Skin Problems in the Dog

If you have an itchy scratchy dog, or a dog with hot spots and sores, the first step is to find out why.  With skin disease, diagnosis is the first step to a cure.  There are many reasons why a dog might have skin problems.  

Atopic Dermatitis

‘Atopic’ means that the tendency is inherited and runs in the dog’s breed or line.  ‘Dermatitis’ means skin inflammation.  Atopic dermatitis can be triggered by something the dog breathes in, something he eats, or something he comes into physical contact with.  The dog’s immune system over-reacts to the substance he is allergic to, causing him to itch and scratch.  Sometimes atopic dermatitis also involved conjunctivitis (eye infections), and his ears may also be red and hot.    

Inhalant Allergy

Inhalant allergies are caused by the same things that cause allergies in humans – tree, grass and weed pollen, dust mites, moulds and fungal spores, petrochemicals and other  chemicals.

If you notice your dog chewing at his feet and constantly licking, then he may have inhalant allergies. Other common symptoms include biting and scratching. The worst itching will be on his feet, hind legs, groin and armpits.  Recurring ear infections are another sign that your dog may have an inhalant allergy. 

Sometimes inhalant allergies are seasonal, which gives you a clue as to what he might be allergic to.  Homoeopathic vets can prescribe pollen remedies based upon the time of year the itching occurs.  Homoeopathic remedies are also available for moulds, petrochemicals, and dust mites. 

Food Allergy

Symptoms of food allergies may be ear scratching, head shaking, itchy skin, licking and biting back legs, rubbing their face on carpet, inflammation in their ears, coughing, and in rare cases vomiting, sneezing, and diarrhoea.  Hot spots and skin infections can be caused by food sensitivities.  Food allergies can also lie behind aggression in dogs.  

The exclusion diet can help you to determine the foods your dog is allergic to.  Initially, restrict him to a diet that settles the allergy down.  This could be chicken, duck or white fish, along with potato or brown rice.  Hopefully you will find a combination that relieves the itching for a while.

Then gradually introduce new types of food, one at a time.  You might start with duck and rice, and then add chicken a week or two after the itching has subsided.  If he starts itching when you add the chicken, you can assume that he’s allergic to chicken.  Try this with all food types, and withdraw the food if he starts to itch again.  

I’ve come across many dogs who had terrible skin problems until they were changed to a natural raw diet – the skin problems cleared up when processed food was removed.     

Contact Allergy

This is the least common type of allergy in dogs. Some of the items that may cause a reaction are carpet (chemicals), bedding, grass, plants, and flea collars.

Flea Allergy

Some dogs can be allergic to flea saliva. If you feed a natural diet to your dog, he is unlikely to attract fleas.  Sure, the odd one may show up, but a naturally fed dog is unlikely to suffer from a flea infestation.  

One of my dogs had a flea allergy and I treated him for vaccine damage using Emotional Freedom Technique.  The hot spot caused by the flea allergy resolved very quickly after this.

If your dogs have a lot of problems with fleas despite feeding naturally, it’s worth having your house checked out for Geopathic stress.

Natural flea treatments and repellents include Neem, Diatomacoues Earth(DE), garlic (in his food), and the B vitamins.      

Bacterial Allergy

There are several different types of Staphylococcus living on your dog’s skin – it’s normal!  However, some dogs may develop an allergy to them.  Bacterial allergies will cause hair loss that looks similar to ring worm. Conventionally, your vet would treat the affected areas with antibiotics.  Natural antibiotics which can be used topically include colloidal silver, diluted grapefruitseed extract, honey, Propolis, and Neem (try one at a time).  You could also mix calendula cream with a few drops of Propolis as a topical ointment.   

Yeast Infection

Candida is a common yeast that can cause serious health issues when it invades the body.  A candida, or yeast, overgrowth may look like an allergy when it is not. Many medications, especially antibiotics, actually help the Candida colonies to grow even faster. 

Symptoms pointing towards a yeast overgrowth in dogs include a yeasty smell, dry or oily skin, fatigue, poor appetite, overweight, allergies, skin problems, nervousness, frequent diarrhoea or constipation.   

The digestive system depends upon good organisms called Probiotics, and these can be impaired when there is candida present.  Probiotic supplements will help.  

Grapefruitseed extract is proven to have a strong growth-inhibiting effect on bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.  Because of its extremely low toxicity, grapefruitseed extract offers a broad spectrum antimicrobial without the side effects associated with pharmaceuticals.  It is effective against more than 800 bacterial and viral strains, 100 strains of fungi, and a large number of single cell and multi-celled parasites.  Added to food, it’s also a good de-wormer.  It can be added to food and also diluted and used topically.  

Metabolic dysfunction can also cause skin problems. Hypothyroidism, for example, can result in a thin, dry coat, weight gain, and flaky or oily skin. Hypothyroid pets are not usually itchy. (if your dog has skin problems, you should ask your vet to test for thyroid disease.)  

Demodectic mange 

This is caused by a cigar-shaped mite that’s only visible under a microscope.  It lives under the dog’s skin and is difficult to treat, especially in dogs who have a sensitivity to this condition.  Dogs with this affliction can have a musty or mousy smell.  Dogs with a strong and vital immune system should be able to keep this condition under control.  Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, red and scaly skin, cracked skin with oozing liquid, and loss of hair in circular patches.

Sarcoptic mange 

Sarcoptic mange is also known as scabies.  It is a severe type of mange in dogs that can also infect humans.  It is caused by a burrowing mite which causes dogs to itch frantically.  The mite tends to attack the dog’s head and face, and cause large scabs.  Signs include scabs, listlessness, fur loss and itching.  

Affected dogs should be isolated from other dogs. Their bedding and environment needs to be thoroughly cleaned.  Other dogs in contact with afflicted dogs should be examined and treated if necessary. 

Harsh chemicals are typically used to treat mange, although these don’t particularly help to strengthen the dog’s immune system.  Alternative treatments include Neem oil, which will kill mites without causing toxicity to your dog. Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, also non-toxic, can be put on your dog’s coat and sprinkled in the home to kill mites through dehydration. 

Homoeopathic treatments for mange include Sulphur and Arsen. Alb. 

Immune system support

Supplements which reduce inflammation in the body include Transfer Factor, Limu, aloe vera, Serrapeptase, vitamin C, and zinc. In addition, because fatty acids are essential for skin health, a good fish oil will be of immense benefit.

Complementary Therapies

Vaccines are known to trigger allergies and atopic dermatitis, so treatment for vaccine damage by a holistic vet would be a sensible first step.  The energy therapy Emotional Freedom Technique can also be used to treat vaccine damage and allergies. NAET is another energy therapy, and this is designed specifically to treat allergies.

You can also consult a kinesiologist or radionics practitioner to find out what your dog is allergic to.   

General support for skin problems

Cod liver oil helps to relieve dry, scaly, itchy skin.

Evening Primrose oil can be given alongside code liver oil.

Hypericum and Calendula cream is a homoeopathic remedy which helps to soothe and promote healing of damaged skin.

Kelp is a seaweed supplement that’s rich in iodine and other minerals.  It helps to improve skin and stimulate hair growth.  If kelp helps your dog, look for other symptoms of hypothyroidism

Zinc is used to improve skin and coat condition. 

Fish oils are also used to help improve skin condition. 


The Canine Thyroid Epidemic

Thyroid disorders can cause literally dozens of health and behavioural problems in dogs, but they frequently go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed.

My first experience of canine thyroid disease was with Chappie many years ago.  When we got him from the rescue, we were warned that he was boisterous – but this wasn’t our experience.  He wasn’t boisterous at all.  Luckily we had a vet who suspected thyroid disease and arranged a blood test.  Chappie lived, despite his thyroid problem, to the grand age of 17.

We now have another dog with thyroid disease.  We were first alerted to the potential of this when Freddie developed food sensitivities, which manifested as recurring ear infections and a swollen head.  Food sensitivities can cause cyclical ear infections, and both are signs of thyroid problems.  Freddie can also be moody.  He’s a beautiful soul, a lovely person, but even since puppyhood, he has occasionally become fractious.  He was also given the temporary name of ‘Laid Back’ by his breeders:  sometimes he’s quite lethargic.

When I arranged the blood test for Freddie, my vet asked me why I thought he might have thyroid problems.  My answer was that I don’t think he has, I just want to check whether he has.

Sure enough, when the test came back from Dr Jean Dodds’ lab – Hemopet –  it confirmed my suspicions.  I can’t help thinking that Freddie’s thyroid condition might have gone undiagnosed if I hadn’t been aware of the symptoms.

In her book, ‘The Canine Thyroid Epidemic’, co-written with Diana R Laverdure, Dr Dodds writes:  “Thyroid disease is sweeping through the canine community at such an alarming rate that it has reached epidemic proportions.  From seizures and obesity to chronic infections, mood swings, and a wide range of other serious conditions, our dogs are being ravaged by a debilitating and confounding ‘epidemic’.  And we humans have a lot to do with it.  We are breeding them, feeding them, and rearing them towards a life of genetic weakness, ill health, and an inability to tolerate their toxic environments.”

Up to 80% of canine hypothyroidism results from an inherited autoimmune condition known as autoimmune (lymphocytic) thyroiditis, which progressively destroys the thyroid gland.  This is serious.

The signs of canine thyroid disease include:

 Lethargy * weight gain * mental dullness * cold intolerance * exercise intolerance * mood swings * neurological signs (polyneuropathy, stunted growth, seizures) * chronic infections * hyper-excitability * knuckling or dragging of feet * stiffness * muscle wasting * laryngeal paralysis * facial paralysis * head tilt * ‘tragic’ expression * drooping eyelids * incontinence * ruptured cruciate ligaments * dry, scaly skin and dandruff * chronic offensive odour * coarse dull coat * hair loss * rat tail * oily skin * darkening of the skin * pyoderma or skin infections * reproductive disorders * slow heart rate * cardiac arrhythmia * cardiomyopathy * constipation * diarrhoea * vomiting * blood disorders (bleeding, bone marrow failure) * eye diseases * IgA deficiency * loss of smell * loss of taste * endocrine disorders such as chronic active hepatitis.

The classical signs associated with hypothyroidism (significant weight gain, lethargy, cold intolerance, poor skin and hair) typically occur only after 70% or more of the thyroid tissue has been destroyed or damaged.

Other signs, such as unexpected behaviours including lack of focus, aggression, passivity and phobias, subtle weight gain despite calorific restriction, and apparent food hypersensitivity or intolerance, can present themselves during the early phase of the disease.

Other behaviours associated with thyroid disease in dogs include whining, nervousness, schizoid behaviour (withdrawn, uncomfortable around others), fear around strangers, hyperventilating, disorientation, failure to be attentive, aggression, erratic temperament, hyperactivity, hypo-attentiveness, depression, anxiety, submissiveness, passivity, compulsiveness and irritability.

Dr Dodds emphasises that we must look at breeding practices.  “Since the 1800s, people have been continuously inbreeding and line-breeding … about 80% of canine hypothyroidism is the result of a genetically inherited autoimmune condition… This makes it even more important to accurately diagnose canine hypothyroidism in its early stages, so that affected dogs can be removed from the breeding pool and neutered.

“Further compounding the challenges to our dogs’ immune systems is the constant barrage of chemical and environmental toxins to which they are exposed.  We over vaccinate them.  We inundate them with chemical flea, tick and heartworm preventatives as well as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications.  We feed them nutrient-deficient diets.  We expose them to chemical cleaning solutions, pesticides, and herbicides …”

If you suspect your dog has a thyroid problem, see if you can get a full thyroid profile done.  This is unlikely to happen in the UK, since few, if any, labs will do the T3 readings.  I sent Freddie’s serum sample off to Dr Dodds’ lab in California.  For the appropriate forms and instructions, see  

Treatment is effective for thyroid disease. Conventionally it involves giving the dog a thyroid replacement tablet (Soloxine) twice daily.  A second blood test needs to be done six months after starting treatment, and blood should be monitored at least annually thereafter, as the condition can change with age.

Dr Dodds explains that whilst most vets will say the tablet should be given once a day, it’s actually important to give two doses twelve hours apart, and separated from food.

Once the dog is diagnosed with hypothyroid disease, medication will be lifelong.

Some people treat with desiccated thyroid glandulars, but it’s not always easy to get the correct dosage.  Chappie was successfully treated homoeopathically (his blood readings normalised after two months on the remedy).  However, I personally believe that although this might be a solution, you still need to continue to monitor the dog’s thyroid levels with regular blood tests.

Unfortunately, my new vet thought I was nuts for sending serum over to California for analysis when, in his opinion, there are perfectly good labs in the UK.  He also believed, looking at Freddie’s results, that he wasn’t hypothyroid – especially when Freddie looks incredibly handsome and healthy.  I supplied further information and the vet is now on board.

This, in fact, is the very reason for sending serum to Dr Dodds for analysis.  She uses over 20 years’ cumulative data, from which she has established that the general range doesn’t apply to all dogs.  Dr Dodds looks at each dog individually in relation to his size, age and breed.  Healthy thyroid levels differ depending on these factors.  It makes sense to me to pinpoint a thyroid problem before 70% of the thyroid is destroyed and the overt physical symptoms appear.

Dr Dodds’ book, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic is written for dog owners and vets.  It’s easy to read and very informative – I’d recommend it to all dog owners.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that everyone who has dogs ought to have this book on hand.  Apart from explaining the condition, it takes you through arranging a lab test, dealing with your vet, dietary considerations, and much more.

Catherine O’Driscoll is the founder of Canine Health Concern and the Pet Welfare Alliance.  Her best-selling books include What Vets Don’t Tell You About Vaccines, and Shock to the System (available from  See