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Is Your Dog’s Skin Red and Flaky? It Could Be Dermatitis

Have you noticed dry, red patches on your pet’s skin? These rough, inflamed spots are often the result of a vicious cycle of itching and scratching that can sometimes end in skin infections and hair loss. 

Get familiar with the common causes of dermatitis and identify the warning signs so you can stop this uncomfortable condition in its tracks. 

petting dog with atopic dermatitisWhat is Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is a reaction to an allergen or infection that causes skin inflammation, dryness, and itching. The initial reaction is almost always made worse by your pet’s need to scratch, lick, or chew on irritated spots. 

Unfortunately, dogs’ attempts to relieve the itching can easily introduce bacteria into broken skin and cause secondary infections. 

What Causes Dermatitis in Dogs?

The most common cause of dermatitis in pets is environmental allergens like pollen, dust, ragweed, or even certain foods. It can also result from a reaction to fleas or other parasites, or from bacterial or fungal infections that threaten your dog’s immune system. 

The presence of an allergen triggers the release of cytokines, inflammation-mediating molecules similar to histamines. Unlike histamines, however, a build-up of cytokines causes a reaction in the skin rather than the respiratory system. For this reason, over-the-counter antihistamines intended for humans, like Benadryl, aren’t recommended for treating dermatitis in dogs. 


The most obvious sign of canine dermatitis is excessive scratching, but be on the lookout for:

  • Greasy skin with an unpleasant smell
  • Dry, crusty, or flaky patches of skin
  • Chewing on paws
  • Thickened or darkened skin
  • Missing patches of hair
  • Rubbing eyes or ears against carpet or furniture

Because the presence of allergens can cause an overproduction of earwax, yeast and bacterial ear infections are a frequent result of dermatitis. If you notice your dog is fixated on their ears, address scratching right away before it leads to hearing damage or aural hematomas.  

How to Manage Itchy Skindog in grass with seasonal allergies

Dermatitis isn’t just uncomfortable — it can lead to a cascade of more serious problems. Work with your vet to find lasting solutions to your dog’s skin issues. 


Choosing the right medication comes down to identifying the root cause of your pet’s dermatitis. A veterinary exam can help determine if seasonal allergies, a reaction to parasites, or a fungal infection is to blame.

Once you know the why behind the irritation, anti-itch medications or medicated baths can give your dog some relief.  

Allergen Reduction

It may not be possible to completely avoid seasonal allergens, but regular grooming and a clean environment can limit your dog’s exposure to common irritants like dust mites. Year-round flea control is also a great strategy for stopping itching before it starts. 


Undiscovered food sensitivities may be the underlying cause of your pet’s angry skin. Proteins commonly found in commercial pet foods, like chicken or beef, may be irritating your dog’s immune system and causing dermatitis flare ups. 

Choosing the right food doesn’t just calm allergies — good nutrition is essential for healthy skin.  Your vet may recommend particular foods or supplements with essential fatty acids to bolster the skin’s natural barrier and prevent irritation from the inside out.