Symptoms of Dermatitis in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Effects of Dermatitis – From the Dog’s Point of View

Dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin, can cause a number of symptoms in domestic dogs. The extent and severity of the dog’s symptoms will depend upon the particular animal’s overall health, living environment and immune system strength and function. Regardless of the cause, dermatitis can lead to mild to very severe clinical signs. The hallmark of canine dermatitis is intense itchiness, which may or may not fluctuate seasonally. Sometimes, the dog will feel itchy all the time; other times, the itchiness will come and go (wax and wane). Itchiness in animals is medically referred to as “pruritis.” Dogs suffering from severe dermatitis often will lick, scratch, bite and chew at their skin in an attempt to relieve their discomfort.

Their efforts will not be successful and typically lead to skin sores and wounds, which make a ripe site for secondary bacterial infections.

Symptoms of Dermatitis in Dogs – What the Owner Sees

Dermatitis is a frustrating condition for owners of companion dogs because it can be caused by so many different things, many of which will never be identified. Allergies to parasite bites, and allergies to certain types of foods, grasses, detergents or plants, are some of the leading causes of dermatitis in dogs. Some dogs develop dermatitis as a reaction to exposure to a fungus or from exposure to high temperatures and humidity. Owners of affected dogs may notice one or more of the following signs:

  • Scratching, licking, pawing, chewing and/or biting at the skin; may be seasonal; may wax and wane; often frantic and frenzied
  • Skin redness (erythema); often seasonal
  • Skin thickening
  • Oily skin (seborrhea)
  • Foul-smelling skin
  • Rubbing the head on the floor or ground
  • Inflammation (redness, swelling, irritation) of the paws, legs, tail base, flank, neck and/or armpit areas
  • Hair loss (alopecia); may be patchy or symmetrical; may be the only noticeable sign (in other words, there may only be patchy hair loss, without itchiness)
  • Hot spots; raw, weeping, painful sores; usually due to self-trauma
  • Raised red skin eruptions or bumps
  • Dry, scaly, crusty skin (dandruff)
  • Ear infections
  • Foul odor coming from the ears

Without treatment, dermatitis in dogs is usually progressive and worsens with time, regardless of the cause. While the reason for canine dermatitis is often elusive, there are a number of available treatments that can help calm the itchiness and other symptoms of this infuriating condition.

Dogs at Increased Risk

Any dog can develop skin problems. German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards and Golden Retrievers seem to be predisposed to developing acute moist dermatitis, also known as “hot spots.” Dogs living in hot humid climates, and long-haired breeds, are also at increased risk. Because the causes of dermatitis are so varied, there is really no way to accurately generalize about which breeds or mixed breeds are predisposed to developing skin irritation.

Dog Health Center


Cancer in dogs is defined by the uncontrolled transformation of normal cells into abnormal ones, which usually form masses, invade nearby tissue, and ultimately spread.

Learn more about: Cancer