Just like human skin, skin on a dog can become infected, can develop rashes and lesions, and can also become dry, flaky and irritated. Sometimes the first sign of serious health conditions and diseases is noted in the skin and coat condition, so carefully examining the dog's skin during routine grooming is essential as an overall health check. A healthy dog's skin will be smooth and free from large amounts of dander or flaky dead skin, free from lesions or abrasions, have normal coloration and be elastic and healthy looking. Skin that is flaky, dry, does not snap back into place or has excessive moisture, hot areas or lesions is a sign of an unhealthy dog.
Many of the skin conditions seen in dogs are environmental in nature. This means that the dog has been in contact with a substance, either natural or man-made, in the environment that has caused a reaction. These conditions can be allergies to fleas or insects, plants, grasses or bushes, cleaning compounds used in the house, perfumes or air fresheners, or even dog shampoos or dog conditions. Some dogs may also have allergic reactions to additives, preservatives or even ingredients in dog foods that may cause excessive licking, scratching, rubbing or biting at the skin. A vet can help you try to determine what is causing the skin issues with your dog, plus they can also do some testing for allergies. Some breeds are more prone to skin conditions and if you own a breed that is know for problems with dermatitis, allergies, or with issues such as sunburns or sensitivities is important to carefully monitor the environment the dog will be in.
Hot spots are very troublesome as they can easily become infected and cause lesions and open sores on the skin. The correct medical term for Hot Spots is Moist Eczema and it is first noted by small or large, wet looking areas on the skin that are very hot to the touch, much warmer than the other surface areas of the dog's skin. Hot spots can be caused by an untreated tick or insect bite, a mild infection from a cut or scrape or even the dog being kept in wet or damp conditions or not dried properly after a bath. Double-coated dogs tend to have the most problems with hot spots as the inner insulating coat holds the moisture in against the skin, leading to the bacterial growth and infection. Treatment includes getting air to the area by clipping the coat and swabbing with hydrogen peroxide or saline solution every two to three hours until the area begins to dry. Usually with treatment the hot spot will not spread, but without treatment it will progress rapidly across the body. Bacitracin or other topical antibacterial treatment can help in killing the bacteria, but never apply petroleum jelly or any other type of cream or ointment that will prevent air from getting to the area.
Just like people, dogs can have mild to severe allergic reactions to various things in their environment. Often for dogs the worse allergens tend to be fleas or more specifically flea saliva. Having a routine flea treatment as well as providing antihistamines to the dog on a regular basis may be needed especially in the worst flea months of the summer. Stings and bites from wasps, bees, mosquitoes, ticks and spiders may also be very problematic. Check the dog for any signs of bites that are swollen or becoming infected and immediately contact your vet to treat the condition before it becomes more problematic.
Skin allergies are typically noted by excessive and almost non-stop scratching, licking, chewing and rubbing of the skin, eyes and ears or other body parts. The dog may also have a discharge from the eyes and may develop hot spots due to the bacterial infection caused by all the scratching and licking. In food related allergic reactions diarrhea is also typically present but not always. If you are not sure what the allergen may be, talk to your vet and look for any changes in the environment. Typically removing this item or items will have almost immediate results in stopping the allergic reaction, but if lesions or hot spots have developed it may be difficult to determine if the dog is reacting to the hot spot or the allergen.
Ringworm is not actually caused by worms; it is caused by one of two types of fungi. Ringworm is most typically noted in younger dogs and puppies but unhealthy adult dogs can also get the fungal infection. Ringworm is identified by patches, usually round in shape, of hair loss around the head and neck and warmer parts of the body. Diagnosis can be done by a vet through a fungal culture and looking at the area under ultra-violet light. Since ringworm is very contagious and can be spread to humans and other pets it is very important to treat immediately and keep the dog or puppy isolated from other pets and people until treatment is complete. Oral medications as well as topical solutions of antibiotics will be used over a prescribed period of time.
If you have an indoor dog this is not likely an issue you will have to deal with, although any area where porcupines are found dogs can be at risk for getting "porcupined". If your dog does get quills in his or her muzzle or face you do have options for treatment. For a few quills it is possible to pull them yourself either using your fingers or a set of pliers. Covering the dog's eyes with a soft cloth will help you be able to work with the dog without it moving around so much. Ideally one or two people should hold the dog in a sitting position and another person should use the pliers, grasping the quill as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight back. There is no need to clip off the end of the quills; this will not make pulling any easier. If the quills break off under the skin surface they will work themselves out in time, or you can take the dog into the vet and them may surgically remove them if they become infected. Use a good quality antibacterial cream on the area to control any possible infection that may occur. The vet should treat quills in the eye area as he or she can anesthetize the dog, thereby having greater access to the eye area to safely remove the quills.