Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Treatment of Skin Disorders in Dogs


Karen A. Moriello

, DVM, DACVD, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2018 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

Successful treatment of skin disorders requires identification of the underlying cause. Not surprisingly, many treatments for skin diseases are applied directly to the skin surface (topically). It may be the preferred method of treatment for some diseases or beneficial in addition to systemic treatment (medications taken by mouth or injected and distributed throughout the body). Examples of products applied directly to the skin include antibiotic ointments, corticosteroid preparations, medicated shampoos, and topical insecticides. Local ointments, gels, and sprays are best used sparingly so that your dog does not lick off excessive amounts. Closely follow your veterinarian's administration instructions for any topical medications.

Shampoo Therapy

Medicated shampoos are commonly used as topical treatments for specific skin conditions. Before applying a medicated shampoo, wash your dog with a cleansing shampoo and rinse well. Medicated shampoos often are not good cleansing agents, do not lather well, or do not work except on a clean hair coat.

The medicated shampoo should be applied evenly to the hair coat after being diluted in water. Diluting the shampoo will help rinse it from the coat and minimize the potential for irritating your dog. Depending on the shampoo, dilute 1 part shampoo to 3 or 4 parts water.

If possible, keep the medicated shampoo on the skin for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. (The prolonged contact time is often necessary for medicated ingredients to have their full effects.) Shampoo residue is a common cause of irritation, so it is very important to rinse your dog carefully and fully follow all shampoo usage instructions.

Medicated shampoos usually need to be used regularly for the most successful results. Ask for and follow your veterinarian’s instructions on shampoo frequency.

Systemic drugs may be needed to treat some disorders. These include whole-body antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics, hormones, antihistamines, corticosteroids, and other anti-inflammatory drugs.

As with any treatment program, make sure that you read and understand all directions for using the prescribed product, including how to apply or give it, how much to use, and how often it should be administered.

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