Aqueos - Grooming dogs with skin allergies
Skin problems in dogs are one of the most common reasons for a trip to the vets. For many of these, allergies will be the underlying cause of the issue. Many other dogs simply have sensitive skin. As a groomer, it’s really important to be able to recognise skin issues that need to be assessed by a vet, as well as knowing how to safely groom dogs with skin allergies or sensitive skin.
What are skin allergies?
Dogs can be allergic to almost anything, with some common allergies being to pollen, grasses, trees, house dust, fleabites, mites, and certain foods. Often dogs are allergic to more than one thing. Unlike humans, who tend to get watery eyes and sneezing, dogs suffer with very red, itchy skin. The dog then responds to the itch by excessively licking and scratching themselves, which in itself damages the skin further. Secondary infections with yeast and bacteria are common in dogs with skin allergies.
Skin allergies, also known as atopic dermatitis, can develop at any age and in any breed. However, some breeds are more prone, such as West Highland White Terriers and Bichon Frise. Skin allergies are life-long, so ongoing treatment or preventatives are necessary. This can include prescription diets, medication by mouth or injection, and topical medication in the form of creams, shampoos, or sprays. Other measures to reduce symptoms include regular flea treatment, regular grooming and avoiding the specific allergens (if known).
What are the symptoms of skin allergies?
The most commonly affected areas are the ears, face, armpits, groin and feet. Symptoms of skin allergies in dogs include:
- Red, itchy skin
- Areas of hair loss
- Skin rashes
- Red, smelly, discharging ears
- Saliva-stained fur
- Hot spots (patches of red, moist, oozing skin due to moist dermatitis)
- Darkened and thickened skin
Dogs may also suffer with diarrhoea and other gut related signs, if food allergies are to blame.
When to advise a visit to the vet
If you notice any of the above symptoms in a dog that has not been diagnosed with a skin complaint, you should advise the client to make an appointment with their vet. It’s sensible to avoid the affected area while grooming, until a diagnosis has been made. If the issue is widespread, then it is a good idea to advise the client to rebook and see a vet before proceeding with any grooming.
Dogs with skin allergies often suffer with ear infections. If the ears are very red, inflamed, smelly or have excessive discharge then it’s safest to ask the client to have them checked by a vet before proceeding with cleaning. This is because the ear drum may be damaged, especially if the infection has been present for a while. Some cleaners can cause harm if the ear drum is not intact, because the cleaner can leak into the middle ear, behind the ear drum. Ear cleaners may also be painful to apply to a sore and irritated ear.
It’s sensible to ask clients whether their dog suffers with any skin problems at the time of booking. This will allow you to prepare for the visit, including contacting the vet in advance if you have any questions, for example about any medicated treatments the client requests that you use. Someone at the vet practice will always be happy to help!
Grooming dogs with skin allergies
Grooming dogs with skin allergies isn’t a million miles from grooming dogs without, but there are a few key points to keep in mind:
- Ask the client to point out any problem areas that they are aware of. This way, you know where to take extra care. You will also then be able to let the client know if you find any new lesions or issues, that they may not have been aware of.
- Dogs with skin allergies tend to be very sensitive to clippers, so avoid shaving close to the skin. If you find a hotspot, with the owner’s permission you can shave some of the fur, to allow air flow and to enable the client to find it, show their vet and apply any treatment that may be prescribed. However, you shouldn’t shave down to the skin as this will cause more irritation, not to mention being really sore! Aim to leave around a centimetre of fur.
- Choose a hypoallergenic shampoo that is suitable for sensitive skin. Ideally this should be chemical- and alcohol-free. You can use a soothing shampoo containing moisturising ingredients such as oatmeal. If the skin is irritated, then a mild antibacterial and antifungal shampoo can work well, since dogs with skin allergies often have an overgrowth of fungus and/or bacteria on the skin.
- In some cases, the client may be requesting that you use topical treatment prescribed by the vet during the grooming session. Don’t forget to follow all instructions on the medication and given by the client. You can always contact the vet that prescribed the medication (using the number on the prescription label) if you aren’t sure.
- If the client asks you to use a medicated shampoo, then contact time is key for it to be effective. Make sure you read the instructions carefully and leave the shampoo on the coat for the advised time period, before rinsing it off.
- Yeast and bacteria love moisture, so make sure you dry the coat really well after bathing.
- Take care around the ears! They may be sore. Clean them carefully with a mild alcohol-free ear cleaner, or a veterinary product supplied by the client. It’s not advisable to pluck hair from the ear, unless a vet has suggested this. This can actually irritate the skin and lead to inflammation, much like clipper rash.
- Be extra vigilant with hygiene, clean clippers and equipment are a must!
So, hopefully now you can feel more confident grooming dogs with skin complaints. However, it’s important to have the confidence to say you aren’t happy to proceed, if you find something that you think needs veterinary attention first. Remember, you spend all day every day with dogs, so you know what ‘normal’ looks like. You are in a great position to detect skin complaints early and advise your clients, avoiding unnecessary suffering for the dog.