The immune system of a dog produces excess antibodies (histamines) after exposure to allergens present in the environment such as pollens, food, and microbes. This overreaction of the immune system causes itching and skin diseases.
Types and Symptoms
These diseases can be acute (self-limiting) or chronic (long-term). Some dog breeds like Terriers and Retrievers are more prone to skin problems than others. Based on the cause, the disorders are categorized into four major types, namely bacterial, fungal, parasitic, and allergic.
Bacterial Skin Infection
Staph bacteria or Staphylococci is a major causal organism for bacterial skin infections in dogs. The trunk portion and ears are most susceptible to it (pyodermas). Nevertheless, symptoms may spread to the whole body of the pet. Some of the common symptoms are rashes, pustules, hot spots, loss of hair in patches, and severe itching.
Fungal Skin Infection
In dogs, this infection is referred to as ringworm. It is often observed in puppies rather than older dogs. The fungus usually inhabits the skin, nails, and hair. Head and legs are commonly affected. Loss of hair is one of the early symptoms. If the symptoms remain untreated, the infection may progress, leading to dry and crusty skin lesions.
Parasitic Skin Disease
Dogs are susceptible to various parasites including fleas and dust mites. The disease caused by mites is called mange. Parasitic skin diseases can affect any part of the dog's body. Common symptoms include crusty skin, irritation in affected areas, itching, lesions, inflammation, and loss of hair.
Allergic Skin Disease
This can be caused due to a food allergy, chemical allergy (present in soaps, detergents), insect bites, and stings. Among these, atopic dermatitis is the most common. It is developed due to inhalation of pollutants such as pollens, dust, and molds.
This can affect dogs at any stage, especially young dogs between one to three years of age. Symptoms of atopy are rash, scratching, self-biting, and itching on the face, ears, and foot.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Since there are varied reasons for the cause of these diseases, it is often difficult to evaluate the exact cause of the condition. Diagnosis is usually based on the physical examination and medical history of the affected dog.
In order to evaluate any underlying diseases, the veterinarian may conduct blood tests, urine and stool analysis, and skin biopsy. After correct diagnosis and evaluation of the source of allergy, the veterinarian may prescribe certain medication and remedies for treatment.
Actual treatment of the disease is based on the cause of the skin problem. In case of bacterial infection, the vet may prescribe an antibiotic course for about three weeks. Other common treatment procedures include topical ointments and medications such as antihistamines (to cope up with the effects of histamines), corticosteroids, and immunotherapy.
Antihistamines can be used effectively in all age groups, whereas corticosteroids are more effective among young dogs. For older dogs, stronger medications are necessary for treatment.
If the disease is developed due to allergies, the best way to prevent it is to avoid exposure to the particular allergy-causing agent. For chronic diseases, the pet may be required to take medications throughout its life.
In case a dog displays increased itching or change in behavior, it is advisable to consult and seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian. Timely treatment along with proper care is always recommended to avoid other health complications.