The 5 most common skin conditions and allergies in dogs

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Dogs suffer from a variety of different skin conditions that routinely need a vet’s attention. Here are the 5 most common skin conditions found in Australian dogs:

1. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Flea allergy dermatitis should be fairly self-explanatory. It’s the most common skin disease in pets, and results from an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to the flea’s saliva during feeding. Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t need a huge flea burden to develop a reaction, and in fact can develop FAD if they have only 1-2 fleas on their body.

How to treat it
Treatment involves treating and preventing fleas all year round and medical management of the skin allergy and disease (which can include topical steroid, antibiotic creams or shampoos, and oral antihistamines, steroids and antibiotics). Use a gentle, sulphate-free shampoo designed just for dogs as well, as you don’t want to strip the skin’s oils, especially if you’re using a spot-on flea treatment.

2. Atopic dermatitis (Atopy)

Atopy in dogs is the second most common allergic skin disease and is caused by a general allergic or hypersensitivity reaction to an indoor or environmental allergen, including plants, pollen, dust mites, mould spores and so on. Atopy results in itching, especially in skin folds like the flanks and armpits, progressing to infection and generalised dermatitis. Many of these microscopic allergens penetrate through the skin directly as these dogs often have a genetically inherited skin barrier defect.

How to treat it
There is no cure for atopic dermatitis and long term management is needed - with three main strategies: removing allergens from the skin, managing infection and inflammation, and repairing the skin barrier. This involves regular shampooing with mild medicated or soothing shampoos (Mediderm Medicated Shampoo or NutriDerm® Replenishing Shampoo), moisturising of the skin with rich conditioners containing ceramides (NutriDerm® Replenishing Conditioner), skin allergy testing and immunotherapy, medical management (antihistamines, steroids, antibiotics, etc.), omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid nutritional supplements (Dermega® Omega 3 & 6 Oral Supplement), and topical fatty acid and essential oil treatment (Essential 6 Spot on for Dogs).

3. Food allergy dermatitis

This condition, which can also include food intolerances, is much less common than FAD or Atopy, and usually develops from one year of age onwards. If you suspect your dog may be suffering a food allergy, the only option is to put your dog on a strict food elimination trial diet for three months. This usually involves feeding a “novel” protein diet (something the pet has never had before, e.g. kangaroo and pumpkin), and nothing else. If the symptoms improve over this time, there is a possibility your dog has a food allergy. At the end of this time, you then need to “rechallenge” your dog by going back to your regular diet and see if symptoms recur. If so, it is definitely a food allergy and you will need to work closely with your vet to find out which food it is. The most common allergens in dogs in Australia are beef, chicken and wheat.

How to treat it
Once you know what proteins or foods your dog is allergic to - simply avoid them in the diet. Alternatively, feeding a commercial diet with hydrolysed proteins can be an option in some cases.

4. Mange

Mange is a skin disease of dogs, which is commonly caused by two types of mites, Demodex or Scabies. Demodectic mange is the more common of the two. Demodex mites are normally found on all dogs and don’t usually cause any problems. However, when there is an abnormality in the dog’s immune system, either in the skin or in the body, Demodex mites can thrive, causing hair loss and skin damage. This is followed by secondary bacterial infections and itching. Dogs with Demodex often don’t itch in the beginning and all you often see are spots of hair loss starting first on the face. Scabies, on the other hand, whilst less common, is extremely itchy and is usually contracted from native wildlife (such as wombats) or other infected dogs. It is more common in rural areas or suburban fringes. Scabies (but not demodex) can pass to people as well so if you start itching too, make sure you tell the vet!

How to treat it
Both conditions are treated by administering the appropriate parasiticide until symptoms resolve. These mites are treated very differently, so it is important to go to your vet for an accurate diagnosis through a skin scraping procedure before starting treatment.

5. Hot spots

Finally, hot spots are another common skin disease seen on dogs. Otherwise known as traumatic pyodermatitis, it usually appears as a discrete moist patch of hair loss on your dog’s skin that is very itchy, and sometimes purulent (ie containing or discharging pus) and smelly. They can be caused by anything that irritates your dog’s skin including infections, wounds, flea bites, etc, leading to the dog chewing at the skin. It then gets worse through persistent chewing and licking, which in turns causes more infection and itching. These wounds are usually secondarily infected with bacteria.

How to treat it
Treatment usually involves clipping and cleaning of the area, followed by treatment with topical antibiotics. In severe cases, oral antibiotics can be prescribed and corticosteroids may also be prescribed to help bring down the itching, especially at the start. Using a calming gel before it gets infected and itchy can help (TriDerm Calming Gel®).

Hopefully you are now armed with the information you need to get on top of your dog’s scratching! If your dog's symptoms persist, please consult your local vet clinic.


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