Understanding causes and treatments of Canine Dermatitis


Skin is the first line of defence and is also the prime indicator of general health in dogs. There are several external and internal factors that contribute to the general health, structure and function of skin. Therefore, skin problem is quite common in dog. Let’s see why!
Dr Lalhmingmuana Sailo
What is Canine Dermatitis?
‘Canine Dermatitis’ means ‘inflammation of dog skin’. It is fairly common in companion dogs and is one of the most frustrating conditions that pet parents have to deal with. Dermatitis is usually a chronic condition with frequent chances of recurrence!
What causes it?
Canine Dermatitis may be caused by the following alone or in combination:

  • Animal, vegetable or chemical substances that can cause skin irritation.
  • Exposure to extreme condition – heat, cold or humidity.
  • Self-induced/self-trauma due to biting, chewing or rubbing.
  • Parasitic infestation by fleas, flies, ticks, mites, lice, maggots, etc.
  • Allergies/hypersensitivity/atopy.
  • Malnutrition or deficiency of essential nutrients.
  • Immune-mediated or auto-immune disorders.
  • Infectious diseases – bacterial, fungal, yeast or viral.
  • Hormonal imbalances – hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism, hyperestrogenism.
  • Skin abscesses, tumours or masses – cysts, haematomas, lipomas, adenomas, melanomas, papillomas.
  • Idiopathic or unknown causes.

What are the symptoms?
Dermatitis in dogs can cause wide ranges of clinical signs and symptoms depending on the pet’s health, living environment and immune system. The hallmark of canine dermatitis is intense itchiness (or also called pruritus) which may or may not fluctuate seasonally. Pruritus will be responded with intense scratching, licking, pawing, chewing and/or biting at the skin, rubbing the head on the floor or ground.
Redness, thickening, oily and fowl smelling of the affected skin are commonly seen. Other common signs may include, hair loss (alopecia); may be patchy or symmetrical; inflammation (redness, swelling, irritation) of the paws, legs, tail base, flank, neck and/or armpit areas, hot spots; raw, weeping, painful sores; usually due to self-trauma, raised red skin eruptions or bumps, dry, scaly, crusty skin (dandruff), ear infections with foul odour coming from the ears.
How is it diagnosed?
In general, canine dermatitis can be diagnosed from the symptoms of skin inflammation. However, it is not easy to figure out the underlying causes!
The veterinarian will collect thorough history by asking questions about the dog’s health history, travel history and diet accompanied by careful observation of the dog’s skin and hair coat. He may look for ectoparasites and any identifiable environmental allergies and then a systematic hunt to determine the cause of the condition.
Skin scraping examination might help in identifying the ectoparasites. Besides, blood and urine samples can be taken to rule out systemic causes of dermatitis, such as hyperadrenocorticism, diabetes, kidney disease or hypothyroidism. Sometimes, the veterinarian probably may conduct tests to identify possible causes of hypersensitivity (allergic) reactions that commonly contribute to skin inflammation.
Dietary changes, including an elimination diet protocol, may be recommended to determine whether the dog has allergies to particular food
Fleas allergic dermatitis
ingredients. This involves feeding the dog only a few ingredients at first, such as rice and boiled chicken, and then gradually adding one more ingredient at a time, assessing the dog’s skin reaction along the way. Elimination diet trials take a long time and lots of patience on the part of the pet parent and the dog.
How can it be treated?
The goals of treating dermatitis in dogs are to control the inflammation and itchiness associated with the disorder, to resolve the underlying causes and restoring the dog’s comfortable quality of life.

  • Find the cause: Before resorting to topical, oral or parenteral medications to treat the symptoms of dermatitis, pet parents and their veterinarians need to figure out why the dogs are having skin problems in the first place. They should pay particular attention to the dog’s home environment and living conditions.
  • Safeguard your pooch: External parasites (such as ear mites, fleas, lice and ticks) are common contributors to canine dermatitis. Fortunately, there are many preventative and treatment measures that can help keep these annoying pests away from our dogs.
  • Get rid of internal parasites: Internal parasites, such as tapeworms and hookworms, also can contribute to canine dermatitis by reducing the affected dog’s immune system. Consult your vet.
  • Be diet-conscious: All companion dogs should be fed a high-quality and well-balanced diet. Essential fatty acids and vitamins can help dogs in maintaining hair coat and healthy skin.
  • Choose specific shampoo: Medicated shampoos that contain natural ingredients such as sulphur, tea tree oil, oatmeal and/or aloe can also help in reducing itchiness, moisturise skin and heal
    Bacterial dermatitis in puppy
    skin sores.
  • Medications by vet: Dogs with severe skin inflammation or skin infections may need to be treated with oral, topical or injectable medications to manage their diseases.
  • Consult your vet: Anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines and corticosteroids are frequently used to treat the effects of dermatitis in dogs. These medications, especially steroids, can have a number of adverse side effects, especially if they are administered for long periods of time. A veterinarian is the best one to give advice about appropriate medical treatment protocols for dermatitis in companion dogs.

Generally, dermatitis in dogs is not a life-threatening condition; however, it can cause extreme discomfort. Most cases of canine dermatitis respond well to topical or systemic medical treatment. It is always important to identify the cause of the condition with the help of veterinarian for successful treatment to ensure that the dog has a comfortable, itch-free and good quality of life.
(Dr Lalhmingmuana Sailo, MVSc (Med) runs Waggin’ Tails Pet Clinic at Aizawl, Mizoram).