Contact dermatitis in dogs

Contact dermatitis in dogs is an allergic reaction after exposure to a substance or allergen. This results in inflammation of the skin. Dogs can develop reactions to many things, like shampoo, pollen, or even insects. Contact dermatitis is not as common as atopic dermatitis in dogs. 

Contact dermatitis is not usually a life-threatening condition. It can cause your dog to be very itchy, but with appropriate management, the long-term prognosis is good. Dogs of all ages can be affected by contact dermatitis.



What is contact dermatitis in dogs?

Contact dermatitis in dogs occurs due to physical contact with irritating substances or allergens, such as:

  • Seasonal environmental triggers like grass, plants, fertilisers and pollen. Changing walking routes can also mean coming into contact with new substances.
  • Changes in bedding, washing powder, shampoos, and other cleaning products.
  • Insect bites, especially fleas
  • Textiles, plastic and some medications

Contact dermatitis can be a life-long condition but avoiding the triggers will resolve the symptoms.

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Symptoms of contact dermatitis in dogs

The most common signs of contact dermatitis include:

  • Sudden, intense itch causing scratching, biting, and licking
  • Hives
  • Red skin, a rash or blisters
  • Hair loss
  • Darkened skin: hyperpigmentation

The area of the body affected is usually the part that’s been in contact with the irritating substance. These are usually the areas with less hair, such as the paws, underside of the body and muzzle.

Contact dermatitis can lead to skin infections if not treated, such as hotspots.



Are some dogs more at risk of contact dermatitis than others?

Contact dermatitis can be more common in dogs that have other allergies, such as to food or fleas.



How is contact dermatitis diagnosed in dogs?

An important part of diagnosis includes a thorough history discussion with your vet. Let them know about any new changes in the house or the outdoor routine of your dog.

Further tests can help rule out other causes of itchy skin:

  • Skin scrapes, culture or biopsy
  • Allergy testing
  • Diet trial

The diagnosis may sometimes be confirmed by avoiding the suspected trigger and then re-introducing it.


Vet treatment

What’s the treatment for contact dermatitis in dogs?

Treatment of contact dermatitis is similar to that of atopic dermatitis, except medication is not usually needed long-term.

  • Anti-itch medication, such as anti-histamines or steroids
  • Antibiotics for secondary skin infections
  • Anti-parasite medication to reduce or control triggers


Home treatment

How to look after a dog with contact dermatitis at home

Dogs with severe itching will need prescription medication from the vet. At home, you can also help by:

  • Avoiding contact with any known triggers, where possible
  • Bathing regularly to reduce contact with allergens or irritants
  • Preventing self-trauma by using a buster collar or medical suit until the itch is under control
  • Using vet-recommended skin calming shampoos or mousses
  • Keep your dog up-to-date with parasite control



Tips on how to prevent contact dermatitis in dogs

It’s currently not known why contact dermatitis develops in dogs. Therefore, preventing it before it happens is not possible. Prevention, once your dog has been diagnosed with it, is possible if the trigger(s) are isolated and avoided.


Is my family at risk of catching contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is not infectious to other animals or people.


When to worry

When should you be worried about contact dermatitis in dogs?

Seek help from a vet if your dog:

  • Is constantly itchy
  • Suddenly develops hives all over their body
  • Is collapsed

Call us and speak to one of our Joii Vets

  • If you have any questions about how to diagnose allergies in dogs
  • If you have any questions about what shampoo to use for your dog
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