A guide to understanding skin health

Skin disorders are one of the most common health problems in pets and can be caused by a number of different factors. As well as being stressful for your pet, seeing your beloved companion uncomfortable and in pain from a skin condition can be stressful for the owner too.

Many skin disorders have very similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose without consulting a veterinary professional. Common signs that your pet may be suffering with a skin disorder can include: increased grooming, thin or balding patches, a dull or greasy coat, persistent itching or scratching, dry or flaky skin, and redness and inflammation. There are some breeds of dogs that can be more susceptible to skin conditions and affected by skin allergies. These include: Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Dalmatians, Terriers and Poodles.

What should your pet’s skin look like?

Your pet’s skin should be smooth and their coat should be clean and in a good condition. To help identify if your pet has a skin problem, it’s important to understand what healthy skin should look like on your cat or dog.

  • Generally a pet’s skin will be pink or black depending on the breed or genetic make-up.
  • There should be no crusting, itching, scaling, black and white spots and infected or hot and inflamed areas.
  • A healthy coat should be shiny but not greasy, soft, quite smooth and lovely and thick. There should be no broken hairs, bald patches or dandruff.
  • Dogs may shed their hair all year around, however, they do normally molt in summer and autumn.

The causes of skin problems can fall into several categories, with some pets affected by more than one. These include:

  • Fleas
  • Mange
  • Food
  • Allergies
  • Environmental allergies
  • Dandruff

The quality of food that your dog or cat is fed can reflect in their skin. Pets are often fed unnatural diets, which are too high in Omega-6 fatty acids derived from high levels of cereals and vegetable proteins. An acute excess of Omega-6s, or a shortage of Omega-3s will predispose many inflammatory and allergic conditions, including dry, flaky and itchy skin.

Common skin conditions

Identifying the problem with your pet’s skin can help to understand what the solution could be. Below are some common causes of skin disorders:


Many pets can be sensitive to fleas, which can cause allergies and skin diseases if not properly treated. Pets with flea allergies can be allergic to the flea saliva and become very itchy after being bitten. Your vet will be able to offer the best flea treatment sufficient for your pet. Be sure to also treat areas of your home where they may venture.

Food allergies

Cats and dogs can become allergic to the food they eat, in particular protein, such as beef, dairy, chicken and egg. If your pet has a food allergy, they will typically have itchy skin on their face, feet and ears. Some pets could also develop stomach problems, such as increased bowel movements and vomiting. A food elimination diet for a period of 8-12 weeks is often used to diagnose a food allergy.

Environmental allergies

Environmental allergies are mostly seasonal with environmental allergens, such as pollens, grass and dust mites being common in the spring and summer months. These can cause intense itching of the face, feet, ears, chest and tummy. To diagnose environmental allergens, other problems, such as food allergies, fleas, infections or dermatitis have to be ruled out first.


Like their owners, pets can also develop dandruff, which can cause dry skin or irritation. As the coat and skin are constantly being shed and replaced, the skin has a high need for protein.


This is a skin disorder caused by tiny parasites called mites. Sarcoptic Mange, also known as canine scabies can spread easily among pets and can also be transmitted to people, but the parasites don’t survive on humans. The symptoms can be intense itching, read skin, sores and hair loss.


As well as being painful and uncomfortable for your pet, skin disorders can also cause secondary problems. These can be caused through excessive scratching and lower the skin’s natural defences. To diagnose the problem, a veterinary professional may use one of the following procedures, skin scrap, skin biopsy, a skin test, and allergy testing or exclusion diet.

All allergies cannot be cured and they may require lifelong treatment to keep them under control. If you are worried about any of the above problems, or symptoms that your pet may have, consult your vet who is best placed to monitor your pet’s health and ensure they are receiving the best possible care.