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Causes of Skin Irritations in Dogs

Updated on December 9, 2009

Itching, scratching, biting and licking. These are all the most common action verbs found in the vocabulary of owners of dogs affected by  annoying skin irritations. Perhaps among all the medical maladies affecting dogs, skin irritations may be one of the most frustrating and most challenging to diagnose and treat. Indeed, when veterinarians are faced with dogs affected by persistent skin irritation, they may end up scratching their head as well in hopes of finding the root of the problem.

Skin irritations in dogs are a very common issue. Veterinary staff are indeed quite used to having owners book their dogs for an urgent appointment because their dog's skin irritation is driving them nuts. However, the path towards a diagnosis at times may be a quite curvy one, because there can be several causes and identifying the correct one may lead owners towards the tedious job of repetitive and expensive testing.

In order to get a better grip on the several causes of skin irritations in dogs, it is a good idea to divide the most likely scenarios in categories and sub categories. This way the underlying causes can be displayed easily allowing owners to confirm or rule out potential causes. Owners that arrive at their vet appointments with a few ideas on what may be going on, may help their veterinarian come to a diagnosis more quickly,  possibly paving the road towards treatment at times.

Skin irritations can be mild causing a little itch and scratch every now and then., or they can be quite severe, causing dogs to repeatedly lick and bite certain spots on their body even causing visible sores. When dogs continue to repeatedly scratch a specific area, owners tend to call these areas ''hot spots''. Following are some common and some not so common causes of skin irritations in dogs.

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Causes of Skin Irritations

~ Allergies

Allergies ranks at one of top causes of skin irritations in dogs. Indeed, dogs can be allergic to just about anything, from the grass he romps around each day to that tasty kibble you feed him. Finding the culprit of such allergies is often quite a challenging ordeal and is the key to treatment. At times, the triggering agent may never be found and after having dogs put on food trials veterinarians prefer to take care of the dog by treating symptomatically rather than going to the expensive route of testing.

Common types of allergies in dogs:

Environmental: in other words, anything your dog gets in contact with. This may mean lawn grasses, household chemicals, dust mites, house dust, pollen, feathers and so forth.

Food: unlike humans, food allergies in dogs develop mainly through skin irritations. Affected dogs may be allergic to beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, eggs and grains. When a food allergy is suspected veterinarians will put the dog on an exclusion diet or a special hypoallergenic diet.


Often owners feel that their dog does not have fleas simply because they are not visible but fleas often are hard to see especially in long coated dogs. Often dogs develop flea allergies, which is an allergy to the flea's saliva that causes excessive itching and scratching and the presence of crusty areas especially near the back and shoulders. Other offending parasites causing skin irritations are ticks, chiggers, and several mites such as Cheyletiella mites, Demodex mites and Sarcoptic mites, known to cause a skin disorder known as ''mange''.

~Yeast Infections

Yeast tends to thrive on dogs that are weakened such as dogs placed on cortisone medication, suffering from hypothyroidism or suffering from a deficiency in fatty acids. Yeast infections tend to cause an itchy skin that often assumes an offensive smell. The ears are commonly affected.

~Bacterial infections

A dog's skin may also be host to several bacteria that may lead to annoying irritations and infections. Normally, such bacteria are present but do not create problems until the dog's body is weakened. Often, staph bacteria may be present creating problems in sensitive dogs. A skin scrape may help in individualizing bacteria, fungi and yeast.

~Systemic Diseases

There are also several systemic diseases that may cause skin irritations in dogs. For instance, two systemic diseases known to cause skin problems in dogs are Cushing's  disease (hyperadrenalcorticism) and hypothyroidism.

~Dry Skin

Often, dogs develop dry skin which causes annoying skin irritations. These are seen a lot in the winter, when the dry indoor climate makes dogs prone to develop dry, itchy skin. Fatty acids and special oatmeal baths may be soothing solutions.

These are just a few of the many hundreds causes of skin irritation in dogs. Not all can be listed. Veterinarians indeed spend countless hours in seminars addressing the issue of skin irritations. If you are dealing with this ordeal, try to be patient and if finances allow it, try to allow your dog to undergo all the laboratory work, skin scrapings and blood tests necessary to determine the cause. While, this may translate in a lot of money, the chances of seeing your dog live again itch free, scratch free, lick free and bite free may ultimately be priceless.

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    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      You've described my itchy dogs here. We've seen many of these parasites, unfortunately. My friend's dog was diagnosed with Demodectic Mange and boy that is rare, but truly awful, brought on by stress. The hair falls out even on their faces. One stray I found had Sarcoptic Mange and we had to keep him isolated from our other dogs for 6 weeks with weekly injections of antibiotics. Our veterinarian has been truly wonderful with all our urgent itching issues!


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