Veterinary dermatology: from allergy to parasites
The commonest skin diseases in dogs and cats include the following
- Parasitic infestation
- Bacterial infections
- Autoimmune diseases
- Fungal diseases
Besides primary skin diseases, the skin is also a reflection of internal health. A deficiency, for example of trace elements such as zinc and selenium also leads to skin problems although the cause lies in the feed. Metabolic diseases such as Cushing’s disease also cause skin changes.
Many skin diseases in dogs and cats look similar. The animals have often scratched themselves and the vet sees the secondary changes in the skin and not the actual cause. It is easy to forget that some animals also have a number of problems at the same time. This is what makes veterinary dermatology so demanding: interpreting and classifying visible skin changes correctly is not easy and requires a lot of experience.
How do I recognise skin changes in my dog or cat?
Skin changes may be noticed when the animal is fondled and cuddled: something feels a bit rough or there is a bare patch. Itching is seen very often: the dog or cat sits there and scratches itself. When it is very severe, itching can be more unpleasant than pain and can drive the animals mad. They are then nervous and stressed. Naturally, however, skin diseases in cats and dogs can also be painful so that the animals react defensively when they are touched.
How often should I go to a veterinary dermatologist?
You don’t have to consult a specialist in veterinary dermatology routinely. If your pet has a problem, go to your regular vet. Important: skin diseases in cats and dogs require a rapid reaction. When the animal scratches a lot, the skin condition changes rapidly and diagnosis becomes more difficult. The regular vet will refer more difficult cases to a veterinary dermatologist, who has a wider range of possible investigations and experience in the area of veterinary dermatology. These include, e.g., allergy skin tests (you will find more about allergy tests in dogs here).
What happens in a veterinary dermatology examination?
A veterinary dermatology examination always involves a general examination in the first place. This is part of every visit to a vet as other diseases or symptoms and connections may be identified even when the problem appears to be limited to the skin. After the general examination, the vet will carry out a skin examination and look at your pet’s entire skin and coat. Are there perhaps any other changes that were not obvious until now? The vet will go through the coat with a flea comb. Common surface parasites are caught in this fine-toothed comb and can be assessed. It is possible that areas of skin will be clipped or shaved to get a better view and take samples for further tests.
It is very helpful when you record your own observations in the home setting, in sound and vision, e.g., videos of attacks of itching and pictures of the original skin damage. Especially in the case of itching in dogs or cats, it is enormously important to know what was there first, the itching or the skin change. Records of previous visits to the vet are helpful – further information about whether the animal was treated for parasites and with what, whether it has to take medicine and whether perhaps the feed was changed recently. These can all be parts of the puzzle that lead to the correct diagnosis.
There is no essential difference between skin examination in cats and skin examination in dogs. However, every animal species has its “own” common diseases, which are the first that the vet will look out for.
Further tests of the skin for fungal infections, bacterial infections, parasites or cellular changes (tumours) comprise:
- Hair sample
- Swab sample
- Scrapings (removal of small quantities of cells from the skin surface)
- Biopsy (removal of a piece of the skin, e.g., by a punch; this also refers to the removal of tumour cells by means of a hollow needle)
- Imprint (using adhesive film)
- Wood’s lamp (UV light, renders fungal infection and some bacteria visible)
- Allergy tests (intradermal and blood tests)
My pet has a skin disease – now what?
Have you noticed bare patches on your dog or cat, itching or hair loss? Your first journey should be to the vet. He or she will seek the cause of the problem and start treatment. Apart from medications, part of this treatment may also include bathing or partially bathing certain areas of the skin, treatment of the environment (e.g., the home), or a change of feed (with food allergies).
Veterinary dermatology: preventing skin diseases Parasite prophylaxis
Regular treatment with repellents e.g., against mites, ticks and fleas, protects against parasitic skin diseases. These are substances that deter parasites from seeking out this animal as a host or that kill them on contact or if they bite or sting. Therefore this actively prevents flea dermatitis, for example.
It is well known that cats usually keep themselves clean very well. Long-haired breeds must be brushed regularly, however, to prevent tangled and matted hairs.
Dogs are also well protected against harmful outside influences through a combination of undercoat and outer fur as well as the skin’s own grease layer. Regular brushing removes coarse dirt, prevents the hair from becoming matted and massages the skin, which promotes the circulation. It also lets you see your pet up close and identify any skin changes. If isolated areas of the fur are soiled, e.g., the paws, simply clean these with a damp cloth and towel.
How often may I bathe my dog?
If your pet has rolled in dung or taken a mud bath, you will understandably want to give him or her a bath. Please do this as seldom as possible. Use a gentle dog shampoo without fragrance that spares the coat’s natural grease layer. Puppies should not be bathed at all; their skin dries out quickly and then provides a contact surface for e.g., fungal infections.
Other preventive measures against skin diseases:
- Checking the collar or harness – it should not rub or pinch
- Regularly washing the blankets in its basket
- Regular brushing (especially long-haired dogs and cats: promotes the blood circulation, prevents the hair from tangling and matting, may reveal problem areas)
- In winter: clean the dog’s paws well after walkies – de-icing salt is very aggressive
Veterinary dermatology: conclusion
Dermatology for dogs and cats is a very complex specialty of veterinary medicine. Recent research results offer ever improving possibilities for treating even difficult diseases.