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If your dog has itchy or inflamed skin, it’s quite possibly atopic dermatitis!
Dog dermatitis/Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a condition that causes your pup’s skin to become inflamed and itchy, which can be really uncomfortable for them. As responsible pet parents, it’s our duty to notice this condition as soon as it arises and get them the appropriate treatment, otherwise, it can cause their health, mood, and quality of life to deteriorate rapidly. It can cause them to scratch, bite and lick excessively and continuously, making the skin sore, red, wounded, and thus vulnerable to becoming infected. Untreated skin conditions can also cause behavioural issues and sometimes hair loss.
The most common areas that atopic dermatitis affects in dogs are the tummy, armpits, ears, and paws but can also affect their butt, back, sides of their body, and face.
Although still not fully understood, atopic skin disease is a genetically predisposed tendency to develop an allergy to environmental allergens. These allergens may include dust mites, grass pollens, moulds, skin dander and sometimes even specific proteins in their food.
There are several signs and symptoms a dog may present if they’re suffering from dog dermatitis.
If you spot any of the above symptoms happening to your dog, it’s imperative that you get them assessed and diagnosed by their vet pronto. They will examine them and be able to conclude whether it is in fact dog dermatitis, and what’s the most likely cause…
"Signs of atopy are expected to start at 6 months old to under 3 years of age. The severity of signs tends to worsen as a dog gets older, so the disease may only be noticed later in life. Unfortunately, since this condition has a genetic element to it, it will usually persist for their whole lives. This is why environmental management and symptomatic treatment is important, to keep the signs of skin disease minimised. It’s important to note that your dog may have atopy if they suffer with recurrent ear or skin infections that clear up with treatment but then come back some time after treatment stops. Chronically relapsing bacterial or yeast infections are often secondary to the chronic inflammatory skin reaction.
"It’s also important to note that infections may be due to other chronic allergic/inflammatory/parasitic skin conditions. There are many skin diseases that will need to be ruled out by your vet before diagnosis of atopic dermatitis, including parasitic disease (allergies, mange), primary pyoderma (bacterial, fungal) and other food allergies."
If your vet determines your dog’s atopic dermatitis is being caused by parasites, like fleas, they will prescribe you a topical flea treatment. It’s worth noting though that 95% of a flea’s life cycle takes place away from your dog’s body (so, in your furniture upholstery and carpets), so read our blog on How To Banish, Manage And Prevent A Flea Infestation In Your Home here.
If your vet determines that a bacterial or fungal infection has established on your pup’s skin, a medicated shampoo may be prescribed but depending on the severity, there may be the need for a course of antibiotics to get it under control too.
If it’s a food allergy, it’s likely that a dietary shift will have to take place and this will probably be for the remainder of their lifetime. This will be recommended by your vet who will explain what your dog needs to eat to help them avoid the skin reacting in this way. As for environmental allergens, either complete avoidance will be necessary, or if this is not possible you may need symptomatic treatment with various prescription medicines from your vet.
When they’ve been assessed and diagnosed by a vet, you can also aid their recovery by soothing their skin with a specific, anti-itch shampoo, or alternatively one that’s advertised as hydrating, and made with oatmeal. You should also avoid known triggers, like pollens, when out walking and wash their bedding regularly on high heat with a gentle laundry detergent.
To prevent parasites, it’s absolutely vital your dog is receiving regular flea and worm prevention control. This protects both your dog and others they come into contact with. Dogs can pass on these pesky little parasites to humans, children and deposit their eggs around your house, and believe us when we say this - prevention is SO much easier than trying to remove these tiny bugs once they have established themselves in your home. So, if they’re not already receiving regular anti-parasitic treatments, it’s time to check in with your vet to get your beloved pet into the most suitable flea and parasite prevention routine.
To control food allergies, your pup may need to be fed a high-quality hypoallergenic diet (containing pre-broken down protein molecules), or one with an alternative protein source (such as venison or salmon), to prevent the hypersensitive reaction being triggered. Avoid known allergens always, and be mindful that your dog can develop new allergies throughout their life so keep an eye out on their skin and poop habits.
Avoid using strong laundry detergents on their toys or blankets. For all dogs, regardless of whether they have issues with their skin or not, bedding should go through the washing machine at a minimum of 60°C with a gentle, fragrance-free detergent once a week and/or when noticeably dirty. Make sure the bedding is totally dry before allowing your dog to use it again. For soft toys, this should be once a month.
Most doggy skin conditions are not contagious apart from ringworm. Ringworm is a fungal infection that can be passed between dogs and humans. In humans, it presents itself as a circular red rash and in dogs is usually a patch of hair that is a scab or very inflamed.
The only other circumstances that could affect other pets and humans are fleas, which may bite (but not live on) humans, and harvest mites which can cause a rash when in contact with human skin.