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5 common skin problems

Team Walmart Pets

June 9, 2021


min read

Fluffy or fleecy, wispy or wiry —  you don’t need to be a dermatologist to see that our pets’ coats come in colors and textures as varied as their personalities. Some even serve a specific function beyond furry fashion, like the dense double coat of dog bred to brave the elements. But did you know that your pet’s coat and skin also help protect him from disease? 

As the first line of defense against the environment and its multitude of threats, such as allergens, bacteria, yeast and external parasites, your pet’s skin is always on the job. It’s also always under attack, and sometimes defenses break down. It’s not hard to tell when they do, because the skin has a relatively limited repertoire in its response to irritants. Itchiness, redness, crusting and scaling are all signs that the skin is unhappy — the tricky part is figuring out the source of these dermatological dilemmas.  

Before your pet suffers a cutaneous calamity, arm yourself with information about the most common skin conditions in dogs and cats. And to make sure they’re protected from all forms of skin conditions and illness — consider enrolling with Walmart Pet Insurance today.

Allergies aka skin rashes

Allergic skin disease may be the most commonly diagnosed skin abnormality in cats and dogs. While itchy skin is not life-threatening, it does impact the quality of our pets’ lives for the worse. 

Whether due to environmental allergens, food or fleas, allergic skin conditions ignite inflammation and itchiness that leads to a LOT of scratching, licking and chewing. Dog allergies are complex and can take months, if not years, to resolve. If you think your pet is suffering from an allergy on their skin, head over to your vet.


Sometimes our pets give piggybacks to tiny passengers with a giant “ick” factor. Generally referred to as ectoparasites, this term describes any tiny bug that lives on your pet’s skin, coat or ears. Let’s take a look at some common ectoparasites: 


Fleas are the most infamous of the ectoparasites. These quick-moving little bugs set up their adult population not under the skin, but on the surface, where they feed on our pets’ blood in order to reproduce. The saliva contained in flea bites often causes your pet to be very itchy, and if they’re unlucky enough to be allergic to fleas, even one tiny bite can create a massive reaction. 

Once they’re in an environment, fleas take a good deal of effort to eradicate. Luckily for us, there are very effective products available to give fleas the heave-ho, as well as to prevent them from ever becoming an issue in the first place. One of the best preventives for fleas is Frontline. It’s available for dogs as well as cats.


Scabies, a type of mange, is caused by a very contagious mite that burrows under our pets’ skin, causing constant itchiness. More common in dogs than in cats, scabies is often seen in stray animals or those living in crowded conditions, such as shelters.


Demodex is another mite that’s seen particularly in young dogs. Demodex typically lives on dogs and cats in small numbers, and thankfully, is not contagious. Problems pop up when a pet’s immune system isn’t mature enough or healthy enough to keep Demodex numbers in check. 

Ear mites

Ear mites are tiny pests that love the warm environment of ears and are commonly encountered in kittens and puppies, although they can infect pets of any age. Highly contagious, these little buggers cause very itchy and inflamed ears that produce lots of debris. Fortunately, they are relatively easy to diagnose and treat with topical medications. There are ear mite preventives for dogs as well as preventives for cats, but you should always check with your vet before using them.


Lice are an uncommon ectoparasite most frequently seen on animals in crowded or unsanitary conditions. Symptoms of lice in pets include itchiness and hair loss secondary to scratching. In heavy infestations, lice are visible on the affected animal’s coat. 

Two bits of good news: lice are easy to treat with topical insecticide prescribed by your vet, and dog and cat lice are species-specific, meaning they won’t make the jump to you. You can also search for lice on your dog by using a lice comb.


Don’t be fooled by the name – ringworm is not a worm. Instead, it is actually a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin. 

More commonly a cat skin issue, ringworm can cause a range of lesions, from small patches of hair loss to more severe generalized alopecia. If your pet develops ringworm, you’ll typically see patchy round areas of hair loss with scaly or crusty skin and notice mild to moderate itchiness. 

Notoriously difficult to eradicate, particularly in multi-pet households, ringworm can contaminate the environment, including carpeting and air ducts. To make matters worse, it is a zoonotic disease, meaning you can catch it from your pet. Ringworm is best diagnosed with fungal cultures and treated with a combination of antifungal shampoos and oral antifungal medications. 


Just like us, our pets can cut open their skin. Rough play, running through wooded areas and accidents from rough playing at the dog park are common causes of skin injuries. Lacerations, abrasions and burns can be the outcome of these types of injuries. Many of these wounds can be treated with basic first aid, such as clipping the hair over the affected area, gentle cleansing with antibacterial soap and the topical use of an antibacterial ointment

Problems arise when wounds penetrate through all of the layers of the skin or when extensive burns are sustained. These require immediate medical attention and should always be managed by a veterinarian.

Lumps, bumps and growths

Lumps, bumps and skin growths are very common in our pets, dogs in particular. While the majority are benign, your veterinarian can’t always tell without a biopsy or a fine needle aspiration (FNA) of any new or changing skin masses. In an FNA, a sample of cells is viewed under a microscope to evaluate whether a mass is worrisome or not, but the procedure is not a substitute for an actual biopsy. 

Depending on the diagnosis, your veterinarian may recommend observation instead of removal, but for atypical masses, it is far better to remove them when they are still small rather than wait for them to grow large and problematic. 

Our pets’ skin is amazingly complex and provides protection from infectious invaders, assists in maintaining hydration and temperature, and helps our four-legged friends look amazing! Watch for telltale signs of skin abnormalities and respond to them quickly to keep your pets happy, healthy and protected from the pests of the world. 

Common dermatology terms explained

If there was ever a vet specialty laden with professional jargon, it would be dermatology. To help you decipher the slang around the skin, here is a list of helpful terms:

Atopy: allergic skin disease caused by environmental antigens; usually seasonal, but can be year-round if allergies include things like dust mites

Dermatitis: inflammation of the skin often characterized by redness and itchiness

Epithelium: the outer layer of the skin

Otitis: inflammation or infection of the ear

Pyoderma: an infection of the skin that produces circular pustules and flaky areas; deeper infections may have draining wounds

Pododermatitis: inflammation of the skin on the paws that causes lots of paw licking, redness between the toes and pink, saliva-stained fur on the feet

Pruritus: itchiness

Seborrhea: flaky skin that can be greasy or dry, due either to some type of underlying irritation or in rarer cases, primary skin diseases

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