What exactly is psoriasis? Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes an abnormally rapid rate of skin cell production. It goes so fast that it hampers the skin’s ability to shed dead skin cells from its outermost layer. This makes the skin develop thick, reddish patches or “scales.” These patches of skin often get inflamed and can crack or bleed — making it a highly uncomfortable and unsightly condition.
But if a human can get psoriasis, what about our dogs? Can dogs get psoriasis, too?
- 1 Psoriasis in dogs
- 2 Deeper reasons
- 3 Symptoms of canine psoriasis
- 4 Diagnosis
- 5 Treatment
- 6 The final word: prevention
Psoriasis in dogs
Yup! Dogs can indeed develop psoriasis.
But it’s actually a rare occurrence. More often than not, what gets initially mistaken for psoriasis is some other common skin problem or skin disorder. If your dog is having visible skin problems, you will need a knowledgeable and experienced veterinarian to make a thorough and conclusive diagnosis as to what it is. (For instance, it could likely be just dermatitis.)
Psoriasis vs. dermatitis
But if dermatitis and psoriasis tend to look similar to the untrained eye, what’s the main difference between them?
Dermatitis or skin inflammations come in various forms, from chronic dandruff (seborrhea) to allergic skin reactions with hay fever or asthma. But these hardly pose a threat to the dog’s overall health. Psoriasis, on the other hand, is a more serious concern. It is an indication that the dog’s immune system has been compromised.
What triggers psoriasis
Psoriasis in dogs is triggered when a dog’s immune system is weakened. The production of T-cells is suddenly accelerated. That over-abundance of T-cells causes some of them to attack the body’s own healthy cells.
One particular area rogue T-cells tend to attack is the skin. And in response to that, skin cells will typically ramp up their reproduction. It’s this increased reproduction that leads to visible abnormalities on the dog’s skin, like the buildup of thick, scaly patches of unshed skin cells. These patches are frequently itchy and can easily be irritated. These can even crack or bleed.
And as long as the dog has this autoimmune disorder, the psoriasis will remain. It can last for short periods or even several months.
The rarest and most aggressive form is erythrodermic psoriasis. If left untreated, it can spread to nearly every inch of a dog’s skin and last for a year or more.
But what causes this abnormal autoimmune response in the first place?
So far, what doctors and researchers have noticed is that dogs that develop abnormal autoimmune responses (i.e., psoriasis) tend to have a high sensitivity to allergens.
Like humans, dogs can be allergic to specific substances, such as:
- food (e.g., peanuts or grains)
- flea or tick saliva (from bites)
- other insect or spider bites
- wild grass or pollen
Inherited genes also play a role in the development of psoriasis. Some studies have shown that certain dog breeds seem to have the genetic disposition to developing the condition more than others.
Here are the breeds that see more cases of psoriasis:
- Doberman Pinschers
- Labradors and Golden Retrievers
- Pitties (Pit Bull Terriers)
- Westies (West Highland Terriers)
- Spaniels (and related spaniel breeds)
- Bulldogs (both English and American)
- Shar Peis
Symptoms of canine psoriasis
While only a professional can give a proper diagnosis, you can still help your vet narrow things down if you familiarize yourself with what psoriasis looks like in dogs. So what are the symptoms?
1. Change in skin color and texture
In a human, psoriasis causes patches of skin to discolor (e.g., a brownish-red color). But this may not always be as obvious in dogs, because their skin is often covered with fur.
So if you think your dog might be suffering from psoriasis, gently part his fur to see what his skin looks like underneath. Look for reddish, scaly patches that weren’t there before and that seem to be growing more inflamed with each passing day.
If you find these, have the vet examine those spots. In some dogs, these patches are found in specific parts of the body. In more serious cases, it can be spread throughout.
2. Chronic itching (with bleeding and infection)
Of course, those patches of skin will feel sore and itchy. So you’ll typically see the dog constantly rubbing, scratching, or gnawing.
That makes some of the patches worse. These often crack and bleed as a result, becoming skin lesions. When that happens, those areas can become infected with all sorts of bacteria. (You’ll see pus develop in those spots.)
3. “Scaly” flakes and dandruff
Another tell-tale symptom is chronic dandruff. It makes those patches of skin have that appearance of flaky scaling. The affected areas tend to constantly flake off into thousands of scale-like pieces of dead skin, which get caught in the dog’s fur.
4. Pain and sensitivity
Of course, the affected parts of your dog’s skin may be uncomfortable or painful — he may cower, tremble, flinch, whine, or yelp in response to your touch. In the most extreme cases, a dog may even have painful joints (as part of his body’s overblown autoimmune response).
If you see any of these symptoms in your dog, you can be sure that he’s feeling very uncomfortable! To relieve your dog’s discomfort, bring him to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
At the clinic, the vet will do a physical exam of your dog’s body to determine what his skin condition is and how serious it is. The vet may scrape off a sample of the affected skin for further analysis in the lab. He or she may also conduct an allergy test using a particular food allergen known for triggering allergies in some dogs (e.g., peanuts, citrus pulp, specific grains or meats, artificial coloring or flavoring), just confirm what else may have helped trigger psoriasis.
Because psoriasis in dogs is a rare phenomenon, research on treatment is rather scant. However, current observations and a 2015 study do show that the same methods used to treat people with psoriasis seem to work on dogs, too.
So once your dog is diagnosed with psoriasis, your vet will likely recommend treatments to help alleviate or manage the problem. These methods are meant to achieve two goals: 1.) heal your dog’s skin and 2.) bring your dog’s immune system back to normal.
1. Topical skin treatments
Your vet may prescribe some ointments containing antibacterial ingredients and corticosteroids, which you apply on your dog’s most affected areas and skin lesions.
Vitamin D has also been found beneficial to restoring skin damaged autoimmune disease. This can be applied topically as well. Ointments or creams containing artificial Vitamin D (like paricalcitol) can be applied in tandem with the corticosteroids.
For baths, your vet can also specify a special dog shampoo with emollients (like mineral oil) and skin-balancing ingredients (like coal tar) to use on your dog.
2. Pain and joint inflammation management
Dogs have a relatively high threshold for pain. So if the psoriasis isn’t causing that much discomfort for your dog, he won’t need much for alleviation. But if your dog is indeed suffering, your vet may prescribe mild painkillers and anti-inflammation pills.
3. Dietary changes
You’ll be asked to switch your dog’s diet to natural, unprocessed food that has none of the allergy-inducing ingredients.
4. Nutritional supplements
To support your dog’s health and immune system, you’ll be advised to feed your dog nutritional supplements like Omega fatty acids, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and zinc.
The final word: prevention
Depending on your dog’s case, the treatment regimen may last several months to a few years. The worst that can happen is that your dog’s psoriasis symptoms become mild enough to let your dog live normally; the best outcome is that the condition disappears. Once your dog gets better, your vet will advise you on how to wean your dog off of most of the medications.
To prevent a recurrence, you can keep your dog on the same diet and nutritional supplements. Make sure your dog gets enough exercise to keep his health up. (You can have him avoid any airborne allergen by having him exercise in areas that have none of these present, like a treadmill or a safe enclosure.)
So be patient! Follow the vet’s advice. Your dog can still have a great life, despite psoriasis.