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Skin Conditions

Spring is nearly here, pollen is starting to appear and once again we prepare to see an influx of skin cases presented.  The skin is the body’s largest organ and can account for nearly a quarter of a pet’s bodyweight. Acting as a waterproof protective barrier the skin is highly sensitive and can suffer from up to 160 different conditions. Up to 25% of pets seen at a vet practice will have some degree of skin disease.

How do I know if my pet has skin disease?

Our pets have many ways of showing us they are having trouble with their skin, by far the most common sign is itching and scratching. It is normal for all cats and dogs to scratch sometimes, just like us it’s natural for them to want to scratch at areas of dryness, irritations from collars or the occasional insect or debris caught in fur, but when this scratching becomes obsessive or is causing further damage to the skin it is something that should be addressed. If you are routinely seeing any of the below signs you should seek veterinary advice to help work out the cause of your pet’s discomfort.

Excessive licking, chewing, biting, scratching or scooting

  • Hair loss
  • Recurrent ear problems
  • Changes in the skin including redness or darkening
  • Body odor

What causes skin disease?

There are many triggers for itchiness in cats and dogs and more often than not it can be several of these triggers acting at the same time. Skin disease can be very varied from complex conditions needing lifelong management to others that are resolved with a one-off treatment. The four main causes of skin disease are parasites, food allergies, contact allergies and a condition called atopy, but others on the list include fungus, hormone disorders, stress or behavioural problems and immune mediated, where the body attacks itself.

Image result for itchy cat

  1. Parasites

Parasitic skin disease is one of the most common and can be caused by more than just fleas. Ticks, mites, lice and worms can all cause their own types of irritation and itchiness. If you have an itchy pet at home a good place to start would be ensuring they are up to date with parasite treatment. There are many different products available, tablets, washes, spot on liquids and powders, all with varying duration of action.  Using a veterinary approved product and following the correct advice for how much and how often can help to efficiently cross parasites off the list.  See us for the most appropriate prevention and treatment for your pet.

  1. Allergy

Allergy is a very big topic, our pets can have allergic reactions to almost anything in their environment just like us, and very often the manifestation is in the skin. Pets can be allergic to a specific ingredient in their food, a pollen or plant, washing powders, household sprays, shampoo ingredients, preservatives, even dust! It can be very tricky to find the trigger of an allergic reaction, and for some animals the cause is never found. If you think your pet may have an allergy, consult your vet, they will be able to give you guidance on how best to approach narrowing down an allergy. For some animals allergen avoidance isn’t practical, e.g. dust mite allergies, as they are part of everyday life, in these cases management of the skin is key and may require short or long term therapies.  Over the last few years some exciting new products for managing this condition have been released, the key point is that allergies are managed NOT cured so treatment is lifelong and often require a multimodal approach which means that more than one product is usually required and often in combination with a skin specific diet as 70% of animals with allergies show improvement with this approach. Once steroids were the hallmark of our first line management and while these worked well they acted on every cell in the body and had some undesirable side effects.  Newer treatments such as Apoquel and Cytopoint target specific itch receptors in the pet’s body thus reducing side effects.  Cytopoint is an injectable product that only needs to be given monthly so can be very convenient for pets that do not like tabletting and for people with busy schedules!  Other options include desensitising vaccines if the inciting cause can be identified.

Image result for dog allergy

  1. Stress behaviours

Stress can be a common cause of skin disease particularly in cats, some common signs are bald patches, areas of reddened sore looking skin, or wounds, these together are often caused by over-grooming. The most commonly affected areas are between the back legs, the belly and across the sides, with patches of hair loss often looking symmetrical. The key with these animals is to find what is causing the stress and avoid it, it could be a new animal in the household, a recent event, even a change in furniture arrangement or sharing a litter tray with another cat. To go alongside with this there are also pheromone sprays available which can help our feline friends to relax and feel calm as they emit natural pheromones that mother cats release to soothe their kittens.

  1. Sun Care

Although not a skin disease, the sun can certainly cause problems for animals. Our pets are lucky, and most of them have a thick layer of fur that acts as a sunshade to protect their skin from the harsh New Zealand sun. But some of our furry friends aren’t quite as furry as others and are more vulnerable to the UV rays, even in the winter months. Any area with pink or white skin particularly under a thin hair layer or a naturally occurring bald spot are at risk. Most common areas to burn are the ears particularly the tips, between the back legs and the nose. Just like us sun burn is painful for our pets and can also cause an increased risk of some cancers so sun protection is best routinely used, a pet specific cream or powder is best as some ingredients in human sun screens can be toxic.

Image result for dog cat allergy

We always advise seeing pets early in the course of itchy skin as the very process of itching results in skin trauma and secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections that need to be resolved often with lengthy courses of medication.

In summary if you have an itchy pet at home it is best to seek veterinary advice early on how to problem solve and best alleviate that itch.

About the author

Yvonne Marshall-Lee

Yvonne Marshall-Lee

North Canterbury Veterinarian

Our Clinics

North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics operates four clinics throughout the Hurunui region.