Sensitive Skin in Dogs

Treating Sensitive skin in dogs can be challenging for both dog owners and veterinary professionals alike!

Created: 29/07/2022 Updated: 02/08/2022 - Vicky Payne

diet, Diet & Nutrition, dogs, grooming, Health & Wellbeing, parasite, skin

Sensitive skin is a very vague term which can cover a plethora of skin diseases in dogs. Sensitive skin is often a symptom of an underlying health condition rather than a diagnosis. Treating sensitive skin can be frustrating and challenging for pet owners and vets alike!

Signs of sensitive skin in dogs

Pet owners might describe the following symptoms as signs of sensitive skin:

  • Hair loss or alopecia

  • Dry or flaky skin, dandruff

  • Itching, scratching, and rubbing

  • Dry and brittle coat

  • Spots or pustules on the skin

  • Red, inflamed skin

  • Recurrent ear infections or anal gland problems

  • A strong yeasty smell

What causes sensitive skin in dogs?

Causes of sensitive skin and skin irritation in dogs include:

External Parasites

Fleas, lice, and mange mites can cause intense itching. You might see fleas or flea dirt when brushing your dog’s coat. Mange can be diagnosed by your vet using skin scrapes. If your dog has external parasites, you may be bitten too: resulting in a rash. Once diagnosed, your vet will prescribe the relevant treatment.

Internal Parasites

Worms can cause irritation around the anus. You dog may ‘scoot’ across the carpet or nibble the hair from around their back end. Worms are rarely visible in the faeces, but tapeworm segments may be seen near the anus.

The most common tapeworm is spread mainly through fleas.

Dietary Allergies and Intolerances

Cutaneous adverse food reactions (CAFR) are skin problems triggered by a sensitivity to food ingredients and account for less than 1% of all skin disease in dogs. The most common triggers include dairy, beef, chicken, soy, and wheat gluten but dogs can become sensitive to any protein source. Saliva, hair, and blood tests for food allergies in dogs have been shown to be highly inaccurate and are not recommended by dermatologists. If your vet suspects a food allergy, they may recommend an elimination diet for up to 12 weeks. Dogs on low fat weight-loss diets can develop dry and itchy skin.

Environmental Allergies (also known as atopic skin diseases)

These account for most of the skin problems seen by UK vets that are not caused by parasites, and they are far more common than diet-related allergies. Common allergens include grass pollens, tree pollens, fungal spores, house dust mites, and food storage mites. Your vet may diagnose atopic dermatitis or environmental allergies after ruling out other causes of itchy skin, or they may offer a diagnostic blood test. Allergens can’t be avoided, but several medications are available to reduce the reactions. Alternatively, an allergy ‘vaccine’ can be made based on the results of the blood test.

Contact Allergy

This usually presents as red skin on a suddenly itchy dog, especially on the bare skin of the belly and groin. Ask yourself if you have used a different washing powder or floor cleaner, or if your dog has been running through long grass. Your dog may need a short course of medication to stop the itching.

Bites and Stings

Bites, stings, and scratches from plants can all cause intense short-term skin irritation followed by biting, licking and chewing.

Dalmatian dog itching on the grass

Skin Infections

Skin infections are usually secondary to another problem such as an adverse food reaction, environmental allergy, endocrine disease, or excessive licking after a bite or sting. Your vet might prescribe a topical soothing antibacterial wash, an antibacterial cream or, occasionally, oral antibiotics. Recurrent skin infections must be investigated to find the underlying cause.

Alopecia

Many dogs with a skin irritation will bite or scratch until they develop bald patches. A few conditions cause the hair to fall out at the roots and not regrow and this is called alopecia. You can tell the difference by rubbing your hand over the bald area; if there is stubble, the problem is caused by scratching or nibbling - even if your dog is doing it in secret. If the skin is smooth, something has stopped the hair from growing. Causes include hereditary conditions, seasonal alopecia, and various illnesses.

Poor Environment

If your dog is too cold or too hot, or if the area where they sleep is too dry or too wet, skin problems can emerge. Your dog’s breed and coat type will affect the sort of environment they are most comfortable in.

Breed Problems

Dogs with excessive skin folds are prone to yeast infections in the creases which can be very itchy and painful. Many breeds are predisposed to allergies, and some breeds can have specific skin problems – such as ichthyosis, which causes thick scaly dandruff in affected Golden Retrievers.

Smiley golden retriever sat inside

Supporting a dog with sensitive skin

If your dog shows signs of sensitive skin, make sure you visit your vet to get the underlying cause diagnosed and treatment started. Untreated skin problems can be very stressful for dogs (and for their owners), as scratching keeps everyone up at night. As well as medication to treat the cause of your dog’s sensitive skin there are supportive measures you can take at home:

  • Regularly treat your dog for parasites

  • Regularly vacuum and dust to reduce house dust mite levels

  • Keep dry food in airtight containers or the freezer to reduce food storage mite levels

  • Avoid walking your dog in long grass or when the pollen count is high

  • Avoid spraying aerosols and sprays around your pet and refrain from using scented candles, air fresheners and incense

  • Choose non-biological, low fragrance washing powder or liquid

  • Wipe your dog’s body and paws after walks to remove dust

Groom your dog regularly

Your vet may recommend a medicated shampoo to get skin infections and irritations under control. Dogs with normal skin do not need regular bathing as this can strip natural protective oils from their skin, but dogs with skin problems may benefit from more frequent baths.

  • Beaphar Anti-itch shampoo is formulated with aloe vera to moisturise the skin and methyl sulphonyl methane (MSM) to strengthen the coat. Lemon grass oil and menthol oil give a fresh aroma. This shampoo may be helpful for soothing mild contact irritations and insect bites.

  • Natural Vetcare Dog Skin Shampoo is suitable for regular use as it removes dirt and grease from the coat without stripping natural oils from the skin. Enzymatic deodorisers help with ‘doggy smell’ and the subtle tea tree fragrance won’t upset your dog’s sensitive nose. This shampoo also contains skin prebiotics to support a healthy skin bacterial population, moisturises the skin, and makes detangling the coat easier.

  • Dog'Skin Solution for Itchy Skin is a herbal formula designed to soothe irritated skin. It can be sprayed or sponged onto small areas of irritation or sprayed over the whole dog during hand stripping or grooming.

Brushing a dog using the moult stoppa brush

Brush your dog regularly

Brushing your dog on a regular basis supports good skin and coat health by removing dirt, dandruff, and grease and by stimulating the circulation in the skin. Dogs need grooming between once a day and once a week depending on their coat type. Consult a groomer about the right type of brush for your dog’s coat and groom carefully if the skin is already irritated.

  • The Moult Stoppa removes dead undercoat which can make dogs hot and itchy. Used correctly this brush will not cause skin damage but do take care with thin-coated dogs and those with irritated skin.

  • The Pet + Me Brush is ideal for dogs with more sensitive skin. The silicone brush picks up dead coat and helps massage the skin and can be easily washed.

Consider skin and coat supplements

  • Dog'Skin Supplement for Healthy Skin and Coat is formulated for dogs with itchy or sensitive skin. Optimum levels of Omega 3 and 6 oils and Sea Algae Extract support the skin’s natural barrier function. A broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals support healthy hair, healthy skin, and nail growth and repair. Antioxidants help the body defend against damage caused by inflammation. In addition, this supplement supports healthy digestive function which is essential for a normal immune system.

  • Pet'Skin Hydrating Balm for Cracked or Dry Skinis suitable for sensitive skin in cats and dogs. This long-lasting hydrating balm is formulated for use on dry skin, cuts, scrapes and cracked noses or pads.

  • NAF Omega Oil contains a blend of oils to provide additional Omega 3 and 6 which can be of benefit to dogs with sensitive skin.

Change your dog’s diet

Food allergies and intolerances are responsible for as few as 1% of sensitive skin problems in dogs; however, choosing a diet rich in Omega 3, vitamins, and minerals to support healthy skin may be beneficial. If you think your dog has a food intolerance, please consult your vet before changing their diet.

Sensitive Dog Food is a grain free dog food formulated with hydrolysed Salmon to limit the risk of food reactions, and prebiotics to aid digestion. It contains Biotin, Zinc chelate and Linseed to boost skin and coat health, and Glucosamine and Chondroitin to promote healthy joint tissues. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables support general health and wellbeing.

For more information on grain free food check out this blog:

Why Feed Grain Free Pet Food?

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.

©OSCAR Pet Foods Ltd