Sensitive skin in dogs

Puppy whippet

No matter their age, breed or sex, a dog’s skin provides many key health functions. Skin accounts for 24% of a young puppy’s body weight and 13% of an adult dog’s, providing a vital protective layer that’s a first defence against the outside world.

Smooth and healthy skin can also hold your dog’s hair better and will repair itself more quickly if they get scratched. For these reasons, it’s vital that their skin is healthy as part of their overall physical well-being.

Both genetic and environmental factors can cause skin sensitivity in dogs and identifying the reason behind your dog’s skin problems can make finding the correct treatment a whole lot easier.

Below we’ve explained how to spot the signs of sensitive skin, what causes it and finally the five best tips to help keep your dog healthy.

Signs of sensitive skin

Your dog’s appearance is one the most obvious indicators of his or her wellbeing. Learning to recognise the signs of sensitive skin early means that you can help your pet to overcome the problem sooner. Some of the most common signs include:

  • excessive scratching – if you witness your dog scratching itself more than usual, then this could be an indicator of dog skin allergies or a skin problem
  • hair loss – increased hair loss is another sign of skin sensitivity
  • dry patches - dry or flaky patches on your dog’s skin often signals sensitive skin

What causes sensitive skin in dogs?

Genetic factors

  • Diet: your dog’s diet can have an adverse effect on skin health. Some dogs are allergic to certain food groups (e.g. certain proteins or corn-based gluten products) and this can precipitate skin issues. Find out more about food allergies in dogs.
  • Allergies: genetics are thought to play a role in a dog's likelihood of developing certain types of skin disorders. Some dogs may be more sensitive to some of the most common allergies, such as pollen, grass or dust mites

Environmental factors

  • Dry environment: dryness caused by indoor heating systems or air conditioning can irritate your dog’s skin and cause it to become dry
  • Seasonal: some dogs are very sensitive to changes in the weather which can lead to skin allergies. It’s more common that dry skin symptoms occur in cold weather months, whereas allergic reactions tend to flare up in the spring and summer
  • Parasites: bites from fleas or parasites can irritate dogs’ skin whereas with mites you might observe dry or scaly skin

When to contact your vet for advice

If your dog is scratching or licking excessively then it’s time to contact your vet to get an accurate diagnosis and find suitable treatment as soon as possible. If left untreated, skin conditions or dog skin allergies are likely to worsen and cause your pet more distress in the long run.

Five tips to treat sensitive skin in dogs

  1. Groom your dog: booking an appointment with a professional groomer for your dog may not be the cheapest option, but it can be a great way to get your dog’s coat (and skin) back to its best condition. Choose an experienced groomer who will have seen lots of skin issues, as they should have ideas for effective remedies
  2. Use specially formulated shampoo: washing your dog with dog shampoo specifically designed for sensitive skin should not only help remove offending allergens such as dust and pollen, but should also re-moisturise the skin, to help combat dog skin allergies
  3. Change your dog’s diet: just like humans, some dogs are sensitive to particular food groups. By identifying and eliminating offending foods, your dog’s skin issues may clear up
  4. Wipe feet: Wiping your dog’s feet after they have been outside can help remove outdoor allergens such as pollen and reduce any related skin sensitivity issues
  5. Supplement with vitamin E: You can buy vitamin E oil from your vet to rub directly onto your dog’s dry skin patches, which may help with certain skin disorders, such as atopic dermatitis

Skin allergies and diseases in dogs

List of common canine allergies and skin diseases
  • Allergic dermatitis: reactions to food, environmental irritants or grooming products can cause dry and itchy skin which is characteristic of dermatitis
  • Yeast infection: if you notice your dog scratching an ear or chewing its toes, then your pet might have a yeast infection. Signs include irritated, itchy or discoloured skin. Since yeast needs warmth to multiply, the infection usually strikes the paws and ears
  • Folliculitis: does your dog have sores, bumps and scabs on its skin? If so, your pet may be suffering from folliculitis. As a condition that inflames the hair follicles, it easier to spot on shorter haired breeds but on longer haired breeds look out for a dull coat and shedding. It’s common for folliculitis to appear along with other skin conditions
  • Impetigo: a condition which is most commonly witnessed in puppies. Signs include pus-filled blisters that may burst or crust over
  • Seborrhea: this is a skin issue which causes a dog’s skin to become greasy and scaly. This is usually a sign of another medical problem, such as allergies or hormonal abnormalities
  • Ringworm: the signs of ringworm are circular patches that can appear anywhere on the skin but are often located on a dog’s head, paws, ears or legs. In general, skin inflammation and hair loss will surround affected areas.
  • Alopecia: it’s a well-known fact that all dogs shed hair. However, excessive hair loss that causes large bald spots would fall into the category of alopecia. Alopecia can be caused by anything from stress or poor nutrition to illness
  • Mange: this is a skin disorder caused by mites. Sometimes known as canine scabies. Common signs are itching, red skin, sores and hair loss with the face, legs and ears being the most affected areas
  • Hot spots: also known as moist dermatitis, these are small areas that look red, irritated and inflamed. Allergies, insect bites, infections and excessive licking or chewing can all cause hot spots