Veterinary Blog

Common Cat and Dog Skin Conditions and Their Treatment


Skin issues can cause both pets and their owners a lot of distress, especially if left untreated. The good news is that at Vedder Mountain Veterinary Clinic, we can quickly help ease your pet’s itching and inflammation and treat the cause of common cat and dog skin conditions.

Let’s take a look at different skin conditions that tend to bother our pets.

Environmental Allergies

An allergy results when the immune system overreacts to a harmless, often common, substance (called an allergen) that comes in contact with or enters the body. Basically, the immune system thinks the substance is dangerous and tries to destroy it.

Environmental allergies in dogs and cats are often caused by mold spores, grass, pollen from plants and trees, or dust mites. Also called atopic dermatitis or atopy, environmental allergies usually cause intense itching and inflammation and can result in secondary skin and ear infections. Some pets with atopic dermatitis may only be affected during certain times of the year, while others may have year-round issues, depending on the allergen.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

We all know fleas can make pets miserable. One of the main reasons why is because these parasites can cause flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). FAD is caused by flea saliva: When fleas bite, some dogs and cats have an allergic (immune) reaction to certain proteins in the fleas’ saliva, which is why this condition is sometimes called “flea bite hypersensitivity.”

FAD tends to be more common in warmer months, but it can occur year-round because fleas can survive inside throughout the year. Not only does FAD cause intense itching, but when pets scratch excessively, they can also damage their skin and cause secondary skin and ear infections.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are another cause of skin issues in pets:

  • Staph (staphylococcal) infection is a common kind of bacterial skin infection in dogs and cats. People can also get staph infections from pets, so treating these infections quickly is important to help stop the potential spread.
  • Bacterial ear infections often occur when a pet’s ears are already inflamed, such as when a pet is suffering from allergies or has a yeast (fungal) infection (see below).

Fungal Infections

Fungi can also cause skin problems in pets:

  • Ringworm causes circular, crusty bald patches, as well as scaling, scabbing, inflammation, and dry, brittle hair in both dogs and cats. If the fungus infects the claws, they can become brittle too. This type of fungal infection does not tend to be itchy, but it is highly contagious to other pets and people, so treating ringworm right away is important. If your pet has ringworm, wash your hands after petting or handling him or her, and avoid touching affected areas with your bare hands.
  • Yeast dermatitis is another common fungal infection caused by Malassezia fungus that can affect dogs (and rarely cats). These intensely itchy yeast infections tend to affect the paws, armpits, skin folds, anal area, and ears. Dogs with allergies or a compromised immune system may be more likely to get yeast infections.


These tiny parasites can cause big skin problems in pets:

  • Demodectic mange (“red mange”) is caused by demodectic mites that normally live in a pet’s hair follicles without causing any issues, much like the mites that live in our eyebrows and other human hair follicles. Demodectic mange often affects puppies and adult dogs with weakened immune systems. This skin condition is not contagious and usually isn’t that itchy, but it tends to cause patchy hair loss and red, inflamed skin.
  • Sarcoptic mange (scabies) is caused by sarcoptic mites that live just under the skin’s surface. Sarcoptic mange is incredibly itchy and highly contagious to other pets and people. Widespread hair loss is common in pets with scabies, and if untreated, the skin usually becomes thicker and dark.
  • Notoedric mange (feline scabies) is highly contagious and causes severe itching, hair loss, and crusting. Fortunately, it’s rare.
  • Ear mites can also infest both cats and dogs, often causing severe itching and inflammation of the ears. Affected pets usually shake their heads and scratch their ears frequently.

Signs of Skin Issues in Pets

Contact your Vedder Mountain veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms in your dog or cat:

  • Persistent scratching/itching
  • Frequent licking, chewing, biting, or grooming
  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Skin inflammation or irritation
  • Ear inflammation or irritation
  • Red, swollen paws
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Dry, brittle haircoat
  • Hair loss or bald patches
  • Scabs or lesions
  • Hot spots (painful, raw, inflamed areas on the skin that may bleed)
  • Lick granulomas (similar to hot spots but caused by excessive licking)
  • Swelling or lumps
  • Shaking the head or rubbing against furniture
  • Vomiting up hairballs

Less commonly, certain skin conditions can also cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Gastrointestinal problems, like diarrhea or flatulence
  • Respiratory issues, like nasal discharge or sneezing
  • Anal gland issues

Diagnosing Skin Issues

Your veterinarian will first talk with you about your pet’s history and symptoms and examine your pet. We’ll then perform skin scrapings, microscopic examination, bacterial or fungal cultures, or other tests to determine what is causing your pet’s skin problems.

Getting a proper diagnosis is essential for dermatologic issues—and is especially important if your pet tends to suffer from frequent skin or ear infections or previous treatment hasn’t provided relief.

Treating Skin Issues

We have many options for treatment of skin conditions in pets. Treatment will depend on the cause but may be as simple as putting your dog or cat on a parasite preventive or starting oral, topical, or injectable medications such as an antibiotic or antifungal. Topical therapies like shampoos, sprays, creams, or ointments may also be helpful in treating certain skin issues. For pets with skin conditions caused by environmental allergies, allergen-specific immunotherapy (allergy shots) can desensitize pets to specific allergens over time.

Often, we recommend a combination of treatments to give pets faster and long-lasting relief.

Getting Your Pet Relief From Skin Issues

Your Vedder Mountain veterinarian can get to the bottom of your pet’s skin issues. Schedule a dermatologic exam now. Call us today!

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