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Dermatitis in Dogs – Get to the Root Cause of Dog Skin Issues

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Unfortunately, dogs can suffer from a variety of skin issues. If you have noticed that your dog is overly itchy or its skin looks red and inflamed, there is a good chance it could be suffering from some form of dermatitis.

Canine atopic dermatitis is a general term that veterinarians use to describe irritated and inflamed skin. To help you get to the root of your dog’s skin issues, we are going to go over everything you need to know about dermatitis and its causes.

If you want to help your furry friend feel less itchy and make sure they have healthy skin, we can help!

How Do Dogs Get Dermatitis?

One of the most common causes of dermatitis in dogs is allergies. When dogs experience allergies, their skin becomes inflamed and irritated, which is what triggers the itchy skin.

Just like in humans, when a dog’s skin becomes inflamed and irritated, it becomes incredibly itchy. Sometimes the inflammation and scratching can even trigger a secondary skin bacterial infection.

The itchier your dog is, the more they will scratch their body, which ends up making dermatitis and the risk for a secondary infection even worse. In this way, dermatitis can trigger a never-ending cycle of itchiness and inflammation.

Getting to the route of your dog’s dermatitis often involves investigating whether or not your dog has allergies. You also need to determine if the dog is suffering from a skin infection or another underlying issue causing skin inflammation.

In most cases, allergies alone are the main cause of dermatitis and skin irritation, which is why many vets will perform allergy testing when dog owners report their dog’s excessive scratching.

scratching himself dog outside during day time

How Can I Tell if My Dog’s Dermatitis is Due to Allergies?

As stated above, dermatitis and itchiness often occur simultaneously. Dogs that develop dermatitis from allergies typically have very red, inflamed, and itchy skin. As such, if you notice excessive scratching, there is a good chance your dog is allergic to something.

Allergy-related itchiness usually affects the dog’s entire body, but it can be localized to specific hot spots, like the ears, toes, and legs. Dogs with allergies often chew or lick between their toes or scratch their ears. In more severe or chronic cases, the itching can get so intense that the dog can develop a secondary infection. These can manifest as smelly and moist skin that has a red appearance.

Little bumps that look like pimples between your dog’s toes or smelly ears and recurring ear infections are other signs that your dog could be experiencing an allergic reaction.

Properly treating dermatitis triggered by allergies often requires vet-prescribed medication. These medications can help reduce inflammation triggered by dermatitis and help soothe the itchiness that the dog feels.

How Can I Tell What Allergens Cause Dermatitis?

It can be very challenging to determine which allergens are causing your dog’s skin problems. A customized virtual veterinary consultation with one of our Hello Ralphie vets can help you narrow down what is triggering your dog’s allergies.

However, the truth is it could be more than one cause. The most common allergens that contribute to dermatitis in dogs are food ingredients. Food-based allergies usually develop from the specific animal proteins found in their food.

In many cases, chicken and beef are the ingredients that trigger food-based allergies for dogs.

You should also be aware of the type of treats you are feeding your dog, as even small quantities of a particular ingredient can trigger a reaction in allergy-prone dogs.

It is also important to note that even though your dog may have been on the same diet its entire life, it is still possible that they could develop an allergy to that food.

If you suspect your dog could be experiencing dermatitis due to a food-based allergy, a Hello Ralphie online veterinarian can discuss alternative food options you could try. Several prescription veterinary foods are formulated for dogs that suffer from food allergies and can improve your dog’s quality of life!

dog try to scratching his skin

Other Causes of Dog Allergies

Dogs can also react to airborne allergens in the environment, such as molds, pollens, grasses, or other particles in the air. Environmental allergens are usually seasonal, so make a note of when your dog is at its most itchy.

If you live somewhere with drastic seasonal changes, you may notice that your dog is itchy at particular times of the year. You can manage pruritus in dogs with seasonal allergies with the same seasonal allergy medications prescribed to humans.

A Hello Ralphie online veterinarian will be able to discuss all of the potential medications to help prevent your dog’s seasonal itchiness. In some cases, dogs take these medications their entire lives, while in less severe cases, you can use them to treat occasional flare-ups.

The most commonly used medications include oral antihistamines such as Benadryl or Reactine, found at most pharmacies. A Hello Ralphie virtual vet can help you decide if an antihistamine is appropriate for your dog, as well as explain how much your dog should take. More potent anti-itch medications can include oral steroids, as well as some injectable prescription medications.

What Are Some Other Causes of Dermatitis in Dogs?

Other causes of dermatitis in dogs include parasitic infections. The most common type of parasite that causes dermatitis in dogs is fleas. Dogs with flea infections can experience extreme itchiness, which is why they will often chew and bite at specific body parts and violently scratch their entire bodies. The scratching and itching can severely irritate the skin and perpetuate dermatitis.

Dogs can also be allergic to the saliva left behind after a flea bite, making the itching and inflammation significantly worse! This condition is called flea allergy dermatitis, and it often needs to be treated with prescription medication.

Flea infections can sometimes be hard to diagnose unless you happen to see live fleas on your dog’s skin. A Hello Ralphie veterinarian will be able to discuss your dog’s specific case and help you to determine if fleas are the cause of your dog’s dermatitis.

If necessary, one of our virtual veterinarians may also be able to prescribe a flea treatment or a flea preventative, which can treat the current infection and protect your dog against future flea issues.

Less commonly, dermatitis in dogs can be due to an allergic reaction that triggers the body to release histamine. Since histamine is a molecule that causes itchiness, it forces dogs to scratch themselves, which causes their skin to become inflamed and irritated. In many cases, a bee sting or mosquito bite triggers this type of dermatitis.

What Can You Do?

If you suspect your dog is having an allergic reaction to something, schedule an immediate online veterinary appointment so that one of our Hello Ralphie online vets can help you help your pet!

For more information about itchiness in dogs, read through our Why is My Dog So Itchy and Red Bumps on Dog Paws guides!

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