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Skin problems in dogs and cats
Owners Have A Large Role In Fixing It
There is one physical trait that we humans share in common with our pets. Our body's largest organ is also an animal's largest organ.
The lungs would be a good guess since they take up such a huge portion of our chests. But do you consider lungs one organ or two?
It doesn't matter. It's the wrong answer. As every medical practitioner and trivia buff knows, our skin is our body's largest organ, and it causes us problems ranging from annoying to severe.
It also causes our pets problems (especially dogs), and for pretty much the same reasons. One big difference is that we're smart enough to leave our boo-boos alone, but pets aren't. They'll scratch, chew and lick problem areas (self-trauma, in vetspeak), making things much worse.
Skin problems are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Examples of primary skin diseases include flea bite (or flea saliva) dermatitis, mange, or contact dermatitis from grasses or other external sources.
Secondary skin diseases appear as side effects of other medical problems. Hypothyroidism, for instance, often causes skin problems.
When the cause is finally identified, it's usually after a battery of tests because skin conditions are so difficult to diagnose.
Allergies represent a significant cause of skin diseases, and they can be difficult to diagnose, too.
Sometimes, but less commonly, food is the culprit, with wheat, soy, corn, and dairy products well represented.
More commonly in a food allergy, a protein, chicken for example, is the culprit. Allergies also can be airborne or of the contact type.
Hot spots, also known as moist dermatitis, are familiar to most dog owners. Those conditions are often a result of the animal's chewing, scratching or licking.
Once the skin is broken, a secondary infection can set in making matters much worse.
Ectoparasites, or external parasites, such as fleas, ticks and mites cause problems by breaking the skin and allowing infection to occur. And, if there's a fungus among us, it's often ringworm.
To achieve a diagnosis vets will often perform a skin scrape, where they shave a patch of haircoat and scrape off the top layer of the exposed skin with a scalpel blade. They then examine the material under a powerful microscope.
There are other diagnostic aides as well, such as blood tests, biopsies and a skin-prick test in which they test for a multitude of allergens.
Even with these tools diagnosis is difficult and time consuming because of the skin's varied responses to various attacks.
Treatment usually involves a drug of some sort and can last for a long time, even for life. The arsenal includes steroids, antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, topical creams or lotions, even medicated shampoos and rinses.
Many times a skin condition in pets will mean changes in diet and elimination of certain treats.
And, hypo-allergenic foods for pet carnivores typically feature expensive and exotic protein sources such as venison or duck. There are hypoallergenic biscuits for dogs.
There are some things you can do preventatively to help keep your pet's skin healthy. Frequent brushings will remove dead hair and keep the hair from matting.
Shampoos should be minimized, but when necessary done with medicated or hypoallergenic products. Don't use human shampoos, even baby shampoo.
If your pet is subject to dry skin, periodic visits to your groomer might be a good idea. Groomers have the tools, products, training, experience, patience, and that gentle, professional touch that makes the visit worthwhile.