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Health & Wellness

A guide to dog dermatitis: causes, symptoms and treatments

Because itchy skin is always a pain.

Whether from mosquitos, allergies or pesky poison ivy, humans can attest that itchy skin, rashes and inflammation are unpleasant. This discomfort is undoubtedly true of dermatitis, a type of common skin irritation that can take the form of a rash, blisters, itchy and dry skin and more. And just like many other ailments, it’s a condition that isn’t human-exclusive.

Dermatitis is a common syndrome for our dogs, too. And since we never want to see our best friends experience discomfort, it’s essential to look out for the signs and learn how to treat it.

What are the symptoms of dermatitis in dogs?

Similar to dermatitis in humans, symptoms can run the gamut. According to Dr. Aliya McCullough, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, these signs can include everything from skin redness and swelling to pain, discharge, scales, crusts, hair loss and darkening and thickening of the skin. “Dermatitis can also cause dogs to be itchy. Therefore they may lick and/or chew at the affected areas,” she adds.

The causes of the ailment are just as varied. “Dermatitis can have many causes, including bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections, physical injury, allergies, contact with an irritating substance and immune-mediated disease,” Dr. McCullough explains.

RELATED: What is folliculitis in dogs?

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How to prevent your dog from getting dermatitis

If pet parents notice their dog experiencing any dermatitis symptoms, it’s time to seek treatment — but the best scenario is preemptively stopping the condition. “Pet parents can prevent some cases of dermatitis by keeping their dog on flea and tick prevention year-round and avoiding known allergens and caustic substances,” Dr. McCullough says. A regular grooming routine can also help remove loose fur and debris and prevent matting, which could contribute to dermatitis, she adds. 

Being proactive with a veterinarian to keep dermatitis at bay can also help to identify early signs of other skin abnormalities and aid in getting them treatment ASAP.

How to treat dermatitis in dogs

If, despite preventative measures and diligence, your best friend still comes down with dermatitis, never fear — various treatments help soothe that troublesome itch and get their skin rash-free in no time.

While dermatitis treatment in dogs depends on the underlying cause, Dr. McCullough notes that veterinarians can treat parasitic, bacterial and fungal infections with antiparasitic antibiotics and antifungal medications. These treatments can be oral (tablets, capsules or liquids) or topical (creams, ointments, sprays, mousses or shampoos).

If an allergy causes your pup's dermatitis, Dr. McCullough says that your veterinarian may treat it with a prescription food diet and anti-itch allergy medications. “Dogs with allergic dermatitis often have a secondary bacterial infection, which is typically treated with antibiotics,” she adds. “In some cases, e-collars are needed to prevent dogs from chewing or licking their injuries.” Because, as we humans know all too well with itchy skin, the temptation to scratch is all too relatable. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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