What Does My Dog’s Skin and Fur Say About Her Health?

Petting a dog

Does a shiny coat really mean that your pooch is in prime condition?

Good-looking hair and skin can be a sign of good general health — just as hair and skin problems can offer clues about underlying problems.

Dermatology professor Dr. Stephen D. White, DVM, of the School of Veterinary Medicine University of California, Davis, shares what to look for — and when it's time to visit the veterinarian.

Why does my dog scratch so much?

A. Dr. White: "About 99 percent of the time, scratching is due to either allergies, infections or skin parasites (or some combination thereof). Treatment depends on the specific cause, but most symptoms and conditions are controllable. Rarely, tumors, either of the skin or within the body, can cause scratching."

What other skin or hair conditions do veterinarians tend to see most often?

A. "Besides flea allergies, ear infections are common. Symptoms include head shaking, scratching or pawing at the ears, pain when the ears are touched and an unpleasant smell originating from the dog’s ears. Ear infections are usually caused by either a foreign body, like a foxtail or seed grass, or a concurrent allergy.

Less commonly, a middle ear infection or a tumor (in older animals) can be an underlying cause of ear trouble. Dogs with recurrent ear infections should undergo a medical examination in order to rule out serious causes.

Cleaning the ears with a mild veterinary product once or twice a week may be helpful as a preventive. Discuss the best technique with your vet — it is very important to learn how to clean your dog's ears properly, so you don't harm delicate ear structures."

Why are some dogs bothered by fleas, while others don’t seem to react to them?

A. "The more allergic the pet is to fleas, the fewer number of fleas are necessary to perpetuate itchy inflammation of the skin (dermatitis). Some dogs develop an allergy to proteins in the flea's saliva, which the flea injects into the pet when it takes its blood meal. While the adult flea stays on the pet, the eggs roll off the pet and stay in the environment, where they hatch, grow and eventually jump on a pet."

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