SKIN AND COAT PROBLEMS

By kind permission Top Dog Journal


Dogs have very sensitive skins. The skin is well protected by the coat, except in the hairless breeds. Each primary hair of the coat has an associated oil gland. Many dogs grow more than one type of fibre in their coats, the softer, finer fibres are known as secondary fibres and may not have an associated oil gland. Each primary fibre sometimes has several secondary fibres. Only primary fibres have muscles attached to them. These are strongest along the nape of the neck and back and some can even be found in the tail.

The function of the oil gland is to produce a light oil to protect the hair fibre, keeping it supple and to resist the penetration of dirt, dust and moisture into the coat, and hence onto the skin, where these pollutants would be irritants. Regular brushing assists in keeping the coat clean. It stimulates oil production and keeps the little glands free from debris and prevents them becoming blocked with dead cells and thickened secretions.

On the other hand, washing and excess swimming remove the normal oily secretions, leaving the hair less protected, so that dirt and water may penetrate the coat and irritate the skin. The skin is also left without its normal oily coating which would keep it supple, clean and elastic. It becomes dry, irritable and brittle. It is itchy. Problems with the coat also arise during hot summers. The coat will insulate the dog up to a certain point, beyond which the dog rapidly overheats, which causes the skin to redden and again it becomes itchy. In these conditions the natural oil may become thickened and less easily spread along the hair fibres. This may cause blockage of the oil gland ducts, exacerbating the problem.

Much the same condition may occur during normal molting periods, when "hot spots" occur where ducts have been blocked with secondary hairs, dead cells and other normal debris on the surface of the skin.

These problems may all occur in all dogs, but some dogs are much more sensitive than others. Breeders should select against breeding from those dogs with skin problems that are not due to actual external irritants such as fleas.


This problem of skin damage is usually known as eczema in dogs. The first sign of the developing problem will be chew or scratch marks on the surface of the coat. At this stage the dog should be treated with a dip, spray or powder for fleas, and his bedding and any place where he rests should be sprayed with a reliable product , that as well as containing insecticides, should also contain insect growth regulators. All areas frequented by the dog should be kept damp to allay dust problems, quite independently of the presence of fleas.

The area of the coat containing the ruffled appearance should be parted and the skin beneath and surrounding the region should be closely examined for any damage. If the skin is damaged it should be immediately treated with a reliable antiseptic powder, such as are readily available for human use from supermarkets. This is usually adequate when damage is minimal.

The coat should be brushed back into its normal lay. It should not be clipped. This will only give the dog better access to the irritated skin to chew and scratch, as well as leaving it completely exposed to the sun, wind, rain. Dirt and dust. This will exascerbate the problem too. The use of ointments, lotions and other moisturizing agents will also create more problems than the use of a dry powder to act as an antiseptic. The dry powder will fall away from the skin, whilst any moist or sticky agents will encourage dirt to adhere in the area, increasing the itchiness.

Having removed the threat of fleas, even a single flea can create extensive eczema in a susceptible dog, consider what other factors may have caused the dog to become itchy. Have you changed his diet? Have you given him some delicious tidbits? Is it very hot? Is he/she changing coat? Is his yard dry or dusty? Has any of his routine been changed? There are many more questions you should ask yourself too, such as: Have you bathed the dog? Did you remove all the shampoo and conditioner? If there is a negative answer to any of these questions and any further ones you can think of, perhaps the dog has an allergy to one or more things.

If flies are a bother, use a good repellant on the dogs coat surrounding the damaged places. Do not apply repellant to the damaged area. Flies often bite dogs on the ears, noses, tail and other spots, giving rise to skin damage. This should be treated as above and the dog should have repellant applied to his coat during the day. If it is applied early in the morning, the application needs to be repeated in the afternoon.

When the skin is damaged and there is a red raw eczema.

This may occur within twelve hours of the first damage to the coat and it may spread at an alarming rate as a weeping, stinking, wet eczema The dog is a sorry mess. The affected area, very frequently the rump, back or sides, is red raw, seeping and has a very unpleasant smell. The animal needs immediate veterinary attention. It is very unwise to wait and see. It will only get worse.

There are two common veterinary procedures, apart from clipping mentioned above, that are not recommended, so discuss them with your veterinary advisor before treatment is implemented. The first is the use of corticosteroids. These drugs have a magic effect on inflammation and itchiness, and for immediate results, are the drugs of choice. But, like the magic wand they are, there is a downside. They suppress the normal immune reaction to the condition, so that next time there is a similar stimulus, much less will be needed to produce the same degree of skin damage, and if an allergic reaction, other systems may become involved. The dog may have hay fever, asthma or allergic diarrhea as well as severe eczema. Also, nature has provided inflammation as a natural body defense against invasion by microbes. This is negated by the use of corticosteroids, so that very powerful and totally effective antibiotics must be used in conjunction with them. This means that good microbes, as well as the potential invaders, must be killed throughout the body, to protect the dog from invasion by deadly microbes.

Secondly, Elizabethan collars, or "buckets over the head" are recommended to prevent the animal doing further damage to the eczema. A smart dog will find something to rub on, if he cannot get his teeth to the itch. The mental torture such a device must cause a dog is beyond belief. Have you ever had an awkward itch you could not scratch for even a few minutes? Wasnít that agony? What is the point of curing the dogís eczema if you are going to torture him mentally, perhaps spoiling his temperament for life.

Alternatively, the itch may be eased with the use of oral antihistamines. This will treat the inflammation by neutralizing the histamine which causes the itch and reddening. The area of the eczema will need treating with antiseptics that deal with bacteria, fungi and yeasts. The best form is again powder for the same reasons as before. Once the weeping has stopped and there is scabbing, a lotion or ointment is needed to keep the scab supple, or it will itch and be attacked by the dog, creating further problems. The substances used on these extensive areas of damage need to be non-toxic if the dog should lick them, be unattractive to flies, and should repel dust and dirt. This is a fairly tall order. At different times such substances have been marketed, but mostly they have been unsatisfactory and removed. Silicone based lotions are quite good, combined with aloe vera they work quite well, once any infection has been treated. Wheat germ oil is also very effective.

Will it recur?

If the original eczema occurred through fleas or flea infestations, yes, it will recur under the same conditions. If it is due to an allergy or a food intolerance it will also recur. If it is due to dead coat hanging on, it may be avoided by thorough and regular grooming. Sometimes it may be avoided by changing the diet. Occasionally it may be avoided by altering the acidity of the diet; e.g., by giving a small dose of cider vinegar daily.

What works for one dog may not work for another. All dogs have delicate and sensitive skins. These should be looked after with care and alertness. It is often easier to prevent the development of eczema by your awareness, than to cure an outbreak a few hours later.=

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Submitted by Wooramun Jack


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