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Frequently asked questions for skin problems in dogs

We've answered pet owner's frequently asked questions for skin problems in dogs.

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What are the most common skin problems in dogs?

The most common skin problems seen in dogs are those caused by parasites, with flea infestation being the most important, and allergies, especially those caused by particles present in the environment such as house dust mites and pollens. Additionally, ear and skin infections are frequently seen and most commonly are secondary to allergies.

Are there any tips for keeping the skin free of problems?

Good nutrition, regular antiparasite treatment, grooming and watching out for signs of skin irritation are of paramount importance. If problems are noted, do not hesitate to contact your vet!

What are the best ways to relieve skin conditions?

Shampoo-therapy with a soothing and non –irritating product can have a number of benefits. Physical washing and removal of dirt and particles that can cause allergies are likely to be helpful. Simple bathing and hydration is soothing, however the effect is short lived. If the itching continues, it’s time for a visit to your veterinary practice.

All dogs scratch, when should this scratching be considered a problem?

All dogs scratch, just like us they get an itch and want to take care of it. However, excessive scratching is a symptom of a disease and can lead to some serious problems, let alone an extreme discomfort for your pet. Scratching irritates the skin and damages it causing bacteria to get inside. These bacteria and other germs can multiply and cause inflammation of the skin leading to an increase in glandular secretions and an excess odour production. If you notice that your dog is scratching more than usual, look for signs of skin inflammation and irritation and contact your vet.

Has there been an increase in allergies in recent years and is there anything in particular to watch out for?

In humans there is evidence that the prevalence of allergies has increased, especially in industrialised countries, leading to the hypothesis that environmental factors and lifestyle have an impact on these. It is currently unknown whether allergies in dogs have increased, however these factors should be taken into consideration as well as genetic predisposition. In fact some breeds, such as Labrador retriever, West Highland white terrier or German shepherd, are predisposed to developing allergies and mating from affected dogs should be avoided.

Are there ways to prevent allergies?

Recent studies revealed that some environmental factors were associated with decreased risk of developing future allergies in puppies. Some of these factors, such as living in a rural environment, living in a household with other animals and living in a forest appeared to be protective.  Additionally, recent research concluded that feeding non-commercial foods to lactating bitches may protect their offspring from developing environmental allergies; however other parameters such as gender, season of birth, environment, vaccination or de-worming did not influence the likelihood of developing allergies. Further studies are needed to better answer the question.

Should a dog be introduced to pro-biotics at an early age to prevent allergies?

There is evidence that early exposure, from 3 weeks until 6 months to a pro-biotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus CG) could be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of allergies in dogs already predisposed to them, however additional studies are needed to show the long term effect.

Are there any skin problems that are difficult to diagnose?

Skin problems can be caused by a wide variety of underlying problems and many different diseases have similar symptoms! This can be frustrating because multiple tests may be required to arrive to a definitive diagnosis. Allergies for example can be diagnoses only through a process of elimination as there is not a simple specific test; hair loss, on the other side, usually require several tests including blood work to investigate hormonal unbalances and skin biopsies.

How can you improve a dog’s dry skin?

The causes of dry skin can be numerous. Since one the most common is a decrease in water content, the use of moisturizers is advisable, as well as feeding a balanced diet containing high quality proteins, the correct amount of vitamins and minerals and supplemented with essential fatty acids.

What are the best lotions, potions and supplements available to soothe irritated skin?

It depends on the cause. Weekly bathing with a mild non-irritating shampoo and lukewarm water, not only increase the skin hydration, but it is likely to be beneficial for a direct soothing effect to the skin, the physical removal of microbes and substances potentially leading to allergies and microbes. At this time, there is no evidence of superiority of any particular shampoo or protocol to achieve the goals mentioned above. If the skin is greasy and scaly, anti-seborrhoeic shampoos are indicated. If infections are present, antiseptic shampoos should be preferred. Because frequent shampooing might dry and irritate the skin, especially with anti-seborrhoeic or antimicrobial products, any exacerbation following bathing should be reported to the vet so that a different shampoo might be prescribed. In some cases, moisturisers could alleviate any skin dryness that would occur after the bath. Recently the use of spot on products containing substances for improvement of coat quality has been introduced. Although initial studies have shown an improvement in skin and coat quality, further research is needed to assess their efficacy in reducing skin irritation and demonstrate if they represent a relevant cost-effective option. Several nutritional supplements (e.g. pantothenate, choline, nicotinamide, histidine and inositol) have been shown to improve skin moisture in healthy dogs; however additional studies are needed to confirm the benefits of a diet containing these supplements in dogs with diseased skin.

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