The first thing that comes to mind when we see our dogs furiously scratching and nibbling at themselves is parasites like fleas and ticks. Many owners routinely treat to prevent these parasites occurring.
Assuming that your dog is free of those, there is a wide range of other potential causes to consider. Sensitive skin can even be in your dog’s genetic make-up! Some dogs have in their genes a greater likelihood of reacting strongly to some of the allergens that surround us and our dogs, for instance, dust mites or pollen.
If you use air conditioning in the summer or central heating in the winter, have you ever noticed your skin drying out? The same thing can happen for dogs, as the drying effect on the air also dries out skin and can make it sensitive and prone to irritation.
If your dog seems to be concentrating their attention on their ears or their paws, a yeast infection may be to blame. Yeast requires warmth to grow, which is why these warm spots are a prime site. Check for irritated itchy and discoloured patches of skin in the area.
Moist dermatitis, also called ‘hot spots’ can occur as a result of a number of irritations, including allergic reactions, infections or anything that causes the dog to bite or chew an area excessively, causing red, inflamed areas. This can also arise from a case of allergic dermatitis, dry and itchy skin patches caused by the dog have a reaction to something like an environmental irritant or a food ingredient.
Seborrhoea is a condition that usually signposts another medical problem that the dog has, for example, a hormonal problem or allergy. Seborrhoea causes the skin to become scaly and greasy in appearance.
Mites can cause mange, sometimes known as canine scabies. Mange most frequently shows on the face, ears and legs, with the dog appearing itchy, skin red and with sores appearing, accompanied by hair loss.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that shows as circular patches of inflamed skin and hair loss on the skin, usually the head, ears, legs or paws, although they can appear anywhere on the skin.
Folliculitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the hair follicles, looking like scabby bumps on the skin. It is much easier to spot in short hair. Signs to look for in long-haired dogs are a dull coat and excessive shedding.
Impetigo mostly appears in puppies and is a bacterial infection that shows as blisters that can burst open and then form a crust.
Different seasons can prompt different conditions that cause sensitive skin, much as humans suffer from seasonal allergies. In the spring and summer is when allergic reactions tend to occur, with the higher exposure to grasses and pollen, while autumn and winter see more issues concerning dry skin.
Large bald spots on a dog could be alopecia. This condition that causes large amounts of hair loss can be the result of illness, stress or inadequate nutrition.
Diet can be a factor in sensitive skin. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to react strongly to some allergens, and food intolerances can lead to digestive conditions like IBS, gastroenteritis or colitis, meaning that food may not be digested and absorbed properly and the dog does not receive all the nutrients needed. The quality of ingredients in the food is also important, as poor-quality ingredients, like many found in kibble, make for less than ideal nutritional content.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.