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Skin disorders cause itching, scratching in dogs

Original Publication Date: August 3, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Chances are that a dog who is constantly itching and scratching, rubbing his face or licking his paws is experiencing an issue with his skin.

There are more than 160 skin disorders in dogs. In a recent nationwide survey of 2,540 veterinarians, 90 percent reported dermatological disorders were the most frequently seen in their practice.

Skin conditions were ranked as the fastest growing problem by 55 percent of the veterinarians. Dermatological complaints are challenging for owners and veterinarians and distressing for dogs.

The skin is the largest organ in the body. In the average dog the skin accounts for 7 percent of their total body weight.

That means for a 150 pound giant breed friend like a Mastiff or Irish Wolfhound, the skin would have a surface area of about 15 square feet and weigh about 11 pounds.

The skin of a small dog like a Dachshund weighs only 1 or 2 pounds but still accounts for about 7 percent of their body weight (16 to 32 pounds).

Obviously, a problem with the skin can cause major discomfort for your dog.

A few of the more common complaints are fleas, dry skin, seasonal allergies and food allergies.

Flea bites and droppings can irritate your dog's skin and flea saliva from the bite can cause an allergic response.

Dogs, like people, can be sensitive to seasonal changes and may get dry skin in the winter. Others have seasonal allergies to substances like pollen, weeds, dust mites, trees, mold or grasses.

Many dogs are allergic to common dog food ingredients such as beef, chicken, wheat, corn or soy. Your veterinarian can recommend a food that should correct this problem.

It may take multiple visits to your veterinarian to determine the cause and hopefully a cure for some of the more difficult skin disorders. Puritis, or itchy skin, is not a diagnosis. Neither is an allergy.

Be persistent and realize your veterinarian may have to use a number of diagnostic tests, which could include skin biopsy, blood tests and more to get a handle on some of the trickier skin disorders. They may also need to prescribe different medications and skin care products as they seek a specific diagnosis.

Some skin disorders can be prevented with a few precautionary measures. Keep your dog well brushed, wash pet bedding frequently and vacuum often.

Use only grooming products meant for dogs. These are not hypoallergenic mixes and your dog may be sensitive to some. Ask your veterinarian for another.

It is difficult to watch your dog scratch their itches and be miserable with a skin disorder. Be persistent in preventative measures and trips to your veterinarian.

Remember, the skin is the largest organ in your dog's body. A skin problem is a big problem. Work with your veterinarian to make your pup comfortable in his own skin.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at