitis with over-the-counter medications or creams without first consulting your veterinarian. Some OTC medications may cause a bigger reaction and require a more extensive treatment plan from your veterinarian.

dog dermatitis pitbull
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Dog dermatitis can cause your dog a lot of pain and discomfort. As soon as you notice your dog is itching or chewing, talk with your veterinarian and start on the path to getting your dog relief. Whether your dog has a genetic condition or an allergy there are treatment options. If the condition is severe, your veterinarian may even refer you to a canine dermatologist. Either way, getting the help your dog needs when they are feeling itchy and miserable is an important part of good dog ownership.

Holly Ramsey
By Holly Ramsey

Holly is a 2nd generation dog breeder/trainer and has over 25 years of experience with several different breeds. She enjoys working with her Japanese Chin and Rough Collies and helping her mom and daughter with their chosen breeds. Most evenings, Holly is hanging out with her daughter watching movies, crafting, or playing with the fur-kids.