A Complete Guide to German Shepherd Skin Issues (and Fixes!)
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A Complete Guide to German Shepherd Skin Issues (and Fixes!)

by Jeff Bloom

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

German Shepherds are a popular breed. And for good reason! They are characterized by not only their smarts, loyalty and courage, but also the thick fur coat that protects them. However, their coat makes them very susceptible to developing skin issues.

If you are a parent of a German Shepherd, stay informed by being knowledgeable about why they get skin allergies and what you can do for them.

Whether it’s parasites like fleas, their food or other environmental irritants, there are steps you can take to help your Shepherd live a more comfortable life – and isn’t that what it’s all about!?

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a common skin condition that affects German Shepherds and is triggered by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. German Shepherds can be highly sensitive to flea saliva, and even a single flea bite can lead to a significant allergic response.

Basically, when a flea bites a dog with flea allergy dermatitis, its saliva contains proteins that elicit an immune system response. This response triggers intense itching, inflammation, and discomfort. The affected areas often include the base of the tail, lower back, hindquarters, and thighs. German Shepherds with FAD may excessively scratch, lick, or chew at these areas, leading to further irritation and potential skin damage.

The main symptom of FAD is intense itching. Dogs will scratch, bite, or lick their skin excessively, often to the point of causing hair loss, sores, and secondary skin infections. Skin will often appear red and inflamed and skin lesions including scabs and open sores due to self-trauma will often be evident.

The prevention and treatment of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in German Shepherds requires a comprehensive approach. Regular flea control is essential to prevent flea infestations and minimize the risk of allergic reactions. Using veterinarian-recommended flea preventative year-round that prevents fleas from biting is crucial. Many flea preventatives require a flea to bite in order to kill it, but if your dog suffers from FAD it is important to consult with your vet in order to choose the right one that will prevent the flea from biting in the first place.

Environmental control measures are also very important and include vacuuming regularly, washing bedding in hot water, and treating the living environment for fleas, in order to help reduce flea populations.

If your dog is suffering from FAD, it is important to address the underlying allergy by consulting with a veterinarian, who may recommend antihistamines, corticosteroids, or other medications to alleviate itching and inflammation. Proper skin care, such as gentle cleansing with vet-approved products and using soothing topical treatments, can support healing and prevent secondary infections.

Food Allergies

German Shepherds are not only prone to flea allergies, but they are also prone to food allergies, environmental allergies, and contact allergies. These allergies can manifest as itching, redness, rashes, and ear infections.

Did you know that the top five most common food allergens for dogs are beef, dairy, chicken, wheat and lamb. According to a study on PubMed.gov, after five weeks of their dog patients “starting an elimination diet, more than 80% of patients had achieved a remission of clinical signs of CAFR .” That means your dog’s allergies could be eliminated just by changing what they eat, namely by removing those common food allergens, so consider switching their dog food. 86% of customers reported a positive health benefit for their dog after switching to Wild Earth dog food!

Try switching to Wild Earth Dog Food and adding in our Skin & Coat Dog Supplements to improve your dog’s allergies!

If your pup does suffer from food allergies, make sure to eliminate all other sources of animal-based protein, including treats and table scraps. Our Wild Earth treats are a great way to treat your dog, without the itch! Try one of our flavors – Banana and Cinnamon, Strawberry and Beet, or Peanut Butter.

Environmental and Contact Allergies

Environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mold, or certain chemicals can cause allergies. German Shepherds can be sensitive to irritants in their environment. To help protect your pup from these common allergens, wipe down their paws and bellies after walks with a damp towel. You can also help by changing your HVAC filters regularly and using powerful air purifiers indoors.

Hotspots

Hotspots, also known as acute moist dermatitis, are another common skin issue in German Shepherds. These are localized areas of inflammation and irritation that often appear as red, moist, and painful lesions on the skin. Hotspots can develop quickly and are typically caused by factors such as allergies, insect bites, or skin irritations.

In German Shepherds, hotspots often occur in areas where moisture is trapped, such as the neck, hips, or behind the ears. The condition can be exacerbated by scratching, biting, or licking the affected area, leading to further inflammation and self-inflicted trauma.

The primary symptoms of hotspots in German Shepherds include redness, swelling, oozing discharge, and intense itching. Hotspots can be quite painful, causing your German Shepherd to exhibit behavioral changes such as increased restlessness or signs of discomfort when the area is touched.

If your German Shepherd is suffering from a hot spot, take them to their veterinarian immediately as prompt treatment is essential to alleviate the discomfort and prevent the hotspot from worsening. Your vet will likely shave the fur over and around the hotspot in order to clean the area with a mild antiseptic solution. Topical medications will likely be applied and prescribed in order to reduce inflammation and provide relief from itching. In some cases, oral medications, such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs, may be necessary. To prevent further self-inflicted trauma, an e-collar will likely be recommended. It is important to make sure your dog wears it at all times in order to allow the area to heal and prevent further trauma.

Along with treating the area, your veterinarian will likely also work to identify and address the underlying cause for the hotspot such as allergies or skin irritation. This may involve dietary changes, environmental modifications, or other preventive measures.

Pyoderma

Pyoderma is a common bacterial skin infection that can affect German Shepherds. It is characterized by the presence of pustules, redness, and inflammation on the skin, and can occur as a primary infection or secondary to other underlying issues like allergies, flea infestations, hormonal imbalances, or skin irritations. German Shepherds are predisposed to both superficial and deep pyoderma. Superficial pyoderma affects the upper layers of the skin, while deep pyoderma involves deeper skin structures.

Symptoms of pyoderma may include development of pus-filled lesions on the skin which can break open and form crusts or scabs. These dogs are often itchy and scratch or lick the affected areas excessively. This can lead to hair loss and thinning of the coat at the affected region. In more severe cases, deep pyoderma can lead to the formation of draining tracts or ulcerations. The affected areas may also have an unpleasant odor. It's important to note that the specific symptoms and their severity can vary depending on the type and extent of the pyoderma infection.

If you suspect your dog has pyoderma, consult with your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will assess the severity of the infection.The treatment of pyoderma in German Shepherds typically involves a multi-faceted approach aimed at addressing the underlying infection and promoting healing of the skin. Antibiotics and topical treatments may be recommended to help control bacterial growth, reduce inflammation, and soothe the affected areas. The choice of antibiotic and treatment duration will depend on the severity and type of pyoderma. Additionally, addressing any underlying causes or contributing factors is crucial. This may involve managing allergies, treating flea infestations, or addressing hormonal imbalances. Regular follow-up visits are essential to monitor the progress of the treatment and make adjustments as needed. With diligent treatment and addressing any underlying issues, pyoderma in German Shepherds can be effectively managed, allowing for healing and healthier skin.

Keep An Eye on Your German Shepherd!

We love our pets like family and hate to see them uncomfortable. The reality is, German Shepherd’s are more susceptible to skin irritations and allergies than some other breeds. Fortunately, you now understand the most common skin issues that affect them in order to better maintain their skin health and overall well-being.

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