Guide To Canine Skin Diseases and Conditions

Table of Contents for Dog Skin Issues


" There is a long list of diseases and conditions canine skin conditions to review before diagnosing any problem (see below for pictures and descriptions). If your dog is suffering from mild discomfort, then home treatment such as shampoo therapy to eliminate itch and scratching is worth a try. If dog skin itch or scratching causes redness, hair loss or an interruption of your dog's normal routine, such as stopping in the middle of play to chew on the skin, then it's smart to visit a veterinarian for a prescription medication. Puppies should just about always be diagnosed by a veterinarian since a dull coat  and hair indicates a case of dog worms. Demodicosis mange is also seen in puppies just after being born. For adult dogs, diagnosis of dog skin diseases are based on the appearance of the skin and if any other symptoms exist."

Picture Dog Skin Allergy

Overview of Dog Skin Problems

A veterinarian will attempt to narrow the list of possible causes by taking a thorough history, with a physical exam, and diagnostic lab tests. Dog flea allergy is the leading cause, followed by other types of allergies such as environmental dog allergies (atopy) and dog food allergy. Mange causes patches of baldness, is the next leading cause and is primarily seen in puppies. Your vet will try and determine if a condition caused the skin problem, or if the problem was the result of related symptoms such as itching and scratching, which are common reactions to a dog skin allergy. Other symptoms which accompany the dog skin problems such as severe hair loss and excessive panting could indicate an underlying disorder like an endocrine disease such as hyperadrenocorticism or Cushings Disease. Treatment for dog skin conditions involve keeping the skin clean and treating the underlying cause such as bacterial infection, parasites or lump removal.

Identifying diseases and conditions canine skin can be difficult to diagnose since there are many causes. The key to understanding which condition your dog is suffering from is to do your best to match the characteristics of each cause with the symptoms exhibited by your dog.  Dog skin disorders are difficult to diagnose requiring diagnosis of any underlying cause in order to cure any visible clinical symptoms.

Dog Skin Cancer, Bumps and Tags

If you see a dog skin lump do not automatically assume that is skin cancer. There are many "benign" causes of lumps or bumps such as an insect bite, an abscess or a benign lipoma (fat that collects under the skin.)

Dog skin tags can look like a tumor, but usually are benign will not cause any harm. The tag itself differs from a wart is that they are connected to the skin with a thin base. They are often similar in color to the skin and can sometimes be moved a bit with the fingers. In most cases dog skin tags can be left alone unless there is a cosmetic reason to remove the tag. Another reason for removal is when you have a dog that licks or scratches the area, allowing irritation and infection to take hold.

Signs of cancer include:

  • Sudden appearance
  • Changes in the lump or bumps appearance such as growth
  • Changes in your dogs behavior
  • Changes in your dog such as lethargy, appetite loss
  • Lesions that do not heal
  • The appearance of other medical issues (urination, breathing) that coincide with the appearance of one or more skin changes

Considerations when Diagnosing Dog Skin Diseases

In general, if your dog is suffering from skin itch, and if skin lesions are red in color and oozing pus, and is accompanied by hair loss, a trip to the veterinarian is needed as the condition is probably beyond your ability to control the problem with over the counter medications. In this case a dog skin infection has probably taken hold, requiring antibiotics and possibly short term steroid use for inflammation.

If the skin condition is limited to dog skin itch and scratching, then the first step is to suspect the beginning of a flea infestation.  It's easy to miss fleas when inspecting your dog's hair, so don't be surprised if this is the cause.

If fleas are not found after combing your dog with a flea comb, consider allergy as a possible cause. For mild conditions, ask your vet about using an antihistamine (diphenhydramine). You can also bring your dog some relief with a .  Avoid any product that is medicated at first, since these may cause additional irritation.

Other possible causes of diseases and conditions canine skin problems after fleas allergy are environmental allergies (referred to as ),   and .   Mange is caused by mites and is usually seen in young puppies with symptoms such as bald patches and secondary illnesses that are the result of the condition.  To diagnose mange, your vet will need to test a skin scraping.

For advice specific to a wide range of canine skin conditions, review the symptoms, pictures and other information below.  If you have a question on any Diseases and Conditions Canine Skin, fill out the form with your question at the bottom of this page.

Symptoms Related to Dog Skin Disorders

tend to vary based on shape, of any lesions, condition of the skin such as crusts, scars, ulcers or scales and the dogs behavior such as itching.  Specifically:

  • Dogs that scratch the face, feet ,ears and arm pits usually have some form of inhalant allergy. Dog flea allergy causes dogs to scratch or lick the tail, back, groin and thigh.
  • - Red, irritated looking skin is a non-specific symptom and can be associated with any number of disorders such as mange, immune-mediated disorders (lupus, pemphigus).
  • - also known as alopecia X or Cushings Disease
  • : (also called acute moist dermatitis) is caused by the removal of a superficial layer of skin due to scratching or biting.
  • : refers to scaling skin or which occurs when skin particles accumulate on the outer layer of the skin.  Dog seborrhea sicca refers to dog dandruff, while greasy or oily skin is referred to as seborrhea oleosa.  Canine seborrhea is caused by allergy, hormonal problems, bacterial infections, fungus, and tumors.
  • - This is an immune system disorder where the dog's body attacks the substance that holds skin cells together. The result is the skin literally coming apart, resulting in skin pustules and crusts, particularly around the bridge of the nose and feet.  Symptoms include painful skin that is very red and crusty in appearance.  Commonly effected areas of immune mediated dog skin diseases are at the ear margins, lips and nasal area.  Canine lupus is another immune system related disorder with similar symptoms.
  • Toenails breaking off: usually caused by fungus, bacteria or
  • Scratches rear end on bottom of rug: probably due to a full anal gland.
  • Foot Problems are often caused by some type of allergy such as a food allergy
  • Dog Hair Loss or shedding (alopecia): Most conditions that involve canine hair loss are caused by a hormonal problem (endocrine system) such as .  Other causes are folliculitis which is causes by inflammation of the hair follicle due to canine ringworm or a bacterial infection.  Often a cause cannot be found.
  • A dry, dull-looking coat along with severe hair loss, excessive panting, a distended abdomen, a reduction of muscle mass and thin/frail skin can indicate some type of underlying disease such as hyperadrenocorticism () .  Be sure to mention changes in coat condition as this is an indicator of something going on in your dog's body.  It can also be a sign of poor nutrition. 
  • Patchy hair loss on the head and face is a symptom of mange. Patches of dog hair loss can also indicate ringworm or allergy.
  • Dog skin scabs or crusts: this is caused by the build up of pus or skin scaling due to skin diseases such as (pus filled bumps).  Crusts on the ear margins can be caused by mange.

Causes of Canine Skin Disease

  • Allergy is a common cause of diseases and conditions canine skin.  Types of dog skin allergies include:
    • Atopic dermatitis: this is an allergy to something that is inhaled (hypersensitivity to inhaled allergens).

      dog skin problem atopic dermatitis
      Lhasa Apso Dog Skin Problem called Atopic Dermatitis
      or inhalant allergy
  • these include infections such as Ringworm.

    dog ringworm
    Dog Ringworm Skin Condition on Nose of 9 year old Miniature Pinscher

  • Bacterial Dog Skin Infections: usually due to some other condition suppressing the immune system
  • these are benign (non-cancerous) lumps under the skin
  • : these are benign (non-cancerous) bumps on the skin
  • : dogs with flea bite hypersensitivity tend to bite, lick or scratch areas near the tail, groin, back and thighs.
  • Acne: some dogs can get acne with pimples around the mouth and chin. Use a dab of human benzoyl peroxide to see if the condition gets better.
  • Yeast Infection: spots on the feet.
  • Seborrhea: scars, bumps and pimples on the skin in addition to flaky skin and itching.
  • Immune-mediated diseases and conditions canine skin problems: sores on top of the muzzle and possible spreading to the face. Pyoderma is an immune mediated skin condition often seen in puppies.

    juvenile pyoderma puppy skin disorder
    Juvenile Pyoderma Puppy Skin Disorder

  • Dry foot pads: a dog's feet are supposed to be dry and possibly cracked. You usually only need to treat the feet if your pet is in pain. Lotions or ointments are licked off by your pet.
  • Small red hairless area (s): Could be mange (scabies). Other symptoms include hairless area with pimples, thick skin and puss, Scaling around the eyes, mouth and front legs, itching. See

Diagnosis of Canine Integumentary Disorders

Your vet will examine your dog's skin carefully as part of a complete examination. The exam will start with a thorough history since many dog skin disorders are more common in certain breeds and at specific ages. There is also a higher incidence of specific types of dog skin problems in some breeds.

In order to properly diagnose diseases and conditions canine skin, various tests may be needed. Tests might include:

  • Examining skin under a special light (a woods lights): this is done to check for certain fungal infections such as ringworm.
  • Dog skin biopsy: in this test, a needle is used to remove cells from a lump to be examined by a pathologist. This can determine if a lump is cancerous or if it is just a cyst or wart.
  • Blood tests: might be done to check for infections and certain nutrient deficiencies.

If you keep your dog clean and it continues to smell or have a greasy coat then your pet is probably suffering from parasites, seborrhea or a skin infection.

The probable cause of diseases and conditions canine skin problems is often associated with the age of the dog.

Diseases and Conditions Canine Skin By Age

Dog Age Common cause of Dog Skin Disorders
Under 6 months Dog Mange (Demodicosis)
Canine Acne
Juvenile Pyoderma (puss filled dog skin lumps)
Ringworm (dermatophytosis)
Middle age dogs and young adults Dog skin allergy
Hormonal imbalance
Canine seborrhea (oily coat, crusts and scabs)
Older Senior Dogs Hair loss (alopecia)
Dog Skin Tumors (neoplasms, cancer)

Dog skin conditions are also often related to specific dog breeds. For example, the Shar Pei is know for have the most diseases and conditions canine skin problems, with allergy being the cause 67% of the time.

The location on the dog's body also provides clues as to the underlying cause of the diseases and conditions canine skin as outlined in the table below.

Diseases and Conditions Canine Skin by Body Location and Symptoms

Location on Dog Body Affected and Symptoms

Dog Skin Disease that could be causing the problem and related treatment options

Papules on the Small of the back, middle of the back thighs, groin, belly, tail base

dog flea bite hypersensitivityDog Flea Bite Hypersensitivity By:
dog flea allergyDog Flea Allergy PictureBy:

Flea bite hypersensitivity which is treated for itch and flea prevention. Kill fleas with a product such as a Herbal Flea Dip.

Skin redness, hair loss, papules, skin crusts, all over body or in one area

dog bacterial skin infectionDog Bacterial Skin Infection PictureBy:

Dog Skin Infection (try anti-bacterial dog shampoo therapy), antibiotics

Localized Demodicosis (dog mange) Skin redness, hair loss and skin scaling on the dog face in less than 4 spots.
Generalized Demodicosis: Hair loss, skin crusts, papules, pustules in more than 5 areas.  Hair loss on paws.

dog mangeMange on DogBy:

Condition is caused by mites and is commonly referred to as dog mange. If in one area, may heal on tis own. For generalized mange consider a lime-sulfur dip such as Naturasil.

Skin papule (raised area) on the ears, elbows, abdomen

Sarcoptes mange or scabies using a lime-sulfur dip such as Naturasil.

Papules on the face, ears and dog paws

dog skin fungusPicture of Dog Skin Fungus By:

Fungal condition called Dermatophytosis treated with prescription medications that contain  Grisseofulvin or Ketoconazole. Can benefit from anti-fungal dog shampoo therapy.

Dog skin redness, discolored skin spot (called a macule),  papules in areas where little or no hair is found, including fluid filled bumps in those areas, particularly in the dog's scrotum, chin, pelvis, paws, back of the abdomen

dog skin allergyDog Skin Allergy Picture By:

Dog skin allergies or hypersensitivity treated with anti-inflammatory steroids or identification and avoidance of the environmental allergen (if possible)

Uncontrolled cell growth resulting in a skin tumor or neoplasm - referred to as a dog mast cell tumor

dog mast cell tumorDog Mast Cell TumorBy:

Removal with surgery

Dog breed can also provide some clues when it comes to skin conditions, particularly in purebred dogs. Since these dogs are bred for certain traits, they also tend to pass on the same undesirable traits, including skin disease. Disease is also passed on genetically through line or in-breeding when a small stud population is used for breeding. Dog skin problems can be limited to one litter, one breed, or could be seen across certain breeds. Some of the more common breed specific canine skin diseases and conditions are described below:

Breed Specific Diseases and Conditions Canine Skin


Dog Skin Disease

Treatment Options

Standard Poodles

Miniature poodles


Belgian shepherd dogs



Canine Sebaceous adenitis: This disease is characterized by follicular casts. The casts are skin cell debris (keratinous debris) around the base of the hair shaft. Other symptoms include dog hair loss (alopecia) on the top of the head, back of the ears, at the tail and on the fore limbs.

The condition is diagnosed by examining a skin biopsy. Any diagnosis needs to differentiate (confirm the presence of this condition) vs. conditions that have similar symptoms such as leishmaniasis (infection caused by protozoa), demodicosis (a type of mange) and superficial pyoderma (dog skin infection).

Note that in the Vizsla only, a form of sebaceous adenitis, granulomatous sebaceous adenitis is found. Symptoms include localized hair loss (in a specific area on the body) and raised skin lesions,

dog sebaceous adenitis
Canine Sebaceous Adenititis


Prescription medications such as cyclosporine used and then decreased in dose as healing begins. In chronic cases, steroid therapy can help. 

Antibiotics are used to treat any skin infection (pyoderma)

German shepherd

Gordon setters

English setters

Large breed dogs

Canine Symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy: This dog skin condition is characterized by the loosening or shedding of the nails. The cause is unknown.

Other symptoms include:

  • lameness
  • claw licking of the lesions
  • pain caused by skin infection or nails that remain on the dog

Diagnosis of canine symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy is via a biopsy, skin culture and x-rays. The x-rays can also help to determine if the condition has caused any skin infections.   

dog symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy
Canine Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy

It is possible that on rare occasions the condition will heal on its own. Treatment involves removing affected nails (anesthesia required) and then  bandaging the feet for 48 hours. Long term use of antibiotics (doxycycline or cefalexin, niacinamide) are used to control infection.

Labrador retrievers

American bull terrier

Staffordshire bull terriers


Interdigital cystic folliculitis/furunculosis: Symptoms of this dog skin problem  are comedomes (keratin and sebum located within the dilated orifice of a hair follicle) and
and follicular cysts (enlargement on the skin follicle) that develop in the ventral interpad skin on the dog paws.

As weight is placed on the paws, overgrowths occur.

Dog Interdigital cystic folliculitis
Dog Interdigital Cystic Folliculitis

The condition is treated with antibiotics and possibly topical steroids. Most dogs with the condition require long term use of antibiotics.

Bull terriers


Bassett hounds

Solar induced canine actinic dermatitis and squamous cell carcinoma: this condition occurs in dogs from sun exposure. As you could expect, dogs that live in sunny climates have a higher incidence of the disease.

Symptoms of actinic dermatitis appear in dog skin areas that are not protected by hair such as the abdomen and groin. Dog skin symptoms include:

  • Skin redness
  • Scaly and thick skin
  • lack of skin pigment
  • follicular cysts (cysts at the base of the hair)
  • sun induced
dog solar induced actinic dermatitis
Canine Solar induced actinic dermatitis

Treatment involves the use of retinoids (vitamin A derivative), but only of some benefit.

Some veterinarians see potential in the use of the topical medication immune modulator imiquimod and the
NSAID diclofenac gel.

There is a risk of a dog relapsing if  there is continued sun exposure. Dogs need to be re-examined every 6 months.

If a lesion becomes cancerous (squamous cell carcinoma) then surgical removal is required.


The treatment of the diseases and conditions canine skin depends on the exact disease or condition. Treatment may involve oral or topical medication. It may also involve removal of any lumps or bumps from your dog's skin. If your pet's skin is affected by poor nutrition, treatment will involve making a correction in the diet.

There is a myth that baths are not good for diseases and conditions canine skin. This is not correct as bathing is an important part of just about every skin treatment. Shampoos are particularly effective on bacterial infections with a medicated bath 1 - 2 times per week.  They also help to remove any allergens that are caught in the dog's coat.

In terms of dog skin yeast infections, a gentle herbal shampoos combined with a lime sulfur dip, both offered by Naturasil works to eliminate yeast infections and ringworm.

If the bacterial infection has progressed deep into the skin then antibiotics are needed. You should also carefully look at your dogs diet and if it is causing any of the diseases and conditions canine skin problems. Follow this link to understand or If all other causes are ruled out, then you might want to consider using and this advice on finding a You can also fill out the form below with your specific diseases and conditions canine skin question.

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References Diseases and Conditions Canine Skin

Carter, G.R., Wise, D.J., and Flores, E.F. (Eds)
A Concise Review of Veterinary Virology

Carmichael, L.
Recent Advances In Canine Infectious Diseases

Melman, Dr. Steven A.
Skin Diseases of Dogs and Cats

Dermatology for the Small Animal Practitioner,
Mueller R.S. (Ed.) 

The Role of Breed in Skin Disease
Power, Helen; Prelaud, Pascal;

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