Contact Dermatitis in Dogs

Despite the fact that dogs have quite a dense coat, sometimes dogs may become susceptible to contact dermatits. Contact dermatitis refers to an allergy, or more simply, a condition when your dog’s skin touches an irritant which may be any substance that it is absorbed by the skin and your dog is allergic to. It may appear as a result of past experience with an allergen which can be anything ranging from grasses, to carpet deodorizers, to plastics. Any dog can develop contact dermatitis at any age whenever it comes into contact with the allergen. Dog breeds which are more vulnerable to contact dermatitis include German Shepherds, Scottish Terriers, French Poodles, Wire-haired Terriers and Golden Retrievers.

contact dermatitisSymptoms of Contact Dermatitis in Dogs 
The symptoms include a rash at the place of contact that often affects the chin, between the toes, the muzzle and the abdomen, basically areas where the dog’s coat is the thinnest and the dog is likely to make contact with an allergen. When the cause is an allergy to plastic bowls or a rubber chew toy, the rash will be seen on the dog’s lips or muzzle. Rashes may appear as presence of small bumps or vesicles. In addition to the rash, affected dogs may experience mild to severe itching. Secondary pyoderma (bacterial skin infection) or malassezia dermatitis (fungal infection) may sometimes set in.

Causes of Dog Contact Dermatitis 
The causes include contact with any material that your dog is allergic to. It might include a number of allergens some of the commonly reported ones include plants, herbicides, fertilizers, cedar chips, rugs or carpets, floor waxes, plastic dishes, rubber chew toys, flea collars and fabric cleaners. The vast number of allergens makes it somewhat difficult to pinpoint the actual cause.

Diagnosing A Dog’s Contact Dermatitis
The diagnosis is not as simple as one might think as it involves a number of processes such as the patch test. The patch test is when suspected allergens are applied to the surface of the dog’s skin and the area is observed for signs of sensitivity after  48-72 hours. Another method of diagnosis simply entails exclusion, removing items from the dog’s environment or even removing the dog from his environment and hospitalizing him for a few days to determine what may be possibly causing the allergy. Then, any potential allergens are gradually introduced one at a time.

Treatment for Canine Contact Dermatiscontact dermatitis dog
The treatments for contact dermatitis in dogs are quite simple and involve easy methods once the allergens are identified. Avoidance of the trigger once identified is therefore  paramount. For instance, an allergy to plastic food bowls would warrant the use of glass or stainless steel food bowls.  Secondly, bathing with hypoallergenic shampoo is also used as an effective mean of treatment so remove any residual offending substances from the skin. Oatmeal shampoo or oatmeal baths in cool water may be soothing to the irritated skin. Fatty acids, antihistamines, biotin, and topical shampoos are other aids to reduce itching. Mechanical barriers  such as socks or a T-shirt may be helpful for reducing direct skin contact with the allergen. Topical corticosteroids may be helpful and in severe cases, oral corticosteroids may be needed to temporarily reduce the inflammation. Secondary skin conditions will need to be treated with appropriated therapies.

Contact dermatitis is a painful situation for man’s best friend so it should be greatly avoided. Diagnosis may be challenging as the symptoms produced may mimic other skin conditions such as atopy, food hypersensitivity, pyoderma, malassezia dermatitis and presence of parasites such as scabies.

Did you know? According to board-certified veterinary dermatologist Lowell Ackerman, irritant contact dermatitis is much more common that allergic contact dermatitis. In this case, more than being affected by an allergy, a dog’s  sensitive skin is simply irritated by products such as shampoos, detergents and rock salt found on roadways in the winter.


Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs, by veterinary dermatologist Lowell Ackerman, Alpine Pubns (January 1, 1994)

Photo Credits:

Maja Dumat, Allergie und Malassezien (linker und rechter Schenkel), Flickr Creative Commons  Licence BY 2.0
Maja Dumat Atopische Dermatitis – Juckreiz Schnauze, Flickr Creative Commons  Licence BY 2.0
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