Dog Skin Problems: Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Skin Diseases

Dog skin problems are common in dogs of all sizes, ages, and breeds. Dog skin problems can result in both anxiety and frequent trips to the vet. They are normally characterized as autoimmune or immune-mediated skin diseases. Autoimmune skin diseases are caused by allergies and immune-mediated skin diseases are the result of a weak or disabled immune system.

Common Autoimmune Skin Problems

The two major types of autoimmune skin conditions are Pemphigus Foliaceus and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus.

  • Pemphigus Foliaceus is a severe skin disease that results when a dog's autoimmune system responds to desmoglein I (an important component of his own skin) as a foreign invader. As a result, the dog's antibodies attack the component, reducing it. Without this component, the outer layer of the skin splits apart and fills with fluid and cells. This leads to blisterng of the skin and postules.

Although this skin problem can develop in any dog, it's more likely in middle aged and older dogs. Chows, schipperkes, dobermans, dachschunds, bearded collies and newfoundlands are especially susceptible to the condition.

  • Discoid Lupus Erythematosus is an inflammatory skin disease that typically affects the face and the nose of dogs. Also known as “collie nose”, Discoid Lupus Erythematosus causes the areas around the lips, eyes, ears, genitals and the nose to lose pigmentation. It also turns the nose from its usual “bumpy” feel to a smoother feel, and sores may develop.

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus is considered a seasonal disease that affects females slightly more than males and it is more common in high altitude areas with higher than average exposure to ultraviolet light.

Common Immune-Mediated Skin Problems

Some of the different types of common immune-mediated dog skin problems are atopic dermatitis, nutritional dermatitis, parasitic dermatitis and neurogenic dermatitis:

  • Atopic Dermatitis is an allergic skin disease caused by immunological hypersensitivity to common environmental substances such as dust mites, pollen, and mold. Symptoms include excessive grooming and licking and chewing of the paws, perineum (anal region), and abdomen.
  • Nutritional Dermatitis can result from a lack of necessary vitamins and nutrients. This can result from eating low-quality, low-nutrition, commercial dog food. Lack of vitamins and nutrients can give the skin and coat an appearance of distress.
  • Parasitic Dermatitis is caused by parasites such a fleas and it causes biting and licking the skin.
  • Neurogenic Dermatitis is a skin allergy condition that's characterized by the urge to lick and chew at specific areas. Neurogenic dermatitis can be caused by confinement, boredom, separation anxiety and even a tiny scratch or tear in the skin that piques the dog’s interest.

How to Treat Dog Skin Problems

If you suspect that your dog has an immune or autoimmune-mediated skin disease, you should see your vet. Depending on the condition, your vet will prescribe long-term treatment options such as diet changes, digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids and/or dietary supplements. He might also prescribe antibiotics and he may also suggest short-term home remedies. These include:

  • Cool colloidal oatmeal baths for itchy skin
  • Cotton balls and mineral oil for ear mite removal from tears
  • Diet of yeast and garlic to keep fleas away
  • Epsom salts and cool water for itchy feet
  • Mixture of aspirin, tea and rubbing alcohol for “hot spots” on the skin
  • Over-the-counter cortisone cream or spray
  • Water and baking soda for itching from insect bites