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The essentials

  • An angry, red rash on your dog’s belly may be alarming — But, rashes are a common skin issue in dogs, and not all are cause for serious concern.
  • Many things can cause canine belly rashes — From hormones to environmental allergies, many factors can cause an itchy rash so it’s crucial to find and treat the underlying cause.
  • At-home remedies may provide relief — Oatmeal baths, vitamin E supplements, and other therapies can help soothe your dog’s skin.

While they can be very uncomfortable for your furry friend, rashes are a common skin problem in dogs. One possible cause is contact dermatitis, which can cause a skin rash after contact with an irritant. This immune response triggers an itchy, red rash on the skin. 

Here’s what you need to know about contact dermatitis and rashes in dogs.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis — allergic contact dermatitis, and irritant contact dermatitis — and each can cause a range of symptoms. You may notice symptoms immediately or a day or two later. Here are some common signs to watch for: 

  • Inflamed sore skin. Check for areas of skin that are red, bumpy, sore to the touch, or hot. You may also notice hair loss in these areas.
  • Skin color changes. Look for pink or red patches of skin. These areas will look different than their normal skin color. They are likely inflamed and irritated. 
  • Dry, scaly skin. You may notice dandruff, flaking, and scaly areas. They may also secrete pus, smell bad, or create hot spots from itching and scratching.
  • Itching and chewing at the area. If your dog consistently itches, scratches, and chews at a certain area on its body, you’ll want to take a look to see if you notice any redness, bumps, or rashes. 

Other conditions have similar symptoms, so it’s best to go to the vet if you notice any of these. Assuming they have this without a further investigation by a vet can result in an infection. They may develop a secondary bacterial infection or secondary skin lesions from excessive itching and scratching. These need to be treated by a veterinarian.

What causes contact dermatitis in dogs?

Fleas are one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis in dogs, called flea allergy dermatitis. Other potential causes include cedar bed filling, plants, chemicals from cleaning products or carpet deodorizers, rugs, carpets, soaps and shampoos, fertilizers, and topical medications.

Skin rashes are not typically an emergency, but because many things can cause them, they should be professionally examined by a vet to get the appropriate treatment.

How your vet will diagnose contact dermatitis in your dog

Identifying the cause of contact dermatitis tends to be a little more difficult. Usually, your veterinarian will do a process of elimination depending on any other symptoms and based on when it started. They’ll also likely collect the following:

  • Medical history. The vet will ask about this to determine when the dermatitis started and to see if they’ve been exposed to anything new. 
  • Skin sample. Your vet will collect a sample through skin impressions to check for bacteria, yeast infection, fungi, or other inflammation. This allows the vet to examine the sample under a microscope and potentially determine a cause. 
  • Blood tests. Occasionally, your vet may do blood work. This could detect a hormonal imbalance and determine how the rest of your dog’s system and internal organs are doing.

Allergic contact dermatitis vs irritant contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis comes in two forms: allergic and irritant. Both cause an over-reactive immune system response resulting in skin irritation.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis — Also called atopic dermatitis , this occurs as a reaction to environmental allergens coming in contact with the skin. Allergens include dander, dust mites, pollens, mold, and other things. Certain types of dogs, like labradors, golden retrievers, West Highland white terriers, Jack Russell terriers, and Shar-Peis, are predisposed to this condition due to breed and genetics. While there is no cure, certain therapies like topical medication, immunotherapy, oral medication like Apoquel, and injections like Cytopoint may greatly improve quality of life.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis — This occurs when your dog’s skin comes in contact with something specific that causes irritation. For instance, some plants like geraniums and chrysanthemums can cause skin rashes if a dog brushes up against it. Other things like detergent, mulch, rugs, chemicals, and other things can cause this. Irritant dermatitis can happen to any type of dog, age, breed, or gender. However, dogs that currently have seasonal allergies may have more severe reactions and flare-ups.

Treating your dog’s contact dermatitis

As animal lovers, seeing a rash on your dog can be slightly panic-inducing. But don’t worry. The prognosis of contact dermatitis is often good, and dogs recover without complications. If a secondary infection occurs, it will just take a bit longer to recover.

 If you can’t get into the vet until the next few days, you can do a few things at home to help ease the itchiness and stress of your pup. Try using a mild shampoo, an antibiotic ointment, or a cortisone cream, or give them an antihistamine.

Bathe your dog with a mild shampoo — If you can bathe your dog, use a mild, hypoallergenic, or sensitive skin shampoo to remove any allergens on its fur and skin. If bathing is not an option, use an unscented dog wipe to wipe down their legs, body, belly, and head.

Apply an antibiotic ointment — Bacitracin is deemed safe for use on animals. You can rub some bacitracin on the affected area where it looks red or irritated. Many dogs will probably want to lick the area, especially once you start putting a cream on it, so it’s best to use an e-collar to prevent them from ingesting any. 

Use a cortisone cream — Cortisone cream is an anti-inflammatory and is effective for treating skin irritation in dogs. However, it should only be used for a few days. It can be helpful in calming rashes, skin allergies, inflammation, and hot spots. Before applying, make sure there are no lesions. 

Give your dog antihistamines — If your dog is really suffering from a rash, hives, itching, and sneezing, you can give it antihistamines like Benadryl. But be sure it’s only generic diphenhydramine and not mixed with additives, flavors, or alcohol since these can be toxic. 

Contact dermatitis in dogs can be caused by many things. While it’s easy to assume it’s from one thing or another, the best place to start is the vet. Determining the root cause of your dog’s rash allows your veterinarian to tailor your dog’s treatment to the underlying issue rather than temporarily alleviating symptoms.

Frequently asked questions

Can I treat my dog’s rash at home?

Yes, you can sometimes manage your dog’s belly rash at home — but be sure to check your remedies with a vet. They can ensure that the treatment options are appropriate and safe for your furry friend. We suggest starting with a soothing skin balm, like Natural Dog Company’s Skin Soother — as it can safely help ease irritated skin. Vitamin E oil may also be beneficial.

What does a dog allergy rash look like?

If a dog develops a rash due to an allergic reaction, it may appear as red, inflamed skin with pimple-like bumps.

How do you treat a rash on a dog’s belly and inner thighs?

First, learn the cause of your dog’s belly rash. Your vet can then prescribe the best treatment based on your dog’s situation. Your pup may need antibiotics or antifungal medication, or they may need medication to manage an endocrine disorder or allergies. Flea and tick prevention, a medicated shampoo, or an E-collar may also be necessary for clearing up your dog’s belly rash.

What does a bacterial skin infection look like on a dog?

A bacterial skin infection can look like flaky and crusty patches of skin, hair loss, or bumps that look like pimples. They’ll also have redness, inflammation, and itchiness.

How do you soothe a rash on a dog’s stomach?

You can try using a medicated shampoo, wiping them down with a wipe, or applying an antibiotic cream like bacitracin, or a cortisone cream.

Can I use hydrocortisone cream on my dog’s rash?

Yes, according to Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, a human-grade 1% hydrocortisone cream is usually safe in healthy dogs.