11 June 2009

Take care of your dog's skin

The health of your dog’s skin is a vital part of his overall wellbeing. It may be affected by the weather, the food he eats, parasites, allergies and his grooming routine.

The health of your dog’s skin is a vital part of his overall wellbeing. Many factors can affect your dog’s skin – the weather, the food he eats, parasites, allergies and his grooming routine.

Here are a few tips to prevent your dog from developing skin problems:

  • Use good dog shampoo. Speak to your vet about the correct shampoo for your dog – considering his breed, his age and any skin condition that he might have.
  • Treat parasites quickly. Act immediately if you see your dog has ticks, fleas or ringworm.
  • Good nutrition is good for your dog's skin so feed your dog quality dog food. You can speak to your vet about supplements for your dog in the form of vitamins and oils (for dry coats and skin) - this will depend on your dog’s health and age. If your dog has allergies you should speak to your vet about a dog food specifically designed for dogs with skin allergies.
  • Regular check-ups. Make sure to check your dog’s skin regularly for anything out of the ordinary, such as lumps, discoloured areas, sores, or painful spots.

Common skin problems
Bacterial, fungal, allergic, parasitic and hormonal skin diseases are found in dogs. Many skin diseases cause intense itching and this leads to further skin damage from self-mutilation. Skin tumours and cysts are common in older dogs.

  • Bacterial Skin Infections (Pyodermas)
    Signs - itchy, yellow pustules are often observed early in the disease, and the dog’s skin can be reddened and ulcerated. Dry, crusted areas appear as the condition advances, along with loss of hair in the affected areas.

  • Fungal Skin Infections (Ringworm)
    Signs - ringworm is seen most commonly in young dogs. The fungi live in dead skin tissues, hairs and nails. Hair loss, usually in circular patches, may appear. If infected, the center of the patches may have a dry, crusty appearance. The head and legs are most commonly affected by ringworm, although the disease may spread to other parts of the dog’s body if not treated. Dogs may scratch the lesions.

  • Allergic Skin Diseases
    Signs - itching is the primary sign of allergic skin diseases in dogs. The affected skin may appear normal, or red and moist in patches called ‘hot spots'. Pus and dried crusts are apparent if a bacterial infection is also present. Dogs tend to constantly scratch and lick affected areas. Initially, flea allergies are most evident over the dog’s back and near the tail. A dog’s face, feet, chest, and abdomen are more often affected by pollen and dust-type allergies. Contact allergies are seen mostly on the hairless areas of the abdomen and on the bottoms of the feet.

  • Parasitic Skin Diseases
    Signs - Sarcoptic mange causes intense itching, loss of hair and crusting of the skin. A dog’s ears, front legs, chest and abdomen are most often affected by sarcoptic mange.

    Demodectic mange can cause itching. The skin is reddened and scaly, and hair loss occurs in round patches resembling ‘ringworm.’ The face and front legs are most commonly affected, although some cases may be generalised. Generalised demodectic mange is often a sign of underlying internal disease, a weak immune system or a hereditary problem.

    Ear mites cause severe irritation in the ears. Often, an affected dog will scratch the hair off the back of its ears. Ticks, lice and fleas may transmit other diseases, in addition to causing irritation.

  • Hormonal Skin Diseases
    Skin diseases caused by hormonal abnormalities in dogs are difficult to diagnose. The thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, testicles and ovaries all produce hormones. If excessive (‘hyper’) or deficient (‘hypo’), these hormones produce changes in the skin and coat. Most hormonal problems that affect the skin produce hair loss that is evenly distributed on each side of the dog’s body. The skin may be thicker or thinner than normal, and there may be changes in the color of the skin or coat. These diseases usually are not itchy. - (Hilda Geyer/Health24, June 2009)

Reviewed by veterinarian Dr Katja Bier.

Read more:
Caring for your dog
Your dog's anal glands


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