Dog Dermatitis

The latter part of the summer brings with it an increase in the number of skin complaints seen by veterinarians. The most common of these are various forms of dermatitis in dogs, which are usually complicated by flea infestations.

Many dogs develop a dry form of canine dermatitis in the summer months.

The coat becomes dull and harsh and is usually quite sparse over the rump, along the backbone or on the undersurface. The surface of the skin is dry and flaky.

The dog scratches a great deal and tries to relieve the chronic irritation by rolling on its back or by spending long periods rubbing its back under beds, chairs or low branches.

As a result of these bouts of scratching the skin can become reddened and develop scabs. The dog usually smells more than usual and is generally lethargic, preferring to lie in a hole in the shade, away from the flies, than take its usual exercise.

A more acute form of dermatitis can occur in dogs whose coat and skin appear completely healthy. Suddenly a small patch of skin becomes acutely itchy and the dog scratches and bites the area so vigorously that the skin becomes raw.

The hair around the area becomes moistened with a foul smelling serous discharge which dries to produce a hard matted covering over the raw weeping skin beneath. The most common sites for these areas of acute irritation to develop are the base of the tail, the tail itself and the sides of the face in front of the ears.

The precise cause of dermatitis in dogs is not known.

Certain breeds are more susceptible than others, as are individuals within the breed or even in the same litter. Corgis, bulldogs, labradors, golden retrievers and most terriers all have a high incidence of skin disorders.

Veterinarians are aware of some contributing factors, the major one of which is the flea. Although some dogs can develop dermatitis while completely free of fleas, most develop a hypersensitivity to the bite of the flea so that the presence of even one flea can induce a cycle of itching and scratching which can not be broken until flea infestation is completely controlled.

Hormonal and psychological factors also play a part in this complex condition. Female dogs often develop dermatitis when they come into season, particularly during their first period.

Young puppies frequently develop skin problems which disappear when they are sexually mature, as do very old animals. Dogs fretting in a boarding kennel can develop an acute dermatitis within hours of being left.

As with any disease where the cause is not completely understood, there is no one treatment for canine dermatitis. The veterinarian is usually first concerned with the relief of the irritation.

In the acute form the dog must be relieved of the acute itching so that it will not damage its skin any further. Anti-inflammatory injections are given to reduce the inflammation of the skin and the effect is carried on by the use of tablets.

The affected area is usually clipped to remove the matted hair and dried exudate which encourage secondary bacterial infection and prevent the penetration of non greasy soothing ointments, which are applied until the skin heals.

Signs of flea infestation are looked for and appropriate flea control measures form a very important part in trying to prevent a recurrence of the problem. Flea washes are usually prescribed initially and these should be carried out regularly in conjunction with a cleaning of the dog’s bedding and surrounds to prevent reinfestation.

The newer forms of flea collars are useful in preventing reinfestation. It is usually suggested that, even if the dog appears to be free of fleas, it is wise to wear a flea collar during the summer months to prevent any possibility of flea infestation complicating an existing dermatitis condition.

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