What is Skin Disease?
A dog’s skin is very sensitive. A cat too has sensitive skin, and for both animals a skin disorder can be very unpleasant and painful. Any foreign particle has the ability to agitate the skin – causing inflammation and redness which is most commonly accompanied by itching, leading to lesions and open wounds.
Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment of Various Types of Skin Disease
Bacterial Skin Infections are commonly itchy; yellow with reddened and ulcerated skin with dry, crusted areas may be accompanied by loss of hair and odor. Mostly confined to the trunk, but may affect other areas. Obese dogs are frequently affected by bacterial skin infection in the skin folds on their face, lips and vulva. Staphylococci (‘Staph bacteria’) are the most common organisms found in bacterial skin diseases, but are not contagious to humans or other pets.
Diagnosis and treatment Most bacterial skin infections in dogs are secondary to another disease such as parasitism, allergies, endocrine (hormonal) disorders or abnormalities in the immune system. Initial treatments may entail removal of the hair in and around the lesions and washing of the whole dog with antibiotic shampoos and antibiotics will also be administered orally for 3-4 weeks. (Keep in mind that antibiotics may weaken the immune system in the long term).
Fungal Skin Infections (Ringworm) is caused by two species of fungi: Microsporum and Trichophyton – resulting in the skin condition commonly called ‘ringworm.’ Ringworm is seen most commonly in young dogs with hair loss, usually in circular patches, a common symptom.
The head and legs are most commonly affected by ringworm, although the disease may spread over other parts of the dog’s body, causing the dog to scratch. Ringworm is contagious to humans (children and to other household pets). Infected dogs should be kept away from children and other dogs and cats until the infection is cured and other pets in the home should be monitored for Ringworm.
Diagnosis and treatment A Wood’s Lamp Test (ultraviolet light) can be used to help diagnose the Microsporum species only. A definite diagnosis can be obtained through a fungal culture. Treatment involves clipping the hair around the lesions, and special fungicidal shampoos or rinses are used.
Allergic Skin Diseases are common in dogs – itchy skin, nasal and eye discharges, digestive upsets and/or skin lesions are common signs of allergy. The most common allergy dogs develop is an allergy to flea saliva that causes intense itching. Dermatitis and eczema may also result from an allergy. Your pet may have a food allergy or contact allergy. Itching is the primary sign of allergic skin diseases in dogs with the affected skin appearing red and moist in patches called ‘hot spots.’
Diagnosis and treatment Intense itching and location of the lesions are helpful in diagnosing the type of allergy present. Flea control is the treatment for flea allergy while trials of special hypoallergenic diets are used to diagnose food allergies. Antihistamines and corticosteroids may be prescribed – however, Corticosteroids are potent drugs and should not be used carelessly or for long periods of time.
Parasitic Skin Diseases are most commonly caused by fleas, second to Mange – a type of skin disease which is caused by mites. There are two severe types of mange: sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange. Other parasites are ear mites, lice, and ticks that affect dogs. Their presence irritates the dog, leading to self-mutilation.
Diagnosis and treatment: A skin-scraping test is always performed to aid in identifying parasites. Ear mites, are barely visible to the naked eye and appear as small white objects. Lice, fleas and ticks can also be seen by close examination of the dog’s skin. Clipping around the affected areas and washing them with an antiseptic is done to treat the mange.
Antibiotics can be administered in cases of mange where infection may be present. Ear mites can be treated with a thorough cleaning of the dog’s ears while the animal is sedated. This treatment can be followed up with home treatments using special solutions or ointments to kill the mites and prevent future infections. Lice, ticks and fleas must be killed on the dog and in the dog’s environment with insecticides.
Hormonal Skin Diseases are caused by an imbalance in hormone production. The thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, testicles and ovaries all produce hormones. If excessive (‘hyper’) or deficient (‘hypo’), these hormones produce changes in the skin and hair coat. Most hormonal problems that affect the skin produce hair loss that is evenly distributed on each side of the dog’s body. The skin may be thicker or thinner than normal, and there may be changes in the color of the skin or hair coat. These diseases usually are not itchy.
Diagnosis and treatment: Some causes of hormonal skin disease, such as hypothyroidism and adrenal gland problems, can be diagnosed by special blood tests and effectively treated. Others may be more difficult to diagnose and treat. Skin changes related to the sex hormones can be successfully treated with surgical neutering, if this has not been performed previously.
Help for Skin Disease
Avoiding the allergens, treating the symptoms or desensitizing your pet can control skin allergies. Drugs such as steroids and antihistamines may be prescribed to relieve the symptoms of itchiness and inflammation in pets, however, like any drugs – they may come with unwanted side effects and the long-term effects are not known.
Long-term steroid use is discouraged because these drugs work by suppressing the immune system. This means that over time your pet may be left vulnerable to infection, diabetes, and other conditions.
Luckily for pet owners, there are many safe and natural herbal and homeopathic remedies for animals suffering from skin problems. Althaea officinalis root (marshmallow) is an excellent and well-known remedy for soothing the skin.
Melaleuca alternifolia can be used externally for promoting skin health and keeping the skin clean. Homeopathic remedies such as Ledum and Apis have excellent soothing properties and are particularly useful in soothing inflamed and irritated skin, or allergic reactions to triggers.