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Common Canine Skin Conditions

by Lauren Samet

Would you describe your dog as an itchy dog and if it was itchy what would you do about it? Are they itchy all over or is it focused on a particular part of the body?

Most people are familiar with what a flea is (a tiny, wingless insect that can jump over fifty times its body size and is a common blood sucking parasite to pets) and regularly and rightly get their dog de-fleaed with a suitable treatment. However, this isn’t the only cause of skin irritation in our canine friends. If your dog has a dry, flaky coat that’s dull and causes them to scratch too often, then another type of health problem may be inflicting your pooch.

In the past, dogs were often housed outdoors as kennel living animals, but now most people generally choose to house their dogs inside, has this indoor living decreased their resistance to skin infection?

The answer is probably no, it is likely that outdoor housed dogs scratched just as much as our indoor ones but without the owner witnessing how common an occurrence it was.  So what’s the cause?

The most common skin problem in dogs includes itchy skin, which your veterinarian may refer to as pruritus. This itchy complaint causes a dog to scratch almost consistently and can be responsible for secondary issues such as skin lesions, hair loss, and skin infection, not to mention your dog feeling restless and irritated. The commonality of this complaint (PetMD author, Jessica Vogelsang, estimates it makes up 40% of vet visits related to canine skin disorders) is concerning but has no definitive cause. For such cases, vets would routinely check for skin parasites but if these tests were negative would consider allergies, diet and stress levels too.

Quite rightly testing for parasites first is important because there are several common types of mite that a dog could pick up from many of the places it comes into contact with. Demodectic mange, for example, is caused by the demodex mite, similarly, the Sarcoptes scabiei mite can result in sarcoptic mange. It is important to rule a parasitic cause out early on when investigating your dog’s itchiness as parasites can breed and spread to the wider areas of your home and other hosts too. Ringworm, yeast infections, folliculitis, anal sac irritation, hot spots and immune disorders are other problems causing skin upset and irritation that would require veterinary advice and treatment. Anxiety and stress can sometimes lead a dog to chew or repeatedly groom an area such as a paw until it makes it sore and itchy and becomes a secondary irritation in itself. In cases such as these, an animal behaviourist may be equally of help.

Allergies & Diet

Sometimes, however, the cause is not due to an external parasite or infection. Allergies in dogs are becoming increasingly common, most likely because of the previously mentioned increased owner awareness and concern towards their pet’s state of health. Some common canine allergens include pollens (tree or grass), dust or house mite dust, fleas and their control products, cleaning products, materials such as rubber, plastics and some fabrics, mould spores, dander, feathers, cigarette smoke and food ingredients. Flea allergies are very common (see above) and the other allergens can be divided into environmental or food related. Environmental allergens can either be inhaled or absorbed through the skin (think about what you wash your dog’s bed in or cleaning products you use!). Finding the cause can be difficult and requires trial and error elimination or a change to their environment to see what eases their irritation. Food allergies (also known as food hypersensitivity) may have some other clinical signs such as frequent diarrhoea, vomiting, flatulence or chronic ear infections and could literally be any element of your pet’s diet (or another pet’s diet if they have a habit of finishing up the cat food if given half the chance). They may cause your dog to be generally itchy all over or may be particularly irritated on their paws, ears, or perineum.  As with human food allergies, an elimination diet is needed to pinpoint the component which the body incorrectly identifies as a threat. Common canine hypersensitivities include one or more of the following: wheat, chicken, beef, dairy, lamb, egg, soy, rabbit, fish and pork. A good veterinarian would be able to assist with planning an elimination diet trial and be able to recommend alternative canine feed products that are hypoallergenic.

Dry Skin & Dull Coats

So your dog isn’t itchy but it has a dull coat and/or flaky skin? It may not have an allergy but its diet may still be the cause. Dull coat, dry skin and flakiness may be signs that your dog’s diet isn’t providing him with enough fatty acids or other beneficial nutrients to support a glossy coat or supple smooth skin. Reviewing your pet's diet to ensure it has optimum nutrition for its needs might mean including a supplement high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as VitaPaws Advanced Coat and Skin for Dogs or their Cod Liver Oil for Dogs). Omega 3 fatty acids have the additional benefit of promoting an anti-inflammatory response in the body so are also beneficial for dogs recovering from severe mange that may have inflamed itchy red skin. Omega 3 fatty acids are not found in high quantities in some dogs foods and must be balanced in a ratio of approximately 1:10 to 1:5 with another fatty acid known as omega 6 to promote optimal health in dogs. The reason this ratio is sometimes difficult to achieve is because one of the omega 6 fatty acids known as Linoleic acid, is essential for dogs (i.e. they cannot synthesise it themselves so require it in their diet). Often dog foods contain plenty of these omega 6 fatty acids but not enough omega 3 fatty acids, meaning there is an imbalance and in these cases supplementation can be beneficial. 

Of course grooming your dog can also stimulate your pet’s circulation, increasing blood flow to the skin which benefits their coat, alongside the removal of excess dirt, dust and dander. Grooming your pet regularly can help remove excess hair, especially during their moult, improve shine and allow an additional bonding/training opportunity between you and your companion. Taking care of your dog through daily grooming, a healthy diet, veterinary care when needed, and keeping an eye out for abnormal behaviours or reactions can go a long way in preventing skin complaints and itchiness to keep your pet a happy and healthy one.

For any further questions on the VitaPaws pet supplement range, please contact the Simply Supplements’ customer service team on free phone number 0800 0773 861.


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