Skin problems can vary from breed to breed, where some dog breeds are more susceptible to skin problems. The climate where you live can also have a significant impact on a dog’s skin and fur. Taking all things into consideration, these are the most common issues dogs experience with their skin and coat.
Dogs with itchy skin, officially referred to as pruritus, are a very common sight in the clinic. In fact, dog itching is the primary complaint associated with up to 40% of all vet visits for a skin problem. Persistent scratching can consume a dog’s life, keeping both your dog and you up all night. Those who have suffered alongside their itchy dog are well versed in the sounds of a dog going to town on his own leg in the middle of the night. In addition to feeling miserable, itchy dogs can develop secondary skin lesions, infections, and hair loss from the trauma of teeth and nails on their skin.
Allergies are a very common cause of itchy skin, and can be further divided into three major categories: fleas, environment, and food. While flea bites cause a transient irritation to both pets and people, dogs with a true flea allergy are hypersensitive. One bite can be enough to trigger a systemic bout of chewing and scratching. Fleas can be a challenge to manage, requiring treatment of all household pets as well as the environment, but the good news is once the fleas are under control, so is the itching.
Environmental allergy, or atopy, is another big category of dog allergies. The irritants can be inhaled, like pollen or mite dander; or absorbed directly through the skin, as sometimes happens with grass. Atopy is a challenge to manage, and dogs may require injections or regular medication to keep them comfortable during certain seasons.
Food sensitivity resulting in skin problems are, to the surprise of many owners, much less common than the first two types. Food issues are usually triggered by a hypersensitivity reaction to a protein that the body misidentifies as a threat. The only way to diagnose a food sensitivity is through a strict elimination diet. Your veterinarian’s guidance is essential in sorting through a pet’s history for clues leading to a diagnosis of a food sensitivity. Once the specific irritant is identified, the pet can be transitioned to a dog food that does not contain the trigger.
Sores and Hot Spots
Other common causes of pruritus (itchy skin) are external parasites such as mites and fleas (in non-sensitive dogs), and primary bacterial infections. Hot spots, or moist dermatitis, are often seen in the dog and can spread very quickly. If you spot any red, sticky sores on your dog, get him evaluated before it worsens.
Few things are sadder than the sight of a balding dog. Although it’s tempting to jump to conclusions about the cause, it can be very challenging to accurately diagnose hair loss in dogs without a veterinary exam and diagnostics such as a skin scraping to examine the skin cells under a microscope.
Hair loss in dogs is caused by a variety of problems, from parasites such as Demodex mites to thyroid disease to Cushing's disease, an adrenal disorder. Careful physical examination and history can give essential clues to help a veterinarian decide if the dog hair loss is occurring secondary to a systemic disorder.
Dull Coats and the Role of Fatty Acids
In addition to medical management specifically for your pet’s diagnosed problem, most pets respond well to nutritional management. Dogs with dry skin or a dull coat, for example, often improve with diets or supplements containing optimized levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in green-lipped mussel, play an important role in reducing reactivity.
Omega-6 fatty acids play a key role in maintaining the integrity of your dog's skin as a barrier, reducing water loss and bolstering the strength of the skin cells. Linoleic is an essential omega-6 fatty acid, meaning the dog must obtain this from food sources as they cannot synthesize it on their own.
So while some symptoms may be normal, others can be more problematic. Natural remedies like hemp can help your dog's skin. But as with any health challenges, if you are in doubt, consult your vet.