Problems of the Skin

The puppy's skin is a dynamic and vital organ. No matter if your puppy is short- or long-haired, his skin is always shedding dead cells and replacing them with new ones. The skin is made of two layers: the epidermis, or outer layer of skin cells, and the dermis, or second layer. A puppy's skin is prone to many problems that can affect either or both layers of skin, most notably itching, hair loss, swelling and inflammation, and flaking. Because skin problems are often the most visible and pronounced of ailments afflicting dogs, it's not surprising that they represent a large percentage of the overall cases referred to veterinarians.

Scratching and Itching

While all animals occasionally scratch themselves, excessive or constant scratching or itching is the sign of a problem. The most common causes are fleas, hypersensitivity (an immunologic or allergic reaction), and pyoderma (a bacterial infection). If the underlying cause isn't determined, the condition can grow increasingly worse.

At the first signs of itching, check your puppy for fleas. You can do this by moving the fur backward and looking for fleas themselves, or “flea dirt” — the digested blood fleas excrete that indicate their presence. If your dog has fleas, you will need to remove them from his body and from the environment.

Some puppies and dogs are so sensitive to flea bites that they develop Flea Allergy Dermatitis. The dog develops an immunologic hypersensitive reaction to the saliva injected by the flea when it feeds on the dog. By constantly licking, scratching, and chewing at his skin, the dog develops areas of hair loss, which can further progress to open sores that lead to infection. The areas most affected seem to be the base of the tail and lower back.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis typically develops when a dog is three to five years old, and it can be extremely tough to reverse, even if your dog is flea-free. The sooner your veterinarian can diagnose the condition, the sooner you can begin treatment and hope to alleviate the symptoms. Treatment will involve being vigilant about keeping your dog and home flea-free, the use of special shampoos, dips or ointments to prevent itching, and possibly prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs.

Dogs can also develop immunologic hypersensitivities to foods — anything from beef to wheat to dairy. This is why so many premium diets feature ingredients like lamb, rice, or turkey.

Allergies and Hot Spots

A hypersensitive reaction to things in the environment like certain fabrics, detergents, molds, or fungi, can mean the dog is allergic to that thing. Symptoms usually develop when the dog is one to three years old and begin to show in the spring or fall. Areas of the body most affected include the face, stomach, paws and, oddly enough, the creases of the elbows. If your dog is constantly rubbing his face, licking and scratching his paws, or scratching his tummy or elbows, you should suspect an allergic hypersensitivity. Left untreated, the itching will lead to areas of broken, exposed skin that are ripe for infections. Often paw licking will develop into a behavioral habit, perpetuating the condition.

Because of the enormity of potential allergens in the dog's environment, your veterinarian will need to evaluate your dog's symptoms carefully and perform blood and skin tests to try to determine the allergen. Once pinpointed, elimination of the source is necessary, and you will probably need to use special shampoos and ointments to alleviate itching.

Hot spots are quarter-sized areas of red, moist, swollen sores, typically found on longhaired puppies during warm, humid weather. They can be caused by the puppy's licking itself in response to some other problem like a parasitic infection, or general hypersensitivity. Often the cause goes undiscovered. Treatment involves applying antibiotic ointment to the wound and using an Elizabethan collar on the puppy so he cannot reach the spot to continue licking or chewing at it.


When there is an imbalance of new cell growth to replace dying cells, the result is a thickening of the skin with noticeable shedding of the dead cells. This is called seborrhea. Symptoms include extreme flakiness; an overall greasiness to the skin and coat; an unpleasant and persistent odor to the coat; itchiness and bald patches of thick skin. The causes of seborrhea include hormonal imbalance, parasitic infection, excessive bathing or grooming, and nutritional disorders — all factors that contribute to the skin's not being able to properly regulate itself. Diagnosis is fairly simple, but treatment can be quite involved and may necessitate antibiotics, special shampoos, and anti-inflammatory medications.

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