Puppy scratching at its leg

Key takeaway

If your dog’s skin is irritated, it’s typically a sign of an underlying health condition. Infections, parasite infestations, allergies, and diseases can contribute to dog skin irritation. Treatment for dog skin irritation will generally be aimed at addressing the root cause of the problem.

Skin irritation in dogs comes in many forms. Your dog’s skin may be irritated because it’s itchy, flaking, swollen, reddened, or impacted in some other type of way. With cases like these, dermatitis can be used as a general term to describe the inflammation and irritation impacting your dog’s skin.

Dermatitis and skin irritation in dogs is often a symptom of a larger health problem. Whether your dog has red skin or your dog has a skin rash, these typically point to an underlying health condition that should be properly treated. Common culprits when it comes to skin irritation in dogs include allergies, infections, parasites, and occasionally other diseases. Yet, you can rest assured that the vast majority of health conditions associated with skin irritation in dogs are treatable.

In this post, we’ll go over the signs of skin irritation in dogs, as well as potential causes and treatment options. To learn more about dog skin irritation and dermatitis, read through all of the below sections. You can also skip to any part of the article using the links below.

Signs of Skin Irritation in Dogs

In order to effectively treat skin irritation in dogs, one must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms. There are a wide array of symptoms associated with skin irritation in dogs, and the particular symptoms that develop may give clues to the kind of underlying health condition affecting your dog.

Below are some common symptoms of skin irritation in dogs1:

  • Constant scratching and itching
  • Hair loss
  • Areas of small bumps on skin
  • Redness or swelling
  • Scaling, crusting, or hardening of the skin
  • Dry skin
  • Abnormal odor
  • Excessive oil production

Signs of skin irritation in dogs

Any combination of these symptoms may point to skin irritation in your dog. Once you notice symptoms, make sure to note them or even take pictures of affected areas, as these may be able to help your vet better understand your dog’s condition and streamline the diagnostic process.

Potential Causes of Dog Skin Irritation

Your dog’s skin irritation is generally not a condition in and of itself, but a symptom of an underlying health condition. Identifying the cause of your dog’s skin irritation makes it much easier to design an effective treatment plan that provides your dog with relief.

With that being said, there are a number of reasons why your dog’s skin may become irritated. Among the most common reasons for skin irritation in dogs are infections, parasites, allergies, and disease. We go over each one of these potential causes in more detail below.

Infections

If your dog contracts an infection, this can potentially lead to skin irritation. Several types of bacterial and fungal infections can lead to symptoms such as extreme itching, scaling, hair loss, unpleasant odors, and fluid discharge. Conditions like yeast or bacterial infections and ringworm can potentially lead to inflammation of your dog’s skin.2 In this case, treating the infection should relieve your dog’s irritation.

Parasites

Parasites are one of the most common causes of dog itching and skin irritation, and will likely be the first thing your vet checks for when attempting to identify the issue. Mites, fleas, and other parasites can lead to inflammation and itching, yet they may not be visible to the naked eye.2

Parasites are one of the most common causes of dog itching and skin irritation

Allergies

Allergies are known to produce skin irritation in dogs and other animals. Food sensitivities, environmental allergens, insect bites, and seasonal allergies can all lead to skin inflammation and itching.2 If your dog’s skin is irritated due to allergies, removing the allergen from the dog’s environment may be possible in order to provide relief from dog skin allergies. Alternatively, there are several medications available through a veterinarian to help your dog’s allergies.

Disease

Certain diseases—such as flea allergy dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and hypothyroidism—can cause skin irritation in dogs.3 In order to reach a conclusive diagnosis for any of these diseases, it’s essential to consult with a vet.

How to Treat Skin Irritation in Your Dog

Person running shampoo over dog’s head

The best treatment for dog skin irritation will ultimately depend on the root cause of the irritation. Identifying your dog’s underlying health condition will make it much easier to choose a treatment option, since directly addressing this condition is typically the quickest and most effective way to cure your dog’s skin irritation. With that in mind, here are some of the available treatments for dog skin irritation.

Medicated baths

Medicated baths can help soothe the skin of dogs experiencing dermatitis. In some cases, using antimicrobial shampoos can provide relief to dogs experiencing atopic dermatitis. Additionally, medicated flea baths can help rid your dog of parasites that may be irritating their skin.

Medicated baths can help soothe the skin of dogs experiencing dermatitis

Flea control

Flea control measures such as insect growth regulators have proven to be effective in preventing fleas from reproducing and infesting your dog’s coat. There are also other flea control products that can be administered orally or topically.4 Speak with your vet about the right flea control products for your dog.

Antibiotics

In case a bacterial infection is causing your dog’s skin irritation, antibiotics may be able to provide some relief. Antibiotics can be used to treat the infection causing your dog’s skin irritation, thereby addressing the root of the problem.

Antifungal medication

If your dog is experiencing a fungal infection, antifungal medication can relieve itchiness and irritation by taking care of the underlying health condition causing the problem in the first place.

Antihistamines

As we mentioned above, skin irritation in dogs can be caused by allergies. In some cases, antihistamines can neutralize different types of allergies and prevent allergy-related skin irritation in your dog. However, the success of antihistamines when it comes to itching in dogs varies on a case by case basis.2

Dietary changes

If your dog’s skin is irritated due to a food allergy, the simple solution is to remove the problematic food from your dog’s diet. Yet, identifying your dog’s food allergies can be difficult. In order to diagnose a food allergy, your vet may recommend an elimination diet to pinpoint what food your dog is allergic to.

Glucocorticoids

Glucocorticoids are anti-inflammatory steroids that can help reduce the itching and irritation of a dog’s skin. However, they’re only prescribed in certain cases due to their side effects. For instance, they can cause excessive hunger, thirst, and urination, as well as increase the risk of diabetes and secondary urinary tract infections.2

Avoidance of environmental irritants

In some cases, dogs may experience skin irritation due to environmental allergens. Perhaps they have seasonal allergies or they’re allergic to something in their immediate environment. If this is the case, the easiest remedy will typically be to remove the offending allergen from your dog’s immediate environment or take steps to ensure they avoid those irritants. Again, it can be difficult to definitively determine what environmental factor your dog is allergic to.

Dog Skin Irritation: Frequently Asked Questions

How can I treat my dog’s irritated skin?

The treatment for dog skin irritation will depend on the root cause of the irritation. If your dog has fleas, you should eliminate those fleas; if your dog has allergies in response to a particular food, you should remove the problematic food from their diet.

Ultimately, the most effective treatment method will address the underlying medical condition causing the irritation. Before choosing a treatment option, make sure to consult with your veterinarian.

What could be irritating my dog’s skin?

A number of conditions can cause a dog’s skin to become irritated. Four of the most common causes for dog skin irritation include parasite infestations, infections, allergies, and diseases. Identifying the trigger for your dog’s skin irritation will make it much easier to devise an effective treatment plan.

What can I put on my dog to relieve itching?

The way in which you provide your dog with relief will depend on their underlying health condition. Medicated baths, insect growth regulators, and antihistamines are just a few potential methods for treating a dog with irritated skin. Speak with your vet to find out more about specific medications, shampoos, and ointments that can relieve your dog’s itching.

Final Notes

If you’ve noticed symptoms of skin irritation in your dog, then it’s best to act right away. As a pet owner, you want your dog to be happy and comfortable, not irritated. You also want to ensure that your dog’s skin irritation isn’t indicative of a larger health problem.

To quickly access convenient, high-quality treatment for your pet, use Dutch. Dutch connects pet owners with top vets and facilitates easy online consultations. Once you schedule an initial consultation, you’ll meet with a vet who can assess your dog’s symptoms, make a diagnosis, design a customized treatment plan, and provide ongoing care. Plus, Dutch is the only pet telemedicine company that facilitates the delivery of medication right to your door.

Whether your dog has anxiety or you’ve noticed dog ear infection symptoms, treatment is more accessible than you think. Contact Dutch today to get high-quality veterinary care on your terms.

References

  1. Moriello, Karen A. “Dermatitis and Dermatologic Problems in Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, June 2018, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/dermatitis-and-dermatologic-problems-in-dogs.
  2. Moriello, Karen A. “Itching (Pruritus) in Dogs.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, June 2018, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/itching-pruritus-in-dogs.
  3. Diaz, Sandra. “Canine Atopic Dermatitis.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, Aug. 2020, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/integumentary-system/atopic-dermatitis/canine-atopic-dermatitis.
  4. Dryden, Michael W. “Fleas of Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, June 2018, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/fleas-of-dogs.