Skin Problems

Wanda Weaver is one of my most interesting clients

    Wanda Weaver is one of my most peculiar clients. Last week, she charged into the clinic with her three dogs—Stinky, Scruffy, and Itchy.

    “Doctor, please help my dogs with their shedding, it’s just terrible.”     

    I looked at her half-bald dogs and nodded in agreement.  “Even though most dogs will lose their summer coat this time of year, it looks like your dogs may have a health problem.”

    “That’s what I was thinking.  Last year wasn’t this bad.” 

    I remembered things differently—last time I saw her dogs, they were completely bald.   “Actually, your dogs lost all of their hair last summer. We treated them for that.”

    “I know.  And I want them to lose all of their hair this year, too. Can’t you make them shed more?” asked Wanda.  

         Now, I was confused.  “Don’t you want them to stop shedding?,” I asked.             

     “No, I want them to lose their hair—all of it—I  weave blankets and couch covers out of dog hair and I need more raw materials!”

         “Oh,” I said, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice.  Wanda really did want her dogs to go bald. For an instant, I saw the world through Wanda’s eyes and worried about myself-- If you can understand a crazy person, does that make you crazy?

         Her dogs looked miserable, and I decided that I had to help them regain their hair coat, even if it meant upsetting Wanda.  

         Stinky was the first to be examined.  “He has red and oily skin and a dull, coarse hair coat,” I showed Wanda.

    “Stinky is always getting dirty, so I bathe him two or three times a week. The funny thing is that he smells even worse within a few days.”

    “What kind of shampoo do you use on him?”

    “I know that human shampoo is too drying for a dog’s skin, so I don’t use that.  Instead, I picked up something at the supermarket. The bottle said it was for dogs with sensitive skin.”

    “I’m afraid that Stinky has developed a skin infection and that is why he smells so bad.  The shampoo probably has soaps in it that are removing the natural oils that keep bacteria on his skin in balance.  Here’s a special medicated emollient shampoo that will restore the skin’s natural balance and then he will stop stinking.”

    She put Scruffy on the exam table.  “He is my most finicky dog and will only eat cheap dog food and table scraps.”  Scruffy was fat and had a lot of dandruff.  It is ironic that the ‘finicky’ dogs are always the fattest—he must be eating something to get that fat!

    “Scruffy’s diet lacks the fish oil and vitamins that he needs to have a healthy hair coat.  If you buy a better dog food, you’ll see improvement within a month.”  

    “What if he doesn’t eat it?”

    “In all my years, I’ve never seen a dog starve himself just because he didn’t like the menu—and I don’t think that Scruffy will be the first.”  Scruffy gave me a dirty look; his gravy train was over.

    Itchy had been quietly licking her paws while I examined the other dogs.  “She is always licking or scratching something,” said Wanda.  Since, Wanda purchased a good flea control product from the clinic, I knew that Itchy’s problem wasn’t related to flea bites.  

    After several questions and an exam, it appeared that Itchy had developed allergies.  The pattern of hair loss and the areas where she licked were the best clues.  I gave Itchy a treatment that was going to help her feel better and stop licking within a few days.

    Two months later, Wanda came in to show off her dogs. I barely recognized them, because they each were completely covered with shiny hair.

    “Doctor, look what you’ve done!” she said to me.  

    “Yes, I’m sorry Wanda, but I couldn’t let your dogs go bald, it just wasn’t healthy.”

    “I know that you’re responsible for their beautiful hair coats, but I’m not mad.”

    “You’re not?”

    “No, just think how nice next year’s crop of dog hair is going to be!” 


Does my dog have mange?

When a dog has little tiny mites causing hairloss or itchiness, this condition is often referred to as “mange.”  

There are two main kinds of mange that we see in dogs, and distinguishing the type of mange is important, because one type is contagious to other dogs and people, and the other is not!

When the Demodex mite causes mange, it is often called Puppy Mange.  Why?  You guess it!  Because it is usually seen in puppies or occasionally in immune suppressed animals (such as dogs that have a severe allergy problem in their skin.)

Puppy Mange (Demodex) typically causes:

  • Hair Loss around the eyes, lips and feet

  • Isn’t very itchy

  • Patch hair loss along the sides of the body 

  • often results in crusty, thick and stinky skin

Here is a picture of two demodex mites under the microscope. They are so small that they can fit inside a hair follicle!  

The adult Demodex mite has eight little legs and a “cigar shaped” body.  

When these mights cause mange, it’s called “Demodectic Mange.”  There are numerous treatments for this type of infestation and it can take several months to resolve. The long time course for treatment is in part because 1) the patient has a lowered immune system and 2) the secondary skin infection can be a real challenge to bring under control.


While there are some over-the-counter remedies for this type of mange, many of them are too toxic to be safe for puppies. Remember:  Our goal is to poison the mite without poisoning the patient. OTC products don’t provide the same safety guarantees as the products your veterinarian has in the clinic pharmacy!


Scabies is the other type of mange.  The Scabies mite is constantly biting the dog (to feed) and this causes intense irritation and itchiness.  

Sarcoptic (or Scabies) Mange typically causes:

  • Intense itchiness— often to the point where the dog is doing nothing but chewing on himself and scratching.

  • Hair loss starting on the legs and working its way up the sides of the body.

  • Red bumps wherever there is hair loss.

These mites are intensely contagious, and will bite people, too.  Most people who get scabies from their dog will note increased itchiness and a pimple-like rash on their bellies.  

The good news about Sarcoptic Mange is that these mites tend to be quick to control. Usually within a couple of days of the first treatment owners note a marked decrease in their dog’s chewing behavior.   

Your veterinarian has a number of safe and effective products for bringing a Sarcoptic Mange problem under control quickly— hopefully before it spreads to other animals (or people!)  Also, the veterinarian can help your pet with any secondary skin infections or other issues that the mites caused with all their mischief!

If the above problems don’t sound like your dog’s issue— then it is time to see your pet’s Doctor!  Your dog may have allergies, a hormone imbalance, skin infection, vitamin deficiency or a number of other issues that can cause some combination of smelly skin, baldness, itchiness and more.  


Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Jon Klingborg. You will find him at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg, DVM