There are many things to love about dog ownership. The cuddles on the sofa. Runs through the park. The event that is bath time. Swimming in the ocean. Tails wagging in excitement as you come through the door.
However, it can’t always be rainbows and sunshine. While we may love our dogs endlessly, this love doesn’t protect them from contracting diseases, illnesses and even conditions like dermatitis.
While you may feel helpless as your dog sits there scratching, licking and biting their skin, there are various ways to not only manage but also prevent dermatitis flare-ups in your beloved pet.
What is dermatitis
Broadly, dermatitis is a condition that affects the skin. This condition often causes itching and inflammation that results in high levels of discomfort for your dog. In fact, the constant scratching, licking and biting can make the skin red, sore and open to further infection.
If ongoing, dermatitis can start to affect your dog’s quality of life. When left untreated, dermatitis is known to affect a dog’s appetite and their ability to rest. To give your dog the best care possible, it’s important to note that there are two different types of dermatitis.
Atopic is the most common type of dermatitis in dogs. Atopic dermatitis is the result of exposure to an environmental allergen which then results in an inflammatory response. This inflammatory response is due to the over-production of antibodies by the immune system.
This specific type of dermatitis results in extreme itchiness. The hard thing about atopic dermatitis is the fact that the condition can develop when dogs come into contact with everything from grass and mould spores to the dust that gathers inside the house.
A factor further complicating matters is the notion that these substances may not have caused any issues for your beloved pooch in the past. In fact, sensitivity can develop slowly, over time before becoming fully fledged.
Contact dermatitis, while less prevalent than atopic dermatitis, is still known to occur in dogs. This type of dermatitis occurs when contact is made with a chemical or other such irritating product. Unlike atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis sensitivity develops straight away.
Symptoms of dermatitis in dogs
While there may be two different types of this condition, both atopic and contact dermatitis share a list of the same symptoms. Early diagnosis of this skin trauma is key, that way your dog won’t suffer for any longer than necessary.
These symptoms can occur all over the body. However, the main areas where both contact and atopic dermatitis occur are the ears and paws, along with the stomach and underarm regions.
The common symptoms of dermatitis in dogs include:
- Excessive scratching
- Skin lesions
- Skin inflammation
- Hair loss
- Crusting or scaling of the skin
- Ear infection
- Bleeding skin
- Rubbing on carpet or walls
- Red or brown saliva stains where the dog has been licking
When it comes to contracting dermatitis, the causes are both broad and varied. In fact, dermatitis can be caused by everything from parasites like fleas and mites to allergies that are either environmental or food based.
To prevent dermatitis flare ups, it’s important to know what causes the condition- in both its atopic and contact variants- so that you and your puppy can do your best to avoid exposure to them.
As previously mentioned, contact dermatitis occurs when your pet makes physical contact with the aggravator. As sensitivity usually develops straight away it won’t be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of a flare up.
Common causes for contact dermatitis include:
- Plant based irritants such as poison ivy
- Detergent and solvents
- Acids and alkalis
Finding the exact cause of atopic dermatitis is harder than diagnosing contact dermatitis. This is due to two factors. Firstly, the fact that reactions require a period of repeated exposure. Secondly, dogs can develop the condition anywhere between 3 months and 6 years of age.
Known causes of atopic dermatitis include:
- Airborne pollens
- Flea collars
- Dust mites
When diagnosing dermatitis, veterinarians will use a variety of techniques in order to reach the most appropriate conclusion. From flea combs and skin scrapers to blood tests, there are a variety of ways for vets to reach a pinpoint dermatitis diagnosis.
Technique 1: Flea comb
Using a flea comb will help the vet look for the presence of flea dirt or live fleas on your dog’s skin. If a flea infestation is evident, this will often help the vet diagnose your dog with dermatitis.
Technique 2: Tape strips
Tape strips are used to collect a small sample of skin cells and surface bacteria. This tape strip is then examined under a microscope. If at all present, things like bacteria and yeast will appear, indicating dermatitis.
Technique 3: Skin scrapers
Under this diagnostic technique, skin scrapers are run along the top surface of a dog’s skin. What’s collected will be examined under a microscope. This technique is used to distinguish if there are mites living under the skin layer and therefore causing your dog’s dermatitis.
Technique 4: Blood tests
More commonly used to diagnose atopic dermatitis, a blood test will help find out exactly what your dog is allergic to. This technique is especially helpful as it can detect if there are one or more causes for the dermatitis.
When it comes to treating dermatitis, the course of action will vary depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. For example, treatment options vary from the use of flea and tick treatments to using medicated shampoos.
Option 1: Regular use of flea treatments
As a dog owner myself, I know how easy it is to forget a flea treatment. However, the importance of regular use cannot be overstated. In fact, it’s been found that regular use of a prescription treatment will eliminate infestations and the associated dermatitis symptoms.
Option 2: Switching to medicated shampoos
My two border collies went through a stage of being infested with ticks when they were rambunctious puppies. Something that helped them greatly was a medicated shampoo and later, oatmeal shampoo.
This is because surface skin infections can be easily controlled by the use of medicated and even oatmeal shampoos. The formula brings the initial infestation and infection under control and later, when used periodically, works to maintain the skin.
Option 3: Medication
Using medication to treat dermatitis can effectively help your dog control the urge to itch. Drugs like steroids, atopica and apoquel are used for the short term management of itching. This way, prolonged itching and biting won’t result in long term problems for your pup.
There are a number of things that dog owners can do in order to prevent dermatitis and subsequent flare ups. Regular use of prescription parasite control is a great place to start as this protects your pup from the most common cause of dermatitis- skin infestations.
Another factor of prevention revolves around food. Many dogs develop allergies to food that contains artificial colourings and flavours. To prevent this, feed your dog wholesome and nutritional food only.
Avoiding contact with chemicals is also a great prevention tip. If your dog is kept away from household cleaners and chemicals they won’t be subjected to the possibility of a strong skin reaction.
Knowing how to prevent dermatitis is beneficial for both dogs and their owners. This is especially true given that the average price per treatment for dog’s dermatitis, per visit, is around $2,524. Taking the stress out of pet care can be challenging but reducing cost is key.
The final word
While we may love and care for our dogs beyond words, they can develop certain illnesses or conditions. Instead of panicking and rushing your beloved pooch to the nearest animal emergency hospital, take a breath.
By researching conditions prominent in dogs, you can save yourself a lot of heartache. Understanding the signs of dermatitis and more importantly, how to prevent such a condition, takes some of the stress out of dog ownership.
With research comes knowledge. By recognizing dermatitis symptoms and how to prevent flare ups, you are better positioned to look after your dog. Which in turn helps you give your pooch the best quality of life possible.
Maddy has a journalism background and is an aspiring novelist. Proud dog mum to two border collies TJ and Max and has the ability to decipher any Taylor Swift song lyrics hidden meanings.