Dog Skin Problems:
Causes & Treatments

Petey, our lab/English pointer mix, has ongoing dog skin problems. He licked and scratched until he developed a skin infection.


Snapshot: Dog Skin Problems
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Symptoms: Scratching, itching and licking. Sometimes the dog will work at an area until the fur is gone and reveals a bald, red, sometimes infected wound.
  • Causes: The possible causes of skin problems are many and include fleas, vaccines, malfunctioning immune system, inadequate nutrition, hypothyroidism and allergic reaction to food, medication and environment.  
  • Diagnosis: First your vet will gather an in-depth history from you regarding when the itching started, diet, time of year, etc. This information, plus a physical examination of the dog, will help the vet determine which diagnostic tests, if any, need to be performed. These may include blood tests, skin scrapings, allergy tests and elimination diets.    
  • Treatment: The treatment depends on the diagnosis. A food allergy will mean eliminating the offending ingredient (wheat, corn, beef, etc.) If the culprit is a seasonal allergy, your veterinarian may recommend an antihistamine.  

Causes of Dog Skin Problems

The possible causes of dog skin problems are many and include fleas, vaccines, inadequate nutrition, malfunctioning immune system, hypothyroidism and allergic reaction to food, medication and environment. In some cases of hot spot or lick granuloma, the cause may be boredom or separation anxiety.

Foods that are most likely to cause an allergic reaction in dogs are eggs, milk products, corn, wheat and beef. But just like people, dogs can react to a wide variety of foods beyond this core list and include food additives such as color dyes and preservatives. (For more information, see the Dog Allergies page of this web site.)

A growing number of vets believe overvaccination suppresses the immune system and in turn, leads to chronic and sometimes serious conditions. According to Dr. Jean Dodds DVM, who has researched the effects of pet vaccines for three decades, current diseases and allergies in a pet can be aggravated and the immune system disrupted by shotgun vaccinations (one "shot" that includes multiple vaccines). Most holistic vets can prescribe a detoxification program if they believe vaccines are causing issues, including dog skin problems. This will likely include Missing Link, a detox powder, as well as homeopathic drops.

Diagnosis

First your vet will gather an in-depth history from you regarding when the itching started, diet, if it occurs the same time each year, etc. This information, plus a physical exam of the dog, will help the vet determine Which diagnostic tests, if any, need to be performed. These may include blood tests, skin scrapings, allergy tests and elimination diets.

Conventional Treatment

A food allergy will mean eliminating the offending ingredient either through home cooked meals or quality manufactured dog food such as Wellness, Blue Buffalo or Innova. If the culprit is a seasonal allergy, your veterinarian may recommend medications such as Benadryl or Clemastine Fumarate.

A blood test may reveal a problem with the liver, thyroid, anemia, or other condition. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis.  

Nutritional Treatment

Regardless of whether you use conventional or alternative care to treat dog skin problems, your dog must eat a nutritious diet in order to recover. While I will offer dog food comparisons on this web site in the future, for now I recommend visiting www.dogfoodanalysis.com. I think you'll be surprised to find that many well-known dog food brands offer poor quality. They are much better at selling dog food than making it.

In Natural Health Care for Dogs & Cats, Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, states, "I have found, over the years that proper nutrition is the essential foundation of a holistic approach to health and healing. Without it there is little to work with in helping an animal to recover. And I feel certain that many of the chronic and degenerative diseases we see today are caused by or complicated by inadequate nutrition." Take this information to heart. Nutrition is essential to the health of your dog.

Dog trainer and author Paul Loeb writes in Smarter than You Think, "You start with dry food, then comes skin problems." Loeb is an advocate of using quality canned dog food or home cooked meals for solving or preventing a number of ailments, including dog skin problems. He believes you will eliminate the need for medication such as steroids, which over time cause even more serious disease. Loeb says, "Instead of all that medication, why not try changing the food that your dog is eating." A holistic veterinarian will be helpful in offering alternative treatments to dog skin problems.

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