7 Common Skin Problems in Dogs and How to Treat Them

By Sarah Wooten, DVM

It’s easy to tell when something is not right with your dog’s skin. Healthy skin is well-hydrated and supports a full, lustrous hair coat. When a dog’s skin gets red, flaky, itchy, bumpy, or changes color, or when a dog’s fur falls out or becomes dry and brittle, then something is amiss.

Let’s take a closer look at seven common dog skin problems—and how to help fix them.

7 Common Dog Skin Problems


Itchy skin is one of the most common reasons dogs are seen by a veterinarian. There are a number of contagious and non-contagious reasons that dogs itch and scratch. Common contagious causes of itching in dogs include fleas and mites. Ringworm, a highly contagious fungus, can also cause redness, itching, and hair loss in dogs.

Non-contagious causes of itching in dogs can include environmental allergies to pollens or mold, certain bacterial and fungal infections, contact allergies, dry skin, and food allergies.

The best way to combat itching is to eradicate the underlying problem and address the itch at the same time. The first place to start is to rule out fleas. If they are the culprit, you’ll need to get rid of them fast. Credelio® (lotilaner) starts killing fleas quickly, prevents and treats flea infestations, and lasts a whole month. (Bonus: It also treats and controls tick infestations in dogs.)

See important safety information for Credelio® below.

From here, you can work with your vet to understand what is causing your dog’s itching issue and remedy the situation. If yourdog is allergic to something in the environment or his food, it is important to minimize your dog’s exposure to the offending allergens and reduce the itch. There are several prescription medications available through your vet that can safely stop itching, and there are also several prescription hypoallergenic diets available to help dogs with food allergies.

If your dog’s itching is due to bacterial or fungal infections, then you will need appropriate antibacterial or antifungal medications from your veterinarian.

If your dog is suffering from itchy, dry skin, try giving your dog a lukewarm bath with a soothing oatmeal shampoo.

Hot Spots

A hot spot happens when a dog becomes so incredibly itchy that he chews and scratches his skin raw, leaving an open, often oozing wound. Hot spots usually occur around the base of the tail or on the face and neck and can be the result of contact allergies, contact irritation, a severe flea bite allergy, or flea allergy dermatitis. Your dog may require antibiotics and steroids to resolve the hot spot.

Ways to avoid hot spots in dogs include bathing after swimming in a lake, allowing your dog to completely dry before putting his collar back on, keeping your dog away from cleaning products that he may come into contact with around the house, and practicing good flea control. Year-round flea control not only kills fleas on your pet but also helps prevent future infestations.

If a flea infestation is suspected, all pets in the household should be treated for fleas, even if they’re not showing signs. While fleas do not move from pet to pet (unless they are in direct contact), adult fleas lay eggs that fall off a host and remain in the environment (e.g., carpets, bedding, furniture). Once new adult fleas emerge, they’ll start looking for a host—other pets, the same pet, or you.

Hair Loss

Hair loss in dogs can also be due to contagious and non-contagious causes. Contagious causes include fleas, ringworm, and skin mites. Non-contagious causes include allergies, certain bacterial and fungal infections, and hormonal conditions such as hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), alopecia X (also called black skin disease), or hypothyroidism.

Diagnosing hair loss can require skin testing, such as skin scraping or skin biopsy. Your veterinarian may also order blood work, urine testing, and imaging, if indicated.

Treatment will vary depending on the cause of your dog’s hair loss. If your dog has a skin infection, appropriate antifungal or antibacterial treatment will be started. If the cause is low thyroid, then thyroid supplements will be started. Once the underlying cause is treated, your dog’s hair will usually grow back on its own, though the time it takes to grow back varies with each dog.


When dead skin sloughs off your dog, it creates dandruff. A little bit of dandruff is normal, but excess amounts of skin flaking—otherwise called seborrhea—is not. Seborrhea in dogs occurs either secondary to underlying problems, such as hormonal problems or allergies, or it is due to an inherited defect in the skin.

Seborrhea is treated by addressing the underlying condition (if present), treating any skin infections present, and by using medicated shampoos and/or cream rinses to remove excessive dead skin and moisturize the skin and hair.


Rashes are common in dogs. Dogs can get rashes anywhere on their skin, and the contagious causes mentioned earlier—fleas, mites, and ringworm—can often be the culprit. Immature hookworms (larvae) in contaminated soil can also penetrate your dog’s skin and cause irritation. Rashes can also be due to allergic reactions and bacterial infections.

If your dog’s rash is due to an allergy, talk to your veterinarian about lotions, sprays, or antihistamines that can help. If your dog gets a rash from rolling in the grass, then try wiping him off with baby wipes after he has a good roll to get grass allergens off of him.

Rashes that include small bumps or pimples are usually due to a non-contagious bacterial infection on the skin. These infections are common in puppies (called pyoderma), but can also occur secondary to allergies or Cushing’s disease. Rashes caused by bacterial skin infections are treated with topical or oral antibiotics and by addressing the underlying cause.

Dull, Brittle, or Dry Coat

If your dog’s hair coat becomes dry, dull, or brittle, it could be a sign of a problem going on elsewhere in the body. In older dogs, hair coat changes can be due to hormonal conditions, like the ones mentioned earlier. In younger dogs and puppies, hair coat changes can indicate intestinal parasites.

Intestinal parasites—such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms—siphon off energy from their hosts. If a dog has a heavy worm burden, it may affect the quality of his hair coat.

If your dog is not protected against intestinal parasites, he is at risk of parasitic infections that can cause significant disease. Furthermore, many of these parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, and some tapeworms, can also be spread from pets to people. By using a monthly broad-spectrum dewormer, such as Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel), you can ensure your pet has year-round protection.

See important safety information for Interceptor® Plus below.

Bumps and Lumps

Dogs get bumps and lumps under and on their skin for many reasons, such as tumors, abscesses, and localized infections. Any lumps or bumps that you notice should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Tumors can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Non-cancerous tumors can include warts, cysts, and fatty tumors like lipomas. Some non-cancerous tumors, like basal cell tumors, can actually regress on their own without any treatment. Other tumors, like carcinomas, mast cell tumors, or sarcomas, are cancerous and need to be removed surgically.

There are numerous other causes for lumps in the skin, so again, it’s best to see a veterinarian to determine your next steps.

If you notice any of these seven common dog skin problems, talk to your veterinarian so you can get your dog’s skin and coat back to better health as soon as possible.

Credelio Indications

Credelio kills adult fleas and is indicated for the treatment and prevention of flea infestations, treatment and control of tick infestations (lone star tick, American dog tick, black-legged tick, and brown dog tick) for one month in dogs and puppies 8 weeks and older and 4.4 pounds or greater.

Credelio Important Safety Information

Lotilaner is a member of the isoxazoline class of drugs. This class has been associated with neurologic adverse reactions including tremors, incoordination, and seizures. Seizures have been reported in dogs receiving this class of drugs, even in dogs without a history of seizures. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures or neurologic disorders. The safe use of Credelio in breeding, pregnant or lactating dogs has not been evaluated. The most frequently reported adverse reactions are weight loss, elevated blood urea nitrogen, increased urination, and diarrhea. For complete safety information, please see Credelio product label or ask your veterinarian.

Interceptor Plus Indications

Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.

Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information

Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.

Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus and Credelio, for her services in writing this article.

Credelio and Interceptor are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates.

© 2020 Elanco.  PM-US-20-0716

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