By Elizabeth Xu
Bringing a dog into your life is a big responsibility and, in addition to providing your new pet with treats, toys and love, you’ll need to provide her with proper medical care. Knowing what diseases and ailments, including skin conditions, she might be prone or predisposed to can be beneficial in keeping her happy and healthy throughout her life.
“Many dogs have a genetic predisposition, called atopy, towards developing skin allergies,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM. “Some other common causes of skin problems include infections (bacterial or fungal) and parasites like fleas or mites.”
Common signs that your dog might have a skin issue include hair loss, itching, redness and bumps on the skin, Coates says. Further, she says that age can be a factor in skin infections. “Some skin problems, like demodectic mange, are more common in young dogs while other conditions, cancer for example, typically affect older dogs.”
Although finding the root cause of certain skin conditions in dogs can be tricky, the following breeds are known for getting certain skin infections.
Spaniels tend to get ear and lip fold infections, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian in New Jersey. Ear infections happen because of their long, heavy ears, which can promote yeast and bacterial growth, while lip fold infections occur due to the number of lower lip folds they have and the weight of their jowls.
“Many yeasty ear infections are secondary to food intolerances, so feeding a species-appropriate diet is very helpful,” Morgan said.
These dogs sometimes have a hereditary condition called granulomatous sebaceous adenitis, which affects the oil glands and can cause hair loss, giving them a “moth-eaten appearance,” Morgan said. While there are no guaranteed treatments, some things that may help include vitamin-A therapy, omega-3 fatty acids, frequent baths and topical oil treatments. In addition, antibiotics and antifungals may be needed for secondary infections, she said.
Dogs with short coats, like Shar-Peis and bulldogs, are prone to skin irritation, especially if they also have allergies, said Dr. Amy Haarstad of McKeever Dermatology Clinics in Minnesota. Depending on the exact issue, treatment could require frequent grooming and medicated shampoos in these breeds.
“When the skin folds into itself [like it does with Shar-Peis], then you have the hair on one side poking into the other, that can cause more irritation,” Haarstad said, noting that while such a condition doesn’t cause allergies, it can be a contributing factor for skin irritation.
American bulldogs tend to have allergies, both food and environmental, Morgan said, which can impact their skin. Additionally, this breed can suffer from canine ichthyosiform dermatoses, which Morgan says is a rare genetic defect that can be noticed while they’re still puppies.
“The skin along the belly, groin, and armpits has a reddish, scaly appearance,” she says. “Secondary yeast infections are common, leading to more itching, along with ear and interdigital [between the paws] infections. Genetic testing is available.”
If you suspect that your bulldog is suffering from allergies, work with your veterinarian to determine if they’re environmental or food related and what the best options for treatment could be.
Hypothyroidism is common in these dogs, Morgan says, and while a condition like that may not initially seem to affect a dog’s skin, it can.
“Dogs with low thyroid function tend to have a sparse coat, with thinning and alopecia along the flanks. The coat and skin tend to be dry and flaky,” she said, adding that breeds with this disease may also get a lot of secondary skin infections. Fortunately, thyroid hormone tablets can be used as a treatment for hypothyroidism.
This breed often sees diseases in its skin folds, Morgan, adding that these diseases can also cause secondary infections (like yeast and bacterial skin infections), so a lot of care and cleaning is required of a bulldog’s coat.
English bulldogs younger than four years old are also at a higher risk of histiocytomas, or skin tumors that appear as a lump on the skin, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. A biopsy is needed to diagnosis this disease, and because these tumors are often benign and they often go away without treatment, surgery is rare unless the tumor is causing other issues, like bleeding, infection, pain or continued growth of the lump.
According to Haarstad, Labrador retrievers are a breed she often sees in her office with allergies (although she does note that this could be because many dog owners have Labradors). There are many reasons a dog could have allergies, including genetic and environmental factors, she said, and the best course of action is to work with your veterinarian or a dog dermatologist to see if the cause of the allergy can be discovered.
If a food allergy is to blame, Haarstad said any food your dog is allergic to should be avoided, and if it’s an environmental allergy, she recommended baths and wiping off your dog’s feet when they come in from walks.
Demodex, or tiny mites that live in hair follicles, can affect dogs with a weak immune system, Morgan says. As such, she often sees pit bulls with demodex.
“Many dogs carry demodex mites in their skin and don't have any symptoms,” Morgan said. “Others will be very itchy with secondary infections. The best way to cure demodex outbreaks is by strengthening the immune system.”
To help the immune system she suggests giving limited vaccinations at one time, a species-appropriate diet (a well-balanced dog food as opposed to human foods) and probiotics.
There are many more skin issues that your dog can have, and they can affect any breed or mix of dog, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian if you suspect your dog might have a skin infection, no matter what breed they are.