Common Pitbull Skin Issues & How To Treat Them

Pitbulls, including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Bull Terrier, among others, are beloved for their loyalty, intelligence, and vivacious spirit. However, like many dog breeds, Pitbulls are prone to certain health conditions, including various skin issues.

However, noticing a serious skin problem, such as a rash or hives, on your beloved pet's skin and coat can be very distressing. These skin problems can cause discomfort and distress to our canine companions, but they can be managed effectively with proper understanding and care.

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Common Pitbull Skin Issues

1. Allergies

An allergy is an overreaction of the dog's immune system to an offending substance or allergen. Common allergens include:

Environmental Allergens:

Environmental allergens are substances commonly found in a dog's surroundings that can trigger allergic reactions. These allergens often float in the air and can easily come into contact with a dog's skin, eyes, and respiratory system.

Pollen, for instance, is produced by various plants during their reproductive cycles and can be a major irritant, especially during certain times of the year when plant pollen counts are high. Grass is another typical allergen; while many dogs love to roll around and play in the grass, they can be allergic to its pollen, leading to skin irritations.

Molds, on the other hand, thrive in damp and humid environments. They release spores that can be inhaled or come into contact with a dog's skin. Lastly, dust mites are tiny organisms that reside in household dust. They feed on organic debris like skin flakes and can be found in carpets, beds, and upholstery. Inhaling or coming into contact with dust mite waste products can cause allergic reactions in sensitive dogs.

Food Allergens

Food allergies in dogs are typically a response to specific proteins found within their diet. What makes this form of allergy particularly challenging is that the offending food might have been part of a dog's diet for years without issues before suddenly causing an allergic reaction.

Beef, one of the most common proteins in dog foods, is a frequent culprit. Similarly, chicken, another popular protein source, can also be allergenic for some dogs. Wheat, which is often used as a filler or binding agent in many commercial dog foods, can be problematic as well.  It's not just the grain itself, but the gluten protein in wheat that's often the allergen.

Dairy products, while loved by many dogs in the form of treats or occasional indulgences, can also lead to allergic reactions. Lactose intolerance is a different issue but can have overlapping symptoms, such as gastrointestinal upset.

Related: What is the Best Dog Food for Pitbulls?

Flea Allergy Dermatitis:

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) is a condition where dogs become intensely itchy due to an allergic reaction to flea bites, specifically the saliva of the flea. It's worth noting that while all dogs will itch and scratch from a flea bite, those with FAD will experience severe reactions even from a single bite.

The reason for this is the immune system's overreaction to the proteins in the flea's saliva. The allergic response often leads to intense scratching, biting, and licking of the affected areas. This persistent itching can result in hair loss, redness, inflammation, and even secondary bacterial infections due to open sores.

One of the ironies of FAD is that dogs with this condition might not have an apparent flea infestation. The intense itching and grooming they undergo can often remove or kill the fleas, but the allergic reaction lingers on.

Symptoms of Allergies:

  • Itchy skin, often around the ears, paws, groin, and rear end.
  • Recurring ear infections.
  • Red and watery eyes.
  • Sneezing.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (especially if the allergy is food-related).

Management of Skin Allergies:

Managing skin allergies in dogs, particularly breeds like Pitbulls that may be more susceptible, requires a comprehensive and methodical approach. The foremost step is the accurate identification of the offending allergen, as this informs the entire treatment process. 

This can be achieved through elimination diets, especially when food allergens are suspected. During such diets, a dog is fed a minimal or hypoallergenic diet, with potential allergens being reintroduced one by one to observe any reactions. Another effective diagnostic tool is allergy testing, which can range from blood tests to skin patch tests, helping to pinpoint specific environmental or food allergens.

Once the allergen is identified, the next vital step is its avoidance. For food allergens, this translates to a change in diet, ensuring that the dog doesn't consume the allergenic ingredient. For environmental allergens, avoidance might mean minimizing the dog's exposure by changing routines, using air purifiers, or frequently cleaning areas the dog frequents.

However, in situations where avoidance is not entirely feasible or in cases of acute flare-ups, veterinarians might prescribe medications. Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine or cetirizine, are commonly used to counteract the itching and inflammation associated with allergic reactions. Corticosteroids, either topical or oral, can be powerful in reducing inflammation and offering relief but are typically used for short durations due to potential side effects.

Additionally, other immune-modulating drugs, which work by modulating or suppressing the overactive immune response, can be beneficial, especially in chronic or severe cases. This multi-pronged approach ensures that the dog gets relief from immediate symptoms while also addressing the root cause of the allergic reaction.

a pitbull with a skin issue

2. Hot Spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis)

These are localized areas of skin inflammation and bacterial infection.

Excessive Licking, Scratching, or Biting:

When dogs experience discomfort, itchiness, or pain on their skin, their natural response is to try to alleviate it. This leads them to lick, scratch, or bite the affected areas. However, this repeated trauma to the skin can exacerbate the initial problem. The constant abrasion damages the skin, making it more susceptible to infections. It's a vicious cycle: the more the dog tries to relieve the itch or pain, the worse the condition becomes.

Moisture Trapped in the Coat:

Dogs, especially those with thick or long coats, can retain moisture close to their skin after activities like swimming or bathing. If the coat doesn't dry thoroughly and promptly, this trapped moisture can create a damp environment conducive for bacterial growth. It softens the skin, making it more permeable and less defensible against bacterial invasion.

Such conditions can swiftly turn into hot spots, especially in warmer climates or seasons where humidity levels are high. It underscores the importance of thoroughly drying a dog's coat, particularly in areas prone to hot spots, after they get wet.

Symptoms of Hot Spots:

  • Red, moist, swollen patches of skin.
  • Hair loss in the affected area.
  • Pain and warmth in the area.
  • Pus oozing from the lesion.

Management of Hot Spots:

Cleaning with Antiseptic Solutions:

The first and crucial step in addressing hot spots is ensuring the affected area is clean. This not only helps in removing any accumulated pus or debris but also curtails the growth of the bacteria causing the infection. By using mild antiseptic solutions, the risk of aggravating the inflamed skin is minimized, and the environment becomes less hospitable for bacteria. Gentle cleaning, done with care, can also provide some relief to the dog by reducing the itchiness and discomfort associated with the hot spot.

Clipping the Hair Around the Spot:

Hot spots often occur beneath the fur, making them harder to treat when covered. Therefore, carefully clipping or shaving the hair around the affected area is advised. This does more than just expose the hot spot for better treatment; it allows the skin to breathe and dry out, which is essential for healing. Moist conditions can exacerbate bacterial growth, so ensuring the area remains dry can expedite the recovery process. Additionally, removing the hair makes it easier to apply topical treatments directly to the skin and observe the healing progress.

Antibiotics or Corticosteroid Creams:

Depending on the severity of the hot spot, topical treatments might be prescribed by veterinarians. Antibiotic creams help combat the bacterial infection directly at its source, while corticosteroid creams can effectively reduce inflammation and provide relief from itching and pain. In some severe cases, oral antibiotics might be prescribed if the bacterial infection is widespread or if the topical treatments aren't providing the desired results.

Use of a Cone or E-collar:

Dogs, by instinct, will often try to lick, scratch, or bite an irritated area, believing it to be a method of self-soothing. However, this behavior can exacerbate hot spots, making them larger and more inflamed. To prevent further self-infliction and to ensure the hot spot is given the best chance to heal without interference, a cone or e-collar (Elizabethan collar) can be used.

3. Mange

A skin disease caused by tiny parasitic mites.

Demodectic Mange: Caused by the Demodex mite. These mites are typically present on most dogs but can proliferate under certain conditions, like a weakened immune system.

Sarcoptic Mange: Caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. It's highly contagious.

Symptoms of Mange:

  • Severe itching.
  • Redness and inflammation.
  • Scaly or crusty skin.
  • Hair loss, typically starting in patchy areas and can spread.

Management of Mange:

Management of certain conditions often involves multiple strategies. One effective approach is the use of medicated shampoos or dips. Additionally, oral medications such as ivermectin or milbemycin can be prescribed. For situations involving Sarcoptic mange, it's crucial to treat all animals in the household to prevent its spread.

4. Fungal Infections (e.g., Ringworm)

A skin condition can be attributed to fungi instead of bacteria. These fungi flourish particularly well in environments that are warm and humid. Transmission often occurs through direct contact with an animal or human who is already infected.

Symptoms of a Fungal Infection:

  • Circular, raised lesions with central hair loss.
  • Scaly or crusty skin.
  • Redness and inflammation.

Management of a Fungal Infection:

When it comes to managing a fungal infection, several treatment options are available. A common first line of defense is the application of topical antifungal ointments or creams, which are designed to target and combat the fungal organisms directly on the skin. In addition to these topicals, medicated shampoos can also be used, especially when the infection is widespread or located on the scalp.

However, in more severe cases where topical treatments might not be sufficient or the infection is deeply rooted, oral antifungal medications are prescribed. These systemic treatments work internally to eliminate the fungi and prevent them from spreading further.

5. Pyoderma

Pyoderma is a bacterial infection of the skin that can be quite problematic. It's often not the primary issue but emerges secondary to other skin-related problems, such as allergies or injuries. This means that a dog with an allergic reaction or a skin wound may be more susceptible to developing pyoderma.

Moreover, hormonal imbalances in the body can predispose an individual to this skin condition. Therefore, when diagnosing skin issues, it's essential to consider underlying factors that might contribute to the emergence of conditions like pyoderma.

Symptoms of Pyoderma:

  • Pustules (pus-filled bumps) on the skin.
  • Redness and swelling.
  • Crusting and scaling.
  • Itchiness.
  • Hair loss.

Management of Pyoderma:

Managing pyoderma requires a multi-faceted approach to ensure both immediate relief and long-term resolution. A frontline treatment for this bacterial skin infection often includes the application of antibacterial shampoos or ointments. These products help reduce bacterial proliferation directly on the skin and alleviate symptoms.

In cases where the infection is more profound or persistent, oral antibiotics might be prescribed to provide a more systemic treatment. However, it's crucial not to stop at just treating the symptoms. If pyoderma has arisen as a secondary issue, addressing the root cause is essential.

This might involve treating allergies, healing injuries, or rectifying any other underlying problems that could predispose the skin to bacterial infections. By tackling both the infection and its cause, a comprehensive and lasting solution to pyoderma can be achieved.


Our four-legged, tail-wagging companions are just as unique as us, with their quirks, joys, and yes, occasional itches! It's our responsibility to keep an eye out for those sneaky allergies and ensure our lovable pitbulls lead a comfortable and joyful life. So, while they're busy giving us endless love and memorable moments, let's make sure we're returning the favor by keeping their skin as radiant and itch-free as their personalities. Here's to happy, healthy pitbulls and the endless tail wags ahead!