Wintery Skin: Dogs

Dogs owners usually associate itchy dogs with the spring and summer, but skin problems can occur all year round, and some are actually more common in winter.

Created: 10/01/2018 Updated: 07/07/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

Health & Wellbeing

Dogs owners usually associate itchy dogs with the spring and summer, but skin problems can occur all year round, and some are actually more common in winter.

Fleas!

In the past many dog owners would only use preventative flea productsin the summer, and found they didn’t need to use them in the winter. Unfortunately, mild winters, soft furnishings, and central heating mean that our homes provide an ideal environment for fleas to breed all year round. Some dogs only scratch when they are carrying a large and visible number of fleas, whereas those with flea-allergic dermatitis become very itchy all over as a response to just a few bites. If you think your dog might have fleas, use a fine-toothed comb and tap any debris onto a damp piece of white kitchen roll; you might see live fleas, but you might also see specks of black dirt staining the paper red-orange. This is flea dirt (their poop made from digested dog blood). Visit your vet for advice on a suitable flea product for your dog.

Atopic Dermatitis

I describe this as an allergy to ‘stuff’, because the range of possible triggers is very broad. Common allergens include grass pollens, tree and weed pollens, fungal spores, house-dust mites, and food-storage mites. The plant pollens are less of a problem in the winter, but fungal spores, food-storage mites, and house-dust mites are year-round problems. I see many cases flare up when the Christmas decorations come out and I can only assume these bring more dust and dust mites with them! Freezing dry food and keeping it in small airtight containers reduces the risk from food-storage mites, and steam cleaners can reduce house-dust mites. Some allergies improve with the addition of Omega-3 supplementsto the diet, but your dog may still need medication from your vet to control the symptoms.

Close up of a dog itching behind it's ear.

Bacterial Dermatitis

This occurs in longer-haired breeds which get wet frequently; spaniel ear tips are most commonly affected. The skin becomes scabby and tufts of hair fall out at grooming. Trimming the hair short does allow the skin to dry out properly, but, unfortunately, reduces the protection the ear flap has from thorns, so this may be suitable for pets, but less suitable for working gundogs. An antibacterial shampoo followed by thorough drying once a week will control most cases, but severe cases may require antibiotics.

Alabama Rot / CRGV

This disease is most frequently seen in late winter and early spring in dogs that have walked in muddy woodland. The cause is unknown, but the disease causes damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys and skin and is usually fatal. Washing dogs’ legs after walks is recommended to allow any early skin lesions to be seen, but as the cause remains unknown, no additional preventative advice can be given. After a case, people usually avoid areas where the affected dog was walked, but as time goes on it appears the disease can be contracted anywhere. It remains very rare. The skin lesions seen are described as erosions and occur on the legs and feet, and sometimes the face and tongue.

Golden Retriever lying down in front of a Christmas tree chewing on a red ball

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.