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Skin ailments

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Pet CareScratching is caused by a range of ailments starting from an allergy, fleas, bacterial infections, mite infestations etc. Treatment of each of these is different and the vet needs to be careful.

Dermatology is probably the most challenging aspect of canine practice. Considering the fact that specialization in this field is still not prevalent the average practitioner has a real tough time.
The range of ailments from parasitic to hormonal provides a very broad range and the reason why this article is being written is that most queries we get on this site are about the skin. So we decided to shed some light on this topic with some of the most common ailments. This article is not meant to be conclusive but rather just informative.
Treatment by owners based on this advice is not the idea but just to augment their information.Let’s begin with the main problem I face at the clinic that is pets scratching themselves. Owners come up and ask me to inject the dog with the ‘anti-itch’ injection. If this were the case, treatment would
be quite simple. On the contrary this is where the problem actually begins. Some doctors on the persistence of their clients give cortisone the quickest way to cure any itching. This is the right treatment in case the ailment is an allergy or seasonal atopy. However if the condition is because of skin parasites like mites the disease will explode in intensity. Scratching is caused by a range of ailments starting from an allergy, fleas, bacterial infections, mite infestations etc. Treatment of each of these is different and the vet needs to be careful.Fleas are probably the most common cause of scratching in summer.
Similarly I practically never see flea allergy in winter. The flea
allergy scratching is mostly in the mid rump and leads to a moth eaten appearance in the region. There is certain violence in the itching due to fleas and here the dog is never at rest. Lift the fur and if you see small specks of black on the back. And in the case of food allergy the dog has no specific region except the ears where it scratches. Food allergy is treated by providing a spectrum of hypoallergenic feeds till one is certain as to which ingredient is the allergen. This is very difficult to follow and needs a high degree of owner compliance.
Mites are a very common cause of skin disease. Generally there are two common mite Sarcoptes and Demodex. The former is capable of infecting humans also and has zoonotic importance. (It is called Sarcoptic Mange in dogs and Scabies in humans).� Sarcoptes has a high degree of pruritis or scratching and is typically seen around the eyes and ears.
Demodex on the other hand has two forms localized seen mostly in young pups and generalized. Among the two, Demodex is more dangerous as it suppresses the immunity and the generalized form seen mostly in adults needs life long treatment. In pups generally the localized form is seen but the generalized form may also be seen. Here the skin is totally hairless, with oozing of blood, not much scratching and a red
tinge to the skin is seen. Treatment success varies with speed of diagnosis and compliance of treatment. I have had dogs with the generalized form of Demodex being treated for years. Here control is possible but not cure. 

Then we see fungal infections where again there is a moth eaten appearance all over the body with a musty pungent smell. A skin scrapping will reveal the fungus and prompt treatment can be started.
Bacterial pyoderma’s or infections are also common especially if the dog tends to itch and lick itself a lot.� Here pus can be seen on the skin and generally the skin is painful to touch.

Hormonal disorders are also very common in middle-aged dogs. The most common form I have seen is with the thyroid hormone. Dogs with this disease have less hair around their collar, elbow, hipbone etc, as these are areas of maximum friction. These dogs if clipped will gain hair back very slowly. They have what is called a rat-tailed appearance of their tail meaning a very thin hairless tail. These dogs also tend to feel cold and prefer to lie in the sun even in summer.

Treatment and diagnosis is mainly based on starting the drug
experimentally and typically cases feel better in two months. Often in my practice I have seen that German Shepard’s are very prone to thyroid disorders and subsequently the generalized form of Demodex.

The last general categories of dermatology cases I wish to touch upon are autoimmune disorders, where the animal�s own immune system acts against itself. In these cases the pets have lumps or erosions and ulcers in all parts of the body and the only way to diagnose is via a biopsy. Treatment being highly specific means that a quick and accurate diagnosis is needed.

So the next time your pet meets the vet for a dermatology problem remember the range of ailments that have to be ruled out. Be patient as there are no short cuts and get all the skin and blood tests that your vet requests you for. This will make the treatment short and simple. Hope you liked this article on dermatology and do send us your feedback.

(Dr. Gautam Unny is a practicing Veterinarian in Anand Vihar, Delhi and can be contacted at 011-2215 3622 or 98100- 53451. He is the author of the bestseller ‘A Manual on Dog Care’ by Rupa & Co. available at all leading stores. To order the book contact Rupa & Co at 011-23278586 & 011- 2327 2161)

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