Skin rashes tend to be associated with an itchy skin and increased scratching or licking of the affected area. All dogs go through phases of scratching, particularly if they are shedding hair. Incessant scratching or licking, bald spots and rashes are signs of an underlying problem that needs tackling.
Atopic dermatitis is a catch-all term for inflammation of the skin caused when the immune system becomes hypersensitive to something (called an allergen) in the environment. An allergic response by the immune system causes localised inflammation or a rash. It can be the start of what is a vicious cycle, where a dog licks or scratches the affected area, breaking the skin and allowing secondary infection to start.
A dog may be allergic to a substance (allergen) in the environment, such as a particular type of grass pollen, moulds and house dust mites. This might show in the summer months when grasses are flowering, particularly if walks are taken in the countryside. Many dogs are allergic to the ordinary grass species we use in our garden lawns. Contact allergies tend to be localised to the part of a dog’s body coming into contact with the allergen.
Fleas are a constant source of skin irritation in dogs, particularly around the tail and rump. It is not the flea that is the problem but its saliva, which is left in the skin. A single bite can cause intense itching, leading to scabs and sores on the skin. The tendency for a dog to chew and scratch the affected area leads to hair loss and the risk of secondary infection.
Veterinarian Stephen Webb points out that although true food allergy is rare, it does form a small percentage of cases seen by veterinarians. All ingredients within a food are potential allergens, and the only way of determining the cause is to undertake an extended feeding trial or exclusion diet At the end of this trial a veterinary nutritionist may recommend a particular food which an affected dog can tolerate.
Treatment and Prevention
Wherever there is a rash or irritation causing a dog discomfort, then the advice of a veterinarian should be sought before secondary problems set in. Blood and skin tests can help to narrow down the cause of symptoms, and a treatment plan set in place. This might involve drug therapy with antibiotics or steroids to ease the irritation, or a change of diet to a more natural food.
Keeping your pet free of fleas and worms by use of proprietary treatments, and regular attention to grooming can help, alongside avoiding environmental allergens known to be a problem.