Cats, Dogs and Dermatology
Dermatology is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of skin disorders. THIS IS THE MOST COMMON ISSUE THAT PET OWNERS DEAL WITH, according to Tina Brown, MS, DVM. She is with Memphis Veterinary Specialists in Cordova and recently came to talk with Hollywood Feed employees about dermatology issues related to our pets.
*All images courtesy of Dr. Tina Brown.
The Usual Suspects
ATOPIC DERMATITIS: This is like eczema. It can be seasonal, and can be caused by dust mites or mold in the home. Usually appears as a scaly, itchy rash on the face, feet, ears and groin. May get worse each year.
Treatment: Cyclosporine, immunotherapy. Keep soft/plush materials where dust mites thrive out of your home. Avoid carpets, rugs and cloth furniture. Cover your pet’s bed with plastic and don’t give them plush toys. Keep them out from under furniture. Get a HEPA filter. Wash clothing/blankets/bedding at high temperatures.
BACTERIAL SKIN INFECTION: Looks like hives and may cause a patchy coat and pustules.
Treatment: Oral and topical medications.
DEMODEX MITES: Tiny parasitic mites that live in or near hair follicles. They usually cause patchy hair loss on the head, neck and forelimbs.
Treatment: Oral and topical medications.
DIET/FOOD ALLERGIES: Usually a reaction to low-quality food or a certain protein in our pet’s diet. The usual problems for dogs are chicken, dairy, eggs and beef and for cats, they are fish, dairy, beef and lamb. We can usually find reaction areas on our pet’s feet, ears, and abdomen. These reactions will not change with the seasons, but can change if you change the protein in your pet’s food.
Treatment: Food hypersensitivity can be responsive to steroids to stop itching, but not to treat the underlying issue. A strict food trial can help determine exactly what your pet is sensitive to, and this is something that you can do yourself, at home. Allergy testing is NOT accurate.
ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGIES: These can be seasonal. There are many things your dog or cat may be allergic to outdoors, and she may be allergic to multiple allergens at once. Allergy blood and skin testing are NOT ALWAYS ACCURATE. This is because many things can interfere with test results, such as certain medications, false positives or false negatives due to not enough allergens being scraped or tested, and no independent oversight of quality control at testing labs.
Treatment: Pollens can be worse at dusk and dawn, so keep your pet inside at these times. Avoid fields with tall grass, and keep your yard short. Put your pet indoors when you are mowing. Bathe or rinse your pet when coming in from outdoors.
FLEAS: External parasites that live off the blood of mammals and birds by biting, which causes itching and scratching.
Treatment: Topical ointments, flea collars, oral medications.
OTITIS EXTERNA: Inflammation of the ear that can be chronic and painful. Secondary infections can worsen the condition and make it difficult to treat. Can be a symptom of atopic dermatitis or a food allergy.
Treatment: Immunotherapy, steroids (which is more of an anti-itch treatment, and less of a cure).
RINGWORM: A fungal skin infection that causes circular spots anywhere on the body, and usually in more than one place at a time. This is contagious.
Treatment: Antifungal medications and e-collar to prevent ingestion.
SCABIES: Also known as sarcoptic mange, is a tiny burrowing mite that usually looks like small red bumps on ears, elbows and hocks. Scabies is contagious.
Treatment: Clip hair and bathe with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo, topical medications, and possibly medication dips.
YEAST: A fungal skin infection that usually occurs in moist areas on the body.
Treatment: Oral and topical antifungal medications.
I Have an Itch That Needs Scratching
There are several ways you can help your dog with her itching while not necessarily treating an underlying condition. These can be used in conjunction with treatment to provide additional relief to your dog.
- Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Claritin and Zyrtec can be helpful in mild cases
- Apoquel is similar to drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and can reduce itching in dogs
- Omega 3 fatty acid supplements or a fish based diet
- Steroids can be helpful in some situations, but can also be VERY overused by doctors without having any proof of efficacy. Steroids can also have a lot of negative side effects such as Cushing’s disease, and diabetes in cats. Less than 30 mg a year is the most that any animal should receive.
The Bottom Line
Pay attention to your pet. If you see excessive itching and licking, hot spots, rashes, and other skin irritation, then do something about it! The earlier you catch an infection or infestation, the easier it will be to resolve. Early treatment can prevent secondary infections like staph, caused by too much scratching and open wounds. Secondary infections only complicate treatment of the initial issue. If you think there may be an environmental or food allergy causing the issue, do a trial at home. I know the staff at Hollywood Feed can help you start an elimination diet for your dog. If you can’t figure it out at home, then take your dog to the vet!