Skin conditions can strike at any time in your pet’s life. Various conditions can often look alike, presenting with similar signs. Effective treatment can only be achieved when the primary cause of the problem is identified. It is recommended that all skin conditions are checked by your veterinarian to ensure there isn’t a more sinister underlying problem. Your veterinarian may use blood samples, skin scrapings, fungal tests, bacterial cultures and skin biopsies to rule out possible explanations and identify the primary cause of the problem.
The main causes of skin disease
The most common type of skin condition is a bacterial infection (pyoderma). Often, bacterial infections are secondary to scratching, chewing or rubbing itchy skin caused by something else. Although it is important to treat the bacterial infection, pet owners should bear in mind that something else may be the primary cause.
There are many types of bacteria that can cause bacterial infections of the skin, so it is important for your veterinarian to determine which bacteria is causing the problem so he can choose the correct antibiotic for treatment.
Yeasts are normally present on the skin and ears in relatively low numbers. In certain circumstances, they can overgrow and cause infection. The most common occurrence of yeast infection is in the ears where there is higher moisture content and warmth, factors that aid growth. Yeast infections are also common where there is greater skin to skin contact such as the armpits.
Although fungal infections are relatively uncommon, some, like ringworm, are contagious. They are quite hard to differentiate from bacterial or yeast infections but your veterinarian will know to rule fungal involvement out.
More commonly called atopic dermatitis, environmental allergies are those not caused by food or fleas. In dogs and cats, the most common causes of atopic dermatitis are dust, pollen, grass, mildew, mold, human hair and tobacco.
Allergies in pets more commonly manifest as itchy skin rather than sneezing (as in humans). If your pet is excessively scratching, rubbing, chewing or licking itself for no apparent reason, then environmental allergens may be the cause.
Your vet will need to rule out infectious causes in most cases with the use of skin scrapes, hair plucks and possibly biopsies of the affected skin for analysis by an external laboratory to understand the inflammatory response that is occurring.
Treatment of atopic dermatitis is to remove the precipitating factor where possible, the careful use of corticosteroids and antihistamines to bring the itch under control, and then hyposensitization treatment.
Dogs and cats commonly have food allergies just like humans do. Once again, scratching, rubbing, chewing or licking are common symptoms, but food allergies may also cause hair loss. Vomiting and Diarrhea can also occur.
If food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will recommend a strict diet protocol to help determine to which foods your pet is allergic. This takes many weeks and requires perfect compliance from the pet owner; that means no table scraps or treats!
Lets start with our little friend the flea, the most common parasite cats and dogs face. Flea bites and flea feces (“flea dirt”) cause itching and discomfort which then leads to hair loss, infection and scabs.
In some cases, the pet will react more severely to the flea saliva if they are allergic to it. This is called flea allergic dermatitis and is more common in cats. Ulcerations can form, and secondary infection can develop; this is a more severe condition that requires prompt treatment and management.
With the products available today, flea-related problems are easily avoidable. Products should be purchased from your veterinarian or veterinary-approved retailers only.
Other than fleas, our pets may encounter ear mites, ticks, scabies (mange), Cheyletiella (walking dandruff) and Demodex (mange). All are significant, so prompt treatment is highly advisable.
The endocrine system is made up of multiple glands spread throughout the body. Endocrine glands produce hormones that regulate various bodily functions. When there is a malfunction in one of the pathways, either too much or too little of a hormone can be produced. There are widespread effects depending on the hormone involved, but very commonly we see skin changes associated with the imbalance. An example would be hypothyroidism in dogs in which we see loss of hair, skin thickening and often greasy skin as a result of low levels of thyroid hormone.
As the skin signs are secondary, it is important to diagnose the primary problem and treat that.
Skin Conditions are a complex problem in cats and dogs as there are so many different causes and presentations. The key to successful treatment is identifying the exact underlying cause. In cases where this isnt possible (through extensive testing) then treatment often centers around managing symptoms.