Next to dental disease, skin problems are one of the most common conditions affecting cats and dogs. While they typically cause irritation and itching, skin issues also can create a host of serious problems that require extensive—even lifelong—treatment. If your furry pal is scratching, chewing, and licking, they may have developed one of these eight common skin problems described by our Animal Medical Center team.

#1: Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or atopy, is a common cause of itching and associated skin issues in pets. This allergic reaction is triggered by allergens such as pollen and dust. While people develop respiratory issues like sneezing and watery eyes in response to these allergens, a pet’s allergy shows up through their skin. When exposed to pollen, mold, or dust, a pet will scratch, lick, chew, and rub their itchy skin. Many pets will lose their hair, and some will develop skin infections if the itching is not addressed. Some pets will have atopy flares during certain seasons, like spring with its high pollen count, or they will display allergy signs all year-round if they’re allergic to dust or another allergen that is always in their environment. Pets with atopic dermatitis will require lifelong treatment and may need additional support during seasonal flares.

#2: Acral lick dermatitis

Acral lick dermatitis, or a lick granuloma, is a skin problem that develops from long-term licking or chewing of the same spot. Typically, a lick granuloma will develop on top of the paws or limbs, particularly over a joint or bony prominence. A pet will lick or chew this spot because it is itchy or uncomfortable, such as with osteoarthritis. Over time, the licking becomes an ingrained behavior and will continue on after treatment of the initial problem. Pets with lick granulomas are often subjected to the “cone of shame” in an attempt to get the area to fully heal during treatment. 

#3: Acute moist dermatitis

Acute moist dermatitis, or a hot spot, is a condition that seems to appear overnight. As a pet licks or chews an area, the spot becomes red and raw, and the fur traps moisture and bacteria. This perfect storm leads to a quickly developing hot spot of irritated, infected skin. Hot spots may occur because of an underlying itchy skin condition, like allergies or parasites. Treatment also may involve the “cone of shame,” in addition to shaving the fur away from the area to allow it to dry out. 

#4: Ear infections

Ear infections occur when excess yeast or bacteria grow in the ear canal, creating a red, swollen, itchy, and often painful ear. Dark debris, greenish-yellow discharge, and a foul odor may be present, and some pets may even make their ears bleed from scratching so much. Ear infections can occur alone, from swimming and moisture retention, or develop as a secondary condition related to issues such as allergies. 

#5: External parasites

External parasites are organisms that live on or in the skin, and your furry pal can play host to several types, including:

  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Demodectic mange mites
  • Sarcoptic mange mites

Fleas are the most common external parasite that latch onto pets, and can cause severe itching in allergic pets. Puppies and kittens can even develop anemia from blood loss if they are suffering from an overwhelming flea infestation. 

Ticks attach to your pet’s skin and ingest blood, transmitting numerous pathogens while feeding. If your pet has a tick attached to them for any length of time, they may contract Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the most common tick-borne illness in Arizona. However, if your pet travels, they may be exposed to other tick-borne diseases, like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis.

Demodectic mange is the most common type seen in pets because a small number of demodectic mites normally live on the skin. If your pet’s immune system is compromised, the mite population can skyrocket, causing hair loss and itching. Sarcoptic mange is a contagious form that causes extreme itching, hair loss, redness, and scabbing. 

#6: Skin infections

Skin infections in pets can be caused by yeast or bacteria, and determining the cause is critical for proper treatment. However, yeast and bacterial infections can develop at the same time, often as a secondary condition to another skin issue like allergies. 

#7: Ringworm

Ringworm, despite its name, is not a worm, but a fungal infection that affects pets, people, and other animals. It is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be spread between animals and people. In people, ringworm causes itchy, red, circular, or oval lesions. However, these may not appear in pets, especially if the pet has long fur. Instead, you’ll notice patchy hair loss, scaly skin, redness, or darker skin pigmentation.

#8: Skin masses

There are several types of skin tumors, cysts, and lumps that can appear on pets, and they can be either malignant or benign. Common skin masses include: 

  • Skin tags — Benign growths that only need removal if they cause discomfort or get infected
  • Histiocytomas — Non-cancerous masses that could grow large enough to become a problem
  • Melanoma — A type of skin cancer
  • Squamous cell carcinoma — A type of skin cancer
  • Mast cell tumors — A type of skin cancer

Some skin growths do not require treatment, while others may need to be surgically removed. Some cancerous growths require chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. 

Through quality nutrition, year-round parasite prevention, and regular wellness exams, you can prevent—or at least catch early—many dermatological problems that may pop up in your pet. If you’ve noticed your pet scratching or chewing, or if an unusual spot has appeared, contact our Animal Medical Center team for an appointment.