Pet Health: Cures for the doggy summertime skin blues

By Dr. Jennifer Schissler

Trail running, swimming, hiking — healthy outdoor recreation forms loving bonds and beautiful memories as we bask in the summertime glow with our pets. But, just as in people, exposing the skin to the outdoors can lead to troublesome inconveniences and even life-threatening conditions. It helps to be aware of these treatable and preventable skin conditions as you venture outside this summer.

Allergies of the skin and ears

Do you suffer from seasonal or year-round allergies? Dogs commonly do, too. Allergens from grasses, trees and weeds can cause allergies to flare up for indoor and outdoor dogs. Summer can be a challenging time of year for many dogs with allergies when they are exposed to pollen through outdoor activities.

Canine allergies manifest as skin and ear problems, including:

  • Licking, biting, scratching and rubbing of the skin, and shaking of the head.
  • Persistent foot-licking is a common sign.
  • The skin may can be red, greasy, with small red bumps, scabs, or patches of hair loss due to secondary infection.
  • Wax or even pus may discharge from red, painful ears.
  • You may also notice an unpleasant odor from the skin or ears.

If your dog is exhibiting these signs, it is important to seek veterinary care to identify and treat secondary infections and to treat the pain and itch. Your veterinarian can perform quick tests to look for mite infestations, infections, and other curable skin problems that can mimic allergies.

Ear treatments should be performed under the recommendation of a veterinarian. Inappropriate treatments can make the situation worse or even lead to dizziness or reduced hearing.

There are now allergy tests for dogs marketed online, directly to dog owners. These tests ask for saliva or hair samples. They are not recommended by veterinary dermatologists, as they have been found to be very inaccurate. In fact, the tests come back positive even when only water is sampled.

There are many new anti-inflammatory medications, shampoos and topical applications, and ear treatments for allergies in dogs. We can even perform skin allergy tests on dogs.

Based on the results, we can formulate allergen solutions administered by injection under the skin or via drops under the tongue. This can shape the immune response to the allergens from a hypersensitivity to tolerance. This reduces requirements for antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications over time.

Simple tips to help allergy sufferers:

  • Bathe or rinse your dog weekly during the pollinating months to remove pollen from the skin.
  • Oatmeal-based shampoos can temporarily reduce mild itch.
  • Wipe the paws and underbelly after outdoor activity with a damp cloth to remove pollen.

Sun damage and skin cancer in white dogs

Dogs with short, white coats and white skin that spend time in the sun may suffer sunburn and long-term damage that may lead to skin cancers.

Sunburns present in dogs similarly to people as red, painful skin. If your dog experiences an acute, severe sunburn, seek veterinary care.

Long-term sun exposure can lead to thickening, scaling, and bumps on the skin which if untreated, may result in skin cancer.

Sunburn and skin cancers can be prevented entirely by limiting sun exposure in the peak sun hours of the day (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Discourage sunbathing if your dog has a white, short coat. You may also put a t-shirt on your pup and apply child-safe sunscreen to prevent burns and skin cancer.

Thermal sunburns in black dogs

Dogs with black or dark brown hair are also at risk for severe burns in the sun if they are outside in non- shaded areas during extreme heat. This has been shown to occur in temperatures at or about 90 degrees in less than 30 minutes. Because black hair absorbs approximately 50 percent more solar heat energy, the temperatures of the skin rapidly rises, causing painful and severe burns of the back.

If your dog has a dark coat, do not keep your pet outdoors for extended periods in unshaded areas during hot weather. If you must venture outdoors with your pet during extreme heat, limit the time outdoors and provide shade and water. If shade and water are not available, put a white shirt (preferably soaked in water) on your dog.

And always check the temperature of water exiting the hose before you spray down your dog, as hoses left in the heat can lead to dangerously hot water.

Dr. Jennifer Schissler is a veterinarian with the Dermatology and Otology service at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Make an appointment or email the dermatology service, (970) 297-5000,

James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital