Canine dermatitis…5 types you might not have heard of

Spring is in the air and a lot of us, with our dogs, are enjoying getting outside again. But the outdoor time can mean allergies. Sometimes those allergies can lead to itching.

The thing about itching is that it can make our dogs lick and bite their skin. That can spell trouble.

Itching can lead to dermatitis…inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis comes in many forms—some allergy related, some not. And some can get serious.

So here’s what you need to know about 5 kinds of canine dermatitis you may not be familiar with.

1) Canine Atopic Dermatitis

What it is: This condition is the most common cause of chronic itching in dogs. Canine atopic dermatitis is a reaction to allergens in the environment.

Symptoms: Your dog will be very itchy, particularly around the face and feet. You may find areas of their body are red and moist from constant licking. The skin can become raw. If untreated, this skin damage can cause an infection.

Chronic ear infections are common in dogs with atopic dermatitis.

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Treatment: Unlike humans, dogs don’t outgrow allergies. They have to be treated. That could include immunotherapy (allergy shots), anti-inflammatory medications, and topical treatments (shampoos, conditioners).

2) Acral Lick Dermatitis (Lick Granuloma)

What it is: Acral means “on the extremities” and the condition comes from incessantly licking one spot on the leg, foot or tail. Eventually a wound develops which causes the dog to lick even more.

Lick granulomas can be caused by any itchy skin condition (like atopic dermatitis), pain in the underlying bone or joint, boredom, stress, or OCD.

Some veterinarians believe that licking can become an addiction. Licking releases endorphins. These endorphins make the dog feel good and reduce pain. Which makes the dog want to keep doing it over and over.

This makes treatment tricky. Even after the underlying problem is resolved the licking sometimes continues because it’s become a habit that the dog can’t stop.

Symptoms: You’ll notice an area of thickened skin, usually on the front of the lower part of the paw or the base of the tail, that’s red and irritated. The area can become ulcerated if the licking continues.

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Treatment: There are several treatments, but what works for one dog may or may not work for another because of the psychological aspect of the condition.

The wound often becomes infected so expect your vet to prescribe antibiotics. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, that’s all the dog needs.

Anti-inflammatories can minimize the irritation.

But getting the dog to stop licking is the real challenge. And unless they stop licking, the granuloma won’t go away.

Bitter sprays; electronic bandages that tingle when licked; and physical barriers like Elizabethan collars (the dreaded lampshade) may work. But once those bandages and collars are off, they may start licking again.

Because acral lick dermatitis is often a psychological problem, lifestyle changes could be in order. Your dog may need more exercise and time with you, a possible doggy companion, or even anti-anxiety medication.

Lick granulomas are challenging to treat. If you stop the dog from licking in one area, they’ll often lick in another.

3) Flea Allergy Dermatitis

What it is: This is a skin condition caused by prolonged itching if your dog is exposed to fleas…even minimal exposure to fleas can cause this type of dermatitis. Flea allergy dermatitis is a hypersensitivity to flea saliva.

Flea allergic dogs can react to just one bite, unlike most dogs that are unaffected by even a moderate number of fleabites.

Symptoms: You’ll notice hair loss, skin thickening, and redness—possibly to the point of raw—near the rump and base of the tail. It can also affect the dog’s thighs and abdomen.

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Treatment: There are a lot of flea control products on the market. And that’s the only solution…minimize the number of bites.

All pets in your home should be treated even if only one suffers from flea allergy dermatitis.

Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories. After the fleas are gone, it can take a while for the itching to stop and anti-inflammatories can help.

If the itching has caused a skin infection, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic. And shampoos and conditioners are available that can soothe your dog’s itchy skin.

4) Malassezia Dermatitis

What it is: Malassezia is a fungus or yeast that lives on your dog’s skin. It also lives in the ear and can cause ear infections. For most dogs, malassezia doesn’t cause a problem. But it can become a problem if it grows excessively.

This happens more in dogs with skin allergies or seborrhea. It may be congenital. And some breeds are more prone than others. Poodles, Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers, Dachshunds and Cocker Spaniels seem at greatest risk.

Symptoms: You may notice skin irritation, greasiness, redness, scaliness, thickening, dark pigmentation, and a smelly discharge from the lesions on the skin.

Malassezia most often affects the armpits, legs and neck. But it’s not uncommon to find it on the feet.

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Treatment: Malassezia is treated with anti-fungal medications, shampoos and conditioners. Because malassezia becomes a problem when there’s an underlying condition, your vet will have to diagnose that problem and treat it.

Topical therapies like shampoos will usually have to be continued to keep the infection from reoccurring.

5) Pyotraumatic Dermatitis (Hot Spots)

What it is: Pyotraumatic dermatitis is also known as a hot spot. It’s a skin infection caused by bacteria living on the skin that overgrow, typically because the dog is licking or biting the skin. This behavior disrupts normal skin function and allows the bacteria to grow.

This form of dermatitis is also brought on by incessant licking and biting provoked by an underlying skin problem.

Any dog can get pyotraumatic dermatitis, but Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are more prone.

Symptoms: The skin can become red, irritated, and inflamed. A lesion may form and you may notice pus in the sore. There may be hair loss in the affected area.

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Treatment: It’s common for the vet to clip the fur around the hotspot and prescribe an antibacterial spray to disinfect the area. Oral steroids may be prescribed as well to reduce the itching. Antibiotic cream could be needed too.

All of these forms of dermatitis are uncomfortable for your dog. Some are very painful. Minimizing underlying issues like allergies, fleas and ticks, and boredom can go a long way in keeping your dog’s skin healthy.

And whenever you detect a change in your dog’s coat or skin, be sure to talk to your vet.

Has your dog experienced any of these skin conditions? Share your experience in the comment section at the top.

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