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Skin problems in dogs

Most dogs will experience skin conditions at some point in their life. Whether these are chronic or acute issues, they all have something in common: they cause your dog a great discomfort. In this article we will discuss the skin conditions that occur because of allergies.

Sad looking dog

The largest organ

Skin is the largest organ and functions as a protective barrier. Not only does the skin protect your dog from external influences, trauma and infections; it also reflects how your dog is feeling inside. If your dog feels ill or has a weakened immune system, this will be reflected in the skin or coat. On top of that, the skin has a multitude of functions: it regulates body temperature, stores useful nutrients and is used as a sensory receptor.


Animals with skin allergies can display a wide variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms are itching, redness, irritated skin and skin rash. This can be accompanied by hair loss, a dull coat, discolouration of the skin and scratch marks. Recurring ear problems can also indicate an underlying skin issue. Do keep in mind that these ear problems must not include bacteria, fungi, yeast or mites. Other indicators of skin issues are a bad body odour or red discolouration of the skin (particularly visible between the toes). A light-coloured coat may turn reddish due to prolonged licking as well.

While most dogs with skin conditions don’t look noticeably ill, they usually do experience a very intense discomfort. Itchiness, in particular, can seriously affect your dog’s overall well-being.


There are many underlying causes that can result in skin conditions. You will need to properly diagnose the cause before starting treatment. If you only treat the symptoms, they could become a recurring problem.

There are usually several factors that eventually lead to serious complaints. This is the so-called “itching threshold” and it is the turning point between a regular and a painful itch. Dogs reach this point when they experience an overload of allergic reactions to allergens. Dogs tend to be hypersensitive to multiple allergens, but an accumulation of allergens can take dogs to the itching threshold. We will discuss some of the hypersensitivities below.

Flea allergy

A flea allergy is one of the most common allergies in dogs. Dogs with a flea allergy are hypersensitive to the proteins in the flea’s saliva. This causes an adverse reaction with a severe and persistent itch. In most cases, the body parts involved are the hindquarters and base of the tail, which is were you are likely to find scratch and bite marks as well. Even the tiniest of fleas can cause a very intense reaction, so make sure you give your dog the proper treatment!

Food hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivity to certain food components can cause skin and/or gastrointestinal problems. Most people think that animals can’t develop an allergy for a food they’ve been eating for a long time. The opposite is true: the allergy actually develops because an animal is continuously exposed to the same allergen. Your pet will then get overloaded by the allergens and show an adverse reaction. The majority of dogs with food allergies reacts to a protein derived from animals, like beef or chicken. Only a small percentage of dogs is allergic to certain types of wheat. By changing your pet’s diet, you can confirm the food allergy and know how to treat it. If you change to a certain diet food, you must stick to it for 6 to 8 weeks. This means no other food, no treats and no bone or chew treats. You will also need to prevent your dog from eating anything while you’re out on a walk. Only after the diet will you be able to determine whether your dog has an allergy to one of the ingredients. If the adverse reactions haven’t stopped, you can repeat the process with a different diet. And if the reactions have stopped, you can keep using the diet.

There are two types of diets that can be used do determine whether your dog has a food sensitivity.

  • A diet with hydrolysed proteins. The proteins are “cut” into smaller components through hydrolysis. The body doesn’t recognise these smaller parts as proteins, which means that the immune system won’t show an adverse reaction.
  • An elimination diet. These types of diets are made with only one protein source. If you decide to use this diet, it is important that you get food with a protein your dog has never eaten before. Some examples of the protein sources are deer, horse, rabbit, ostrich or quail. The diet usually consists of one the protein sources, a source of carbohydrates (e.g. rice or potato), and a supplement vitamins and minerals. You can get a ready-made elimination diet or compose one yourself.


Atopy is a hereditary and chronic disease. A pet with atopy will have heightened reactions to common allergens. Dogs can react to mites (including house dust mite), dander and dandruff, and certain pollen and grass. A dog with atopy will usually react to a combination of these allergens.
The first symptoms of atopy usually occur before a dog’s third year of life. In those cases, the head, groin and paws are the areas most affected by scratch marks and irritated skin. Besides giving a supporting treatment (i.e. medication or skin creams), you can also work on desensitising your dog. This means that you try to reduce the adverse reactions to allergens. You can do this by administering injections with diluted allergens, while gradually increasing the quantity of the allergens. It can take a few months before this treatment shows any results.

How can a veterinarian help?

Before a treatment can be given, it is essential to map out all the symptoms. This helps to determine the underlying cause of the skin condition, and to see whether there are any additional infections. This can be done through regular allergy tests, but also through a microscopic examination of dander and dandruff, fungi tests, bacteriological research, blood tests, and biopsies of the skin. Having a proper diagnosis helps to determine the right treatment, so your dog can recover from the skin conditions. It’s no use to only treat the symptoms, especially not if your dog has a chronic skin problem. Your veterinarian can help you do these tests and if necessary, refer you to a veterinary dermatologist.

How can you help your dog?

There are various things you can do to support your dog. Keeping the skin and coat in optimal condition already helps to prevent serious complaints. Having a good skin care routine can help significantly, especially if a medical treatment is given as well.

Essential fatty acids

When used on a regular basis, essential fatty acids strengthen the skin barrier, and contribute to maintaining the moisture balance and structure of the coat and skin. A high amount of essential fatty acids helps the skin become more resilient. You can give your dog food that contains a high content of fatty acids or use supplements. There are also special pipettes with which you can apply the fatty acids directly to the skin.


The first step of treating a food allergy is changing your dog’s diet! This way you will not only avoid certain allergens, but a prescription diet will also contain all the essential nutrients that support the recovery process. These diets often already contain supplements of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind that it can take a long time to find the perfect diet for your furry friend. The effectiveness of an elimination diet can only be determined after 6 to 8 weeks. If an elimination diet doesn’t have the desired effect, you will have to repeat the same process until you find the right food.

Supportive skin and coat care

Taking good care of your pet’s helps prevent skin conditions. So educate yourself on your dog’s coat type, brush the coat regularly (preferably weekly), and take the time to visit a dog groomer. You can reduce the risk of allergic reactions by keeping the skin and coat in optimal condition. Even if your dog has been diagnosed with a skin condition, appropriate grooming will contribute to the recovery of your dog’s skin.

First and foremost, it is important to regularly wash your dog with a suitable shampoo. This helps to remove dirt, microorganisms, and possible allergens from the coat. At the same time, the shampoo soothes and hydrates the (itchy) skin. A good shampoo for your dog is Cowboy Magic.

Additionally, it is important to clean the ears regularly. Since skin conditions are often accompanied by ear problems, you should take proper care of the ears. Check out all our ear care products, to see which products you need to add to your skin care routine.

Dogs of certain breeds also have small or large skin folds around the snout and base of the tail. If your dog has a sensitive skin, these folds can be the cause of serious problems. There are various disinfecting and soothing wipes available, such as the MalAcetic Wipes. These wipes are specifically made to keep the skin folds clean and dry.


Skin conditions caused by hypersensitivity and allergies can seriously affect your dog’s well-being. A proper examination, a suitable treatment and a good skin care routine help to prevent and improve serious issues. This way, you can make sure that your dog always feels comfortable in its own skin!

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