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What is Painful Skin?

Painful skin conditions can range from irritating to life-threatening. Nutritional deficiencies, endocrine diseases, congenital disorders and abnormal skin growth syndromes are just a few of the many conditions that can affect our canine family members. Lesions, hair loss, pain, and swelling are some of the signs to watch for. Not all afflictions under the umbrella of painful skin can be cured, but it is important to offer pain relief. Your veterinarian can help you decide on the treatment approach best suited to the skin condition affecting your pet.

Canines can have an inherited predisposition to skin disorders that can cause discomfort and pain. Although many of the conditions are uncommon, the reality of the pain must be considered if your pet begins to show signs of a skin condition.

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Symptoms of Painful Skin in Dogs

The conditions that cause painful skin in dogs have very obvious symptoms. If your pet shows any signs of discomfort, contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Our canine friends are unable to voice their feelings of irritation and unpleasantness; therefore, a visit to the clinic is paramount to their health not only to offer relief, but to determine the underlying cause.

  • Scarring
  • Swelling
  • Oozing skin
  • Pustules
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Dandruff
  • Crusting
  • Itching (pruritis)
  • Pigment changes
  • Ulcerations
  • Pain upon movement
  • Whining and whimpering

Causes of Painful Skin in Dogs

A small number of the causes for painful skin are discussed here. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and treat a skin condition after a physical examination of the skin and fur coat has been done.

Familial footpad hyperkeratosis

  • Abnormal thickening of the outer layer of skin
  • Secondary infection may accompany the illness
  • Dogues de Bordeaux and Irish Terrier are breeds that are predisposed; the condition has been documented in other breeds
  • Usually begins by 6 months of age
  • Can affect all four pads

Familial vasculopathy

  • An inherited disorder of the blood vessels
  • Presents on knee, ankle, inner thigh, ears, nose, and tail
  • German Shepherds, Scottish Terriers, and Greyhounds can be affected 
  • Depending on the breed, the condition can appear between 6 weeks and 5 years of age

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus

  • Loss of pigment, rough, inflamed,crusty, painful skin often on the nose
  • Eyes, lips, ears, and genitals can be affected
  • German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Siberian Husky and Shetland Sheepdog breeds are prone

Cutaneous asthenia

  • Not enough collagen is produced, resulting in stretchy, saggy skin
  • Fragile skin does not allow for wound healing, and there is easy bruising
  • Scarring, joint, and eye problems are common
  • Many breeds are affected including the Beagle, German Shepherd, Boxer, Dachshund, and English Springer Spaniel

Zinc-responsive dermatosis

  • Zinc malabsorption and improper zinc utilization are the cause
  • Occurs by the age of three with crustiness, swelling and redness
  • Secondary infection is common
  • Siberian Huskies, German Shorthaired Pointers, White Bull Terriers, and Alaskan Malamutes are predisposed

Canine ichthyosiform dermatoses

  • Large, flaking scales that come off in sheets are apparent
  • Pain is obvious on the nose and paws
  • Jack Russell Terriers and Golden Retrievers have an inherited disposition
  • Many other breeds are prone such as Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Bulldogs, and Collies

Other diseases, two of which are hyperthyroidism (the most common endocrine disease to affect the skin) and alopecia (hair loss that affects the skin of the trunk and tail) will cause your pet pain and discomfort as well. In addition, many of the painful skin conditions documented are accompanied by secondary infections brought on by bacteria, parasites, and fungus, to name a few.

Diagnosis of Painful Skin in Dogs

Skin diseases are very obvious to the eye, but determining which disease is responsible for the painful skin can take diagnostic know-how on the part of your veterinarian. When you arrive at the clinic, your veterinarian will have questions for you in regards to your dog’s recent state of health.

  • Has your pet been lame lately?
  • If so, for how long and is it consistent or intermittent?
  • Does your pet have a good appetite?
  • What type of grooming products do you generally use?
  • Has he been at a grooming facility recently? How about a boarding kennel?
  • How long has he had the skin condition?

Some skin conditions are recognizable by sight, while others may require diagnostic testing. A skin biopsy, normally done under local anesthetic, can be very indicative of a problem. For example, in the case of familial vasculopathy, your veterinarian will use the biopsy to check for abnormalities in the blood vessels of your dog’s skin. With cutaneous asthenia, your veterinarian will use the skin extensibility index, an indicator used to verify the condition of saggy, painful skin. Checking the collagen structure of the skin is also necessary.

Other painful skin disorders will be determined by clinical signs and breed disposition. Secondary illnesses often go hand in hand with painful skin disorders and tests like the skin scrape, acetate tape preparation, and impression smear will be done to rule out or determine the presence of another illness, brought on by factors such as bacteria or mites. 

Treatment of Painful Skin in Dogs

Treatment will vary according to the skin disease. Zinc-responsive dermatosis, for example, can be treated by temporary or permanent zinc supplementation, depending on need and response to therapy. With familial vasculopathy, no known treatment is available that will provide a cure, but some dogs may respond to high doses of steroids. The lesions may heal, and with maturity, some pets experience a wane in symptoms. However, there are some canine companions who need to be euthanized because there is no response to medication and the pain on the footpads becomes too much to bear.

Canine ichthyosiform dermatoses is sometimes controllable with special shampoos or medicated solutions. Therapy for a secondary infection is often needed with this illness. Discoid lupus erythematosus can be managed with topical and oral medications. Daily baths in propylene glycol will provide relief, though the disease is not curable. 

Cutaneous asthenia is incurable and extensive care is required in order to maintain a good quality of life for the dog. Much thought and advice from the veterinarian is needed in order to take care of a pet with this illness, due to the risks of injury and the constant chance of wounds. Lastly, familial footpad keratosis will need daily soaking of the footpads, lotion application and preventative measures against bacteria.

Recovery of Painful Skin in Dogs

Painful skin disorders vary in intensity and in aftercare requirements.Your veterinarian will advise you on the condition that is affecting your pet, and will provide you with the advice and medications needed.

Painful Skin Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Jack Russell Terrier
13 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My Jack Russell is 13 months old in very good condition,also very fit with running with my other JK,his problem is that he as had a unknown growth between his outside two claws and the outside one both swollen and the vet put him to sleep,he came around ok and the vet had lanced both of the swelling and out came a kind of milky cream solution,the problem is the vets don't know what the problem is,the vet as done a biopsy and we are waiting for results,is there anyone experienced this kind a problem with their dog

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2 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms


Hi there ,
My 2 year old chihuahua has been acting weird and very dramatic when it comes to looking through the fur on her lower back and legs . I can easily touch and tap those areas without her showing any signs of discomfort. But when i lift the hair she reacts strongly . I did bathe her on thursday and did not fully dry her . I was thinking maybe a begining of hot spot that could cause discomfort or irritation. I cannot see any redness so far so im not sure . Shes eating pooping and peing all normally apart from this.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Without examining Moon it is very difficult to determine the specific cause or severity for this level of pain; soft tissue injury in the area, start of pyoderma or other issues (nutritional etc…) may be the cause. You should think about visiting your Veterinarian for an examination if there is no improvement as there is no single cause and treatment I can narrow in on. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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