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7 Common Flavors of Dermatitis in Dogs That Need Treatment

Nothing causes me more stress than seeing my dog distressed. The itching, clawing, and digging has me wishing for a miracle cure. 

Unfortunately, there is not an overnight solution for dermatitis in dogs.  All I know is that when I get one little mosquito bite, I go into a frenzy of itchy aggravation! Imagine what our dogs feel like.

Here is the good news: Active and ongoing treatment significantly improves the dog’s quality of life.

I have poured through peer-reviewed studies and reports to find the best treatment options for canine dermatitis.  By the time you are finished reading this post, you will have a better understanding of dermatitis in dogs, along with the most common treatment options available.

Although not detailed in this post, the following Tweet illustrates what lick dermatitis looks like:

Dermatitis in Dogs

Detecting skin irritations is easy. Dermatitis, which simply means “inflammation”, could describe any number of skin conditions. Treating an itch is one thing, but getting to the root of the problem is much harder.

I have outlined the different reasons for dermatitis below:

IMPORTANT: Veterinarians know to treat secondary skin infections first. Infections of the skin develop because of trauma caused by excessive itching, chewing and biting.  Depending on the severity, topical or systemic antibiotics are required to clear the infection.

The following Tweet from the Canadian Health Institute shows an example of dermatitis in dogs:

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): 

This means your dog was born with a genetic predisposition to the condition.

Certain breeds including Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and Dalmatians (to name a few) are susceptible to atopic dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis is usually identified within the first few years of a puppy’s life and is characterized by severe itching, biting the skin (especially the paws), reddened skin, and exposed skin where the fur has been worn away from scratching. 

It develops slowly, over time, and you might not recognize it until the symptoms are worse.

Long Term Treatment Options

After the treatment of any secondary infections, you can do a few things you can do to lessen the severity of the itching include:

Keeping the skin moisturized by adding coconut oil to your dog’s food or rubbing it into the dog’s skin.  NOTE:  Do not start with this until you know if your dog has food sensitivities. When you use coconut oil, watch to see if the symptoms get worse and stop that particular treatment.

Providing a good source of Omega-3 to dogs.

Anti-itch topical ointments.

Antihistamine relief from over-the-counter medications as suggested by a licensed veterinarian. Benadryl is a commonly used antihistamine for dogs. There are also prescription antihistamines that the veterinarian might recommend.

Anti-fungal sprays and creams.

Dermatitis in dogs tends to go through peaks and valleys.  Fleas, pollen, insect dander, and other allergens tend to be worse during certain times of the year (except in year-round warm regions). Once you understand that cycle, you will be able to prepare ahead by supporting your dog’s nutritional needs, providing antihistamine relief sooner rather than later and maintaining year-round parasitic control.

Flea Allergy

Some dogs are allergic to fleabites. The saliva elicits an intense allergic response including severe itching. Your dog might chew and gnaw at the hot spots, creating prime conditions for secondary skin infections.

The first place you will notice a flea allergy is along the dog’s back end and tail. You might feel raised bumps on the skin or notice fur loss where your dog has been chewing and rubbing the skin.

Treatment options include:

  • Year-round topical medicine for flea control. I use Advantage for my dogs, and it works great, while also taking care of ticks. Your veterinarian will suggest the best medication for your dog.
  • Eliminate fleas from the home environment in order to capture the flea’s full life cycle. Read more about the flea cycle here.
  • Medications to reduce severe itching.


Ringworm, caused by a fungus, is surprisingly common and contagious. It is similar to athlete’s foot. Protein sources (think of the keratin found in hair/fur) feed the ringworm infection.

Dogs can contract ringworm from other animals and from contaminated soil.

Symptoms include circular rashes on the dog’s body, lesions and areas of fur loss.  Most dogs show signs of ringworm on the belly and groin, although it can spread all over the skin.

Treatment Options Include:

  • Medicated, anti-fungal, anti-itch shampoo.
  • Topical ointment formulated to combat ringworm.
  • prescription medication
  • Natural treatment could include a number of products available at reputable online and retail stores.
  • Propolis is made up of 50-55% resin, 30% wax, 5%nutritional and environmental elements, and pollens complete the mixture.  Propolis comes from bees

4. Environmental Dermatitis in Dogs:

Allergens like dust, mold, mites, plants, and insect feces can trigger environmental allergies (known as atopy).

It’s impossible to completely remove these factors from our lives, so if your dog has environmental allergies, he/she may require a three-pronged approach to treatment including:

  • a balanced diet consisting of raw foods which can be used alone or in combination with a nutritionally balanced vet-recommended commercial dog food,
  • regular irrigation therapy, which is simply bathing your dog to wash irritants out of the fur and away from the skin,
  • Invest in a good quality air purifier

Ongoing or intermittent steroid use might be required, along with other veterinarian prescribed treatments.


Bacterial infections occur when the dog’s skin breaks open from excessive scratching, chewing and biting. It is a secondary infection caused by the allergen.

Treatment Options Include

  • antibiotic prescribed by veterinarian
  • topical antibacterial cream or ointment
  • medication shampoos


The presence of excess yeast (which lives on the skin and in the gut), can show up as greasy skin/fur, dark red patches between the dog’s toes, black spots on the skin, and a foul smell.

Yeast infections, known as Malassezia dermatitis, are caused by a suppressed immune system (sometimes caused by corticosteroids; i.e. steroids), and from excess oil on the skin caused by conditions like seborrhea oleosa and allergies. Dogs with seborrhea oleosa will usually have oily, scaly skin with possible secondary skin infections.

Treatment Options Include:

  • application of over-the-counter Monistat (typically used for vaginal infection) 
  • synthetic anti-fungal medication

REMEMBER: Any treatment options whether all natural or synthetic can cause side effects.

  1. Food Allergies

Food allergies are difficult to pinpoint and require a food elimination diet.

In my opinion, the most effective way is to use a commercially prepared dog food formulated for an elimination diet. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you which one to get. 

Dogs have to remain on this diet for a while, sometimes months, and cannot eat any other food during the treatment.

When the dog’s allergies subside, the veterinarian will instruct you to begin gradually adding food back into the dog’s diet until the culprit(s) is found.

The Hypo-Sensitization Treatment

This medical treatment involves injecting small amounts of the allergen to elicit a response from the immune system. Over-time, the body develops a resistance or immunity.

Hypo-sensitization (allergy injection) statistics:

  • take as long as 12 months to become effective
  • it’s estimated that as many as 65% of animals treated show remarkable improvement
  • it does not work for 20% of animals.

Veterinary Dermatology, an International Journal (Volume 9, Number 3, June 2018) released a previously published abstract (April, 2002) on the effects of hypo-sensitization in dogs with dermatitis.

  • 169 dogs were studied
  • 1-year treatment based on results of intradermal skin tests (skin-prick), or blood work.


  • Excellent, meaning this treatment alone took care of all clinical signs. 
  • Good, meaning there was a greater than 50%
  • improvements  32.5%
  • Moderate, meaning there was less than a 50% improvement 20.1%
  • No, meaning there was no change in symptoms and signs. 27.8%

An Itchy Dog is an Unhappy Dog

It is important to get your dog to the veterinarian if your dog shows signs of itching, especially if he/she is biting and chewing the skin.

A veterinarian dermatologist is the best person to see for canine skin irritations. However, if you live in a small rural area like I do, there probably is not a veterinarian specialist around. That’s okay! Veterinarians commonly see dermatitis in dogs.

I hope you can use the tips and information I’ve given you. Please go ahead and share with your friends and family.

Dermatitis is so common that you probably know someone else looking for information.  Go ahead and pass it on.

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