11 Common Skin Problems in Dogs [+Signs, Causes & Prevention]

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vet checking pugs skin

Skin problems are common in dogs, and they can arise from various health conditions or illnesses. While it’s best to let your veterinarian diagnose the particular issue, it helps to understand the most common skin conditions in dogs. 

The most common skin problems include:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Yeast infections
  • Ringworm
  • Impetigo
  • Folliculitis
  • Seborrhea
  • Mange
  • Alopecia
  • Hot spots 
  • Lick granuloma
  • Pemphigus foliaceus

In this article, I’ll walk through the skin conditions above and describe symptoms, prevention, and treatment. After that, I’ll explain when in your dog’s life cycle each condition usually manifests. Finally, I’ll give you a list of signs to watch out for and tips to help you care for your furbaby.

Common Skin Problems

Skin problems occur in most dogs at some point in their lifetime. Understanding the most common conditions prepares you to identify issues and seek help when they arise.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a genetically linked allergic skin reaction characterized by inflammation and pruritus. Approximately 10-15% of dogs suffer from atopic dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis usually surfaces in dogs aged 6 months to 3 years.

The signs of this condition include:

  • Excessive scratching/licking
  • Reddened skin
  • Inflammation
  • Scabbing
  • Hair loss(self-induced)
  • Recurrent ear infections

Various allergens, including flea bites, food ingredients, pollen, and grooming products, can trigger atopic dermatitis. Susceptible breeds include Retrievers, German Shepherds, Pugs, Boxers, West Highland White Terriers, English Springer Spaniels, Poodles, and Dachshunds. 

Without treatment, dogs will continue to itch and may cause self-trauma by biting, scratching, or licking. Atopic dermatitis can significantly impact your dog’s comfort and quality of life.

The key to preventing atopic dermatitis is identifying the allergen if possible, and avoiding it. Measures may include using an air purifier, cleaning your home regularly to reduce dust, and feeding specialized food.

Treatment for atopic dermatitis may include topical ointments, antihistamines, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and hyposensitization.

Yeast infections

Yeast infections in dogs occur when the normal skin flora suddenly overgrows. It’s usually secondary to other issues and can range from mild to severe.

This condition can affect any age, breed, or sex dog.

Yeast infections usually affect the paws or ears. Signs include:

  • Frequent licking or scratching
  • Redness and swelling
  • Yeasty odor
  • Yellow or brownish discharge
  • Scabbing

Usually, yeast infections are secondary to other conditions that weaken your dog’s immune system. Issues like allergies, bacterial infections, and metabolic diseases can contribute to yeast overgrowth. Paws and ears are also more susceptible because they provide a moist, warm environment for microbial growth.

When yeast infections go untreated, they can fester and cause increasing irritation. Your dog’s quality of life decreases, and the yeast can spread to affect other organ systems, causing systemic illness.

To prevent yeast skin infections in your dog, keep his ears and paws clean and dry. You should also treat underlying conditions or diseases quickly to protect the immune system.

Treatment of yeast infections in dogs includes topical creams, medicated shampoos, and oral medications.


Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that can also infect humans. 

While any age dog can get ringworm, they’re more common in young puppies, seniors, or dogs with a weakened immune system.

Signs of ringworm in dogs include:

  • Circular patches
  • Hair loss 
  • Redness
  • Scaly skin
  • Inflammation

Ringworm is caused by a fungal agent. Microsporum canis is the most common cause of ringworm in dogs. Other microbes that can cause the disease include Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum gypseum

Ringworm can be a self-limiting infection and heal without treatment in healthy dogs. However, treating it hastens your dog’s recovery and limits his discomfort. It can also help to prevent spreading the disease to other animals or humans. 

Because ringworm is highly infectious, the best way to prevent it is to avoid contact with infected dogs.

Treatment for ringworm involves a combination of topical and oral medications along with environmental cleanup.


Impetigo is a superficial bacterial skin infection that affects dogs.

This condition is most common in puppies around 3-6 months old because their immune systems aren’t fully developed.

Signs of impetigo include:

  • Pus-filled blisters
  • Crusty lesions
  • Infected pustules or papules on hairless regions of the body
  • Rashes
  • Itching

Overgrowth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which is normally present on the skin’s surface, causes impetigo in dogs. 

When puppy impetigo goes untreated, your furbaby may scratch and break open the blisters, causing pain and discomfort. The infection can persist and spread to other body parts.

Because the bacteria is ubiquitous, it’s difficult to prevent impetigo. However, prompt treatment with medicated shampoos and topical creams can help to prevent the spread of the infection.

Treatment for impetigo includes bathing with antibacterial shampoo, treating affected areas with topical ointments, and oral antibiotics if the infection is more severe.


Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles in your dog. Usually, folliculitis is secondary to other conditions.

Dogs of all ages can suffer from folliculitis.

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Raised, red bumps centered around hair follicles
  • Whiteheads or pustules
  • Sores or scabs
  • Dull hair coat
  • Shedding with scaly skin underneath

Causes of folliculitis can include allergies, skin parasites, trauma, and metabolic or hormonal disorders.

Folliculitis requires treatment to resolve. Ignoring the condition allows the infection to spread and can lead to increased pain and discomfort for your dog.

Preventing folliculitis involves treating underlying conditions promptly. Other ways to prevent the condition include treating your dog with antiparasitic medications, feeding a balanced diet, and giving your dog supplements that support skin health, like omega fatty acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins A, B3, and E.

When your dog has folliculitis, treatment may include oral or injected antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and topical medications, including shampoos and creams or ointments.


Seborrhea is a condition characterized by overproductive oil glands that cause greasy skin and dandruff.

Seborrhea usually manifests in adult dogs. The age of onset varies depending on the underlying cause.

Signs of seborrhea include:

  • Greasy coat 
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Yeasty odor
  • Red, itchy skin
  • Excessive scratching
  • Crusty skin patches
  • Hair loss

Causes of seborrhea include genetic, dietary, allergies, hormonal, parasites, infections, and environment(temperature, humidity, etc.). Dogs that are genetically predisposed to seborrhea include Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, West Highland White Terriers, German Shepherds, and Retrievers.

Without treatment, seborrhea will continue to cause your dog discomfort and decrease his quality of life. 

The only way to prevent primary genetic seborrhea is to avoid breeding dogs that have the condition. Secondary cases may be preventable by controlling underlying conditions that trigger seborrhea in your dog. 

Treatment for seborrhea varies depending on the underlying cause. In addition to using medicated shampoo, your veterinarian may prescribe antiparasitic drugs, hormone therapy, antibiotics, antifungal medications, or hypoallergenic drugs.


Mange is a skin condition caused by tiny creatures called mites that commonly reside on the skin. If something causes the mites to multiply uncontrollably, your dog will develop mange symptoms.

Usually, mange occurs in puppies or seniors because they have a weaker immune system. However, it can affect any age dog if their immunity becomes compromised.

Signs of mange include: 

  • Red, irritated skin
  • Extreme itching
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Sores and scabs
  • Skin thickening/darkening

Two types of mites usually cause mange in dogs. Demodex mites normally inhabit dogs’ hair follicles but can cause demodectic mange if they overmultiply.  Sarcoptes scabiei mites burrow under the skin and cause sarcoptic mange, which is highly contagious.

If mange is left untreated, it can cause secondary skin infections that spread to other body systems. Sarcoptic mange can also spread easily to other dogs and may also spread to humans. 

Because mange usually affects dogs with compromised or weak immune systems, prevention includes scheduling regular health checks for your dog. Keep him up-to-date on vaccinations and feed a well-balanced diet. Additionally, you should wash your dog’s bedding and clean his toys regularly.

Treatment for mange includes anti-parasitic dips, topical applications, or oral/injectable medications.


Alopecia is characterized by a complete or partial loss of hair in areas where you would normally expect your dog to have hair. 

Congenital alopecia can be present in puppies, while alopecia from other causes usually manifests in young adult dogs.

Signs of alopecia may include: 

  • Areas of symmetrical hair loss without inflammation(congenital)
  • Patchy or general hair loss/thinning hair coat
  • Itching/excessive grooming
  • Inflammation
  • Thickened skin
  • Scaling
  • Excessive shedding
  • Skin color change

There are various causes of alopecia in dogs, including stress, allergies, skin parasites, infections, and poor nutrition. Some dogs that are genetically predisposed to congenital alopecia include Alaskan Malamutes, American Water Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Greyhounds, and Whippets.

You may be able to prevent some types of alopecia by practicing parasite control and good coat hygiene. Congenital and other autoimmune forms of alopecia cannot be prevented.

Treatment for alopecia varies depending on the cause but may include topical or oral antimicrobial drugs, hormone therapy, anti-inflammatories, or skin moisturizers. 

Hot spots 

Also known as acute moist dermatitis, hot spots are red, painful areas of infected skin in dogs. Usually, they appear around the face, hips, limbs, or neck but can occur anywhere in the body.

Hot spots can affect dogs at any stage of life.

Symptoms of hot spots include:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Focal hair loss
  • Oozing pus
  • Painful, itchy sores
  • Odor

Hot spots usually start as self-trauma from itching. Factors that cause this can include allergies, insect bites, poor grooming, licking from boredom, excess moisture, and anal gland inflammation. Dogs with long or double coats, including Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers, are predisposed to developing hot spots.

Preventative measures to protect your dog from hot spots include regular grooming, drying your dog’s coat after swimming or baths, keeping your dog on antiparasitic medications, regularly cleaning his ears, and treating any allergies.

Treatment for hot spots includes oral antibiotics, clipping hair away from the lesions, cleaning the lesions with gentle antiseptic cleansers, anti-itch medicine, and using an E-collar to prevent further self-trauma.

Lick granuloma

A lick granuloma or lick dermatitis is a self-inflicted sore. The condition is caused by compulsive, obsessive licking of a focal area, usually on the lower front leg. 

Lick granulomas can occur at any age, but they’re more common in adult dogs with a median age of onset of 4 years.

Signs of a lick granuloma include:

  • Incessant licking of the same spot
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Thickened skin
  • Eroded or ulcerated skin

Causes of lick granulomas in dogs include boredom, stress, allergies, skin infections, trauma, arthritis, or behavioral issues. Medium to large-breed dogs, including Dobermans, Weimaraners, Irish Setters, Great Danes, and Retrievers, are prone to developing the lesions.

Prevention of lick granulomas includes maintaining your dog’s health with annual exams and regular vaccinations. Treat any health conditions like allergies or arthritis that may trigger licking. If your dog has behavioral tendencies, providing him with ample play time and longer walks may help reduce stress or boredom.

Treatment for lick granulomas varies depending on the underlying cause. It may include corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, pain medications, or laser therapy.

Pemphigus foliaceus

Pemphigus is an auto-immune disease in which your dog’s immune system starts to attack the normal connections between the skin layers. The most common variation is pemphigus foliaceus.

This form of pemphigus usually affects middle-aged and senior dogs.

Signs of pemphigus foliaceus include:

  • Red, brownish, or yellow skin pustules
  • Scabbing
  • Crusting skin
  • Oozing lesions
  • Hair loss
  • Itching
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

The cause of pemphigus foliaceus in dogs is a malfunctioning immune system that starts to attack the proteins that allow skin cells to stick together. Research suggests that allergies, long-term drug use, exposure to UV light rays, and unknown(idiopathic) causes may trigger the autoimmune response. Certain breeds, including Akitas, Cocker Spaniels, Dobermans, Newfoundlands, Dachshunds, and Collies, are predisposed to the disease. 

Pemphigus foliaceus isn’t preventable in dogs. 

Immunosuppression is the main treatment for pemphigus foliaceus. If your dog develops the disease, you should also minimize exposure to direct sunlight and work with your veterinarian to treat any underlying conditions.

Skin Health Problems across the lifecycle

Skin health problems can surface at various points in your dog’s life cycle depending on the condition.  Several diseases like folliculitis and hot spots can occur throughout your furbaby’s life, while others, including pemphigus foliaceus are more common in older dogs. 

Skin Health Problems in Puppies

There are a few skin conditions that usually affect puppies. Two skin issues that commonly surface in juvenile dogs are atopic dermatitis and impetigo. Other conditions that mostly affect very young or geriatric dogs with weaker immune systems include ringworm and mange.

Skin Health Problems in Adult Dogs

Several skin health problems usually affect adult dogs. Young adults frequently manifest signs of atopic dermatitis or alopecia. Other conditions that are most common in adults include seborrhea and lick granulomas. Skin health issues that can manifest at any age include yeast infections, folliculitis, and hot spots. 

Skin Health Problems in Senior Dogs

Because they tend to have a weakened immune system, senior dogs are prone to some of the same skin conditions as puppies. Ringworm and mange are two such diseases. Additionally, pemphigus foliaceus usually affects older dogs, including seniors.

Skin Problem Signs Dog Parents Should Beware of

Many skin conditions have a better prognosis with early detection and treatment. To help you recognize trouble in your furbaby, we’ve included a list of the top signs to watch out for.

  • Excessive scratching/licking
  • Reddened skin
  • Inflammation
  • Foul or yeasty odor
  • Yellow or brownish discharge
  • Scabbing
  • Circular patches
  • Hair loss 
  • Crusty lesions
  • Infected pustules or papules 
  • Changes in hair coat
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Skin thickening/darkening
  • Eroded or ulcerated skin
  • Oozing pus
  • Painful, itchy sores
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Common causes of Skin problems

Skin problems can arise in dogs for various reasons. Below is a list of some of the top causes of skin conditions.

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Allergies
  • Infections
  • Skin parasites
  • self-trauma

Skin Health Care Tips and Problem Prevention

You want the best for your furbaby. Fortunately, there are things you can do at home to help prevent some skin conditions and to keep him healthy. 

  • Schedule routine health checks with your veterinarian and keep your dog up to date on vaccinations
  • Use antiparasitic preventative medications
  • Groom your dog and check his skin regularly
  • Feed your dog a well-balanced diet
  • Give your dog supplements that support healthy skin and coat, including omega fatty acids, Vitamin E, and essential fatty acids.
  • Use an air purifier in your home.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding regularly and keep your home environment clean to reduce allergens.
  • Purchase puppies from trustworthy breeders that won’t breed stock with genetic skin issues

The Final Woof

Various skin conditions can affect your dog’s health. Some have genetic predispositions, while others are triggered by other causes. Understanding the most common skin issues dogs can develop helps you to recognize problems early and seek appropriate care.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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