Most pet owners are aware that scratching, licking, biting, and chewing are tell-tale signs of an underlying skin problem. While there are over 150 different skin diseases that can affect pets, managing skin problems is possible.

Skin disease or irritation can cause distress to you and your pet. To relieve that suffering, we offer dermatologic services to help you and your pet live comfortably. In trying to diagnose and treat skin disorders, your role as a pet owner is essential. Discovering what causes flare-ups and irritation will primarily be your job. Pay attention to your pet’s reaction after eating, playing outside, and interacting with other animals. It is also important for you to determine if your pets symptoms occur at a particular time of year or if they last all year.  You should also determine if there have been any recent changes at home like new furniture or rugs, or changes in laundry detergent. During your appointment, the veterinarian will discuss your observations to determine a series of laboratory tests that will help diagnose or treat your pet’s skin issues.

What you may notice that indicates a skin issue

  • Scratching and licking

  • Skin odor or greasiness

  • Hair loss, scabs, sores, drainage

  • Rough haircoat

  • Debris or odor in ears

  • External parasites

  • Excessive dandruff

Common dermatological issues for pets

  • Allergies:  contact, inhaled, food, flea bite

  • Infections:  parasitic, bacterial, fungal

  • Autoimmune

  • Hormonal disorders: hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism

  • Parasites:  fleas, ticks, lice, mites

  • Cancer

How do we diagnose diseases of the skin

Many skin diseases are similar in appearance.  That makes diagnostic testing very important.  There are several tests that we can perform right in the office. 

These include:

Skin Scrapings:  This technique is performed to look for mites in the skin.  A dull scalpel blade is used to gently scrape the surface of the skin.  The material collected is placed on a microscope slide and examined for mites and mite eggs.  We may also stain samples that are collected to look for yeast, bacteria, and abnormal cells.

Cytologic Examinations: Many animals with skin disease have sores, scabs, or drainage on their skin.  Samples from these areas can be placed on a microscope slide to look for bacteria, yeast and abnormal cells.

Fine Needle Aspirates: A needle and syringe can be used to collect cells from areas of skin that look abnormal.  These cells are then stained for examination under the microscope.  We also look for bacteria, yeast and abnormal cells in these samples.

Biopsies – Biopsies are generally used when a diagnosis cannot be made from a skin scraping, cytologic examination, or fine needle aspirate. They are also recommended if a pet does not respond to treatment the way we expect them to. A biopsy is often performed to diagnose various skin cancers and autoimmune skin disorders. To collect a biopsy, your pet is sedated so that either a small circle of skin can be collected or an entire lump or lesion is removed.  These samples are then sent to a veterinary pathologist for examination.

Skin Cultures – A skin culture is typically used when a patient has been diagnosed with an infection in the skin that does not respond well to prescribed antibacterial or antifungal medication. The culture is performed by collecting a sample from the skin into a sterile container.  The sample is then sent to a lab where they perform a culture.  Once they grow an infective organism from the sample, they test a number of medications to see which is the most effective against the organism.  This is very important in some cases since so many bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to common antibiotics. 

Dietary Food Trials: A dietary food trial is performed if we suspect that your pet is allergic to a component of their food.  To complete a trial, your pet must be fed an elimination diet exclusively for a minimum of 12 weeks.  Elimination diets are  prescription diets that have been modified so there are no recognizable protein molecules present.  They are still highly palatable and provide all the necessary nutrients for your pet.  The success of a dietary food trial is completely in the hands of the pet parent!

Blood Testing:  Many skin disorders are the result of an underlying systemic disease.  For this reason, we perform a complete diagnostic panel of bloodwork in pets with chronic skin conditions to rule out many of these diseases.

Treatment of skin conditions

Unfortunately, many skin conditions can only be controlled, not cured. This is because many skin conditions have underlying causes which will never go away.  To help lessen the severity of skin symptoms, be sure to follow your veterinarian's recommendations carefully.  Different forms of treatment may include but are not limited to:

  • Antibiotic or antifungal therapy

  • Flea and tick control

  • Treatment of mites or lice with insecticides

  • Food changes

  • Hormone supplementation

  • Immunosuppressive and immunomodulating medications

  • Prescription shampoos and conditioners, lotions, mousse, sprays, wipes

  • Nutriceuticals and supplements

  • Allergy injections

Many of these therapeutics are used in combination to achieve optimal results.  Unfortunately, this makes control of some dermatologic conditions very time consuming and expensive.  Accordingly, diligent pet parents have the most success with keeping their pet comfortable which allows them to get a good night's sleep!

If you have any questions about pet dermatology or think your pet might have a skin condition, contact our office today.

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