Eczema in dogs is an inflammation of the skin. Dog eczema is not infectious to man or to other animals, but irritates the dog, making it scratch the affected part. This further inflames the skin and so the scratching/itching cycle begins.
What does eczema on a dog look like?
The dog rubs or scratches the affected part so vigorously that a weeping sore results. The surrounding hair then becomes matted with a foul-smelling exudate and the area is prone to secondary bacterial infection.
In the more chronic form the skin becomes dry and thickened and the hair brittle and sparse. The areas most commonly affected are the base of the tail, the rump, and along the back. Commonly the skin between the front and hind legs becomes darkened and hairless.
In badly affected dogs virtually the whole body can be affected. In the acute form of the disease, small areas can break out at the base of the ears and face. The dog can easily scratch these areas with its powerful back legs and a large area of skin can be damaged in a short time.
Certain breeds seem to be more susceptible to eczema. Corgis, Scotch terriers, pointers, and golden retrievers are among those commonly treated. More importantly, the susceptibility seems to run in certain strains within a breed. Short-haired and long-haired dogs seem equally susceptible.
What can cause eczema in dogs?
Young dogs frequently start to scratch when shedding their puppy coat. Females coming into heat for the first time frequently develop eczema.
Very old dogs also seem to be more prone to eczema in hot weather. Unfortunately, susceptible dogs that are kept indoors in centrally heated houses can suffer from eczema at any time of the year.
Infestations of fleas certainly play a major role in most eczema. The flea is a bloodsucker and the irritation from flea bites can start the itching/scratching cycle on its own. Unfortunately, many dogs become hypersensitive to the protein in the saliva of the flea so that the irritation caused by just a single flea bite can be considerable.
Allergies from other sources have been incriminated. Some dogs develop a contact dermatitis along the undersurface of their body from certain grass pollen in the spring. Other dogs can develop acute allergic wheals in the skin from eating pork or fish or certain spices in sausages. Some chemicals in soaps or shampoos can produce an acute eczema, and some dogs cannot tolerate a flea collar.
Veterinarians are always asked about diet and its effect on eczema. Apart from the straight-out allergies discussed above, we know of no specific dietary factor which is responsible for eczema. On the other hand, we have not isolated any factor where deficiency causes eczema except in extreme cases of malnutrition and the absence of vitamins A and C.
This consists of external and internal medication. On its own, external lotions are seldom efficient as they only treat the symptoms. The whole object is to remove the underlying cause.
For the complex cases, the veterinary surgeon’s advice should be followed in order to help clear up the condition:
- Where external parasites, lice, fleas, ticks, or harvest mites are responsible, use the benzene hexachloride insecticides. In all cases, a purgative is indicated especially where the cause of the condition has been proved due to habitual constipation.
- Where eczema affects the scrotum or vulval region, particular care must be taken in the cleansing operation as considerable pain can be caused by eczema in these regions.
- Where eczema affects the feet, causing inflammation and suppuration between the toes, the foot should first be washed in warm, soapy water followed by an astringent solution, then, after drying, applying a soothing ointment. The foot should then be bandaged carefully.
- A meat diet has generally proved more suitable than starchy foods but often a complete change of diet to green vegetables has given interesting results.
- Dogs with eczema should not be bathed nor should irritant soaps or dressings of any kind come in contact with the skin. No skin disease can be thoroughly treated without the removal of the hair although this is often a painful and difficult task in moist eczema. It may be assisted by sprinkling and swabbing the area with warm water particularly where the hair is matted.
- In selected cases, ultra-violet irradiation gives considerable relief and effects a rapid cure.
Where the lesions are intensely painful cold lotions to the skin cause considerable pain and then it is desirable to warm the medications prior to use.
There are available soothing lotions and ointments incorporating the anti-allergic principles causing eczema which are now being used with good results.
It will be necessary to protect the lesions by means of a jacket or coat to prevent interference by the subject – a muzzle may have to be used.
Summarizing the condition, we see that a well-balanced diet is essential to eliminate this predisposing cause, see that adequate vitamins are present (especially Vitamin B).
Diet should be rich and nourishing, with very little in the way of biscuit, while some meals should be of raw beef and include green vegetables or cod liver oil in the diet.
You don’t see much eczema in a kennel where plenty of raw meat is consumed. Trouble could be avoided if puppies were taught to eat raw meat regularly instead of being fed only cooked meat.
Keep parasites down, prevent constipation, and obtain early advice if a cure is to be obtained. Finally, do not be discouraged if in spite of diligent treatment eczema reappears again.