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Diseases of the skin are probably the most frustrating and common conditions for veterinarians to treat. A dogs general physical health and care is often reflected by the condition of its skin and hair coat. Due to this, canine skin diseases are important for owners to recognize, treat and prevent. Many skin diseases are lifelong problems requiring continual or frequent treatments by owners and veterinarians. It is true that every dog will have its day for canine skin disease.
Lets begin by defining some terms veterinarians frequently use to describe canine skin diseases. By learning how to speak your veterinarians' "skin language" and how to recognize subtle conditions, you can begin to understand common canine skin diseases and how to treat or prevent them.
Some common signs veterinarians look for include:
Alopecia: This term means simply the absence of hair. Alopecia can be focal, patchy or generalized in distribution. Certain diseases cause characteristic alopecia patterns.
Biopsy: When a small section of a tumor or organ is removed for microscopic analysis.
Dermatitis: Inflammation or disease of the skin.
Folliculitis is an infection or pyoderma within the hair follicles.
Mange: Group of parasitic diseases caused by mites, which are microscopic skin parasites diagnosed by skin scrapings.
Skin scraping: This is a diagnostic test for mites performed with a scalpel blade scraping across the skin and then examined microscopically.
Nodules: raised solid lesions coming from the skin surface.
Pruritus: This term is commonly used by veterinarians to define itchiness, chewing, scratching, or biting by the animal at a particular site or sites.
Pustules: These are collections of pus within the skin and are typical with bacterial infections.
Scales: these are accumulations of loose fragments of skin on the surface of the skin. Typical scales are referred to as dandruff.
RINGWORM is not caused by a worm but a fungus. The fungus lives in the outer layers of skin, hair shafts, and toe nails. It invades the hair follicles damaging the actual hair itself. The hairs become fragile and break easily. As the infection progresses, more and more hair may be lost.
Dogs become infected with the fungus by contact with other infected animals such as cats, or contaminated soil. Diagnosis is made by specific tests including microscopic examination of hair shafts, ultraviolet light observation, fungal cultures, and sometimes skin biopsy.
Treatment for ringworm includes:
Shaving the hair in the infected area or the entire coat for severe cases. Following the clipping, medicated shampoos and dips should be used. The pets bedding and kennel should be thoroughly washed with Clorox - 4 oz. mixed in one gallon of water. Oral anti-fungal medication can be prescribed by your veterinarian. For local infections anti-fungal ointments or creams can be applied to the skin lesions several times each day. When applying these, wear gloves, ringworm is contagious to people. In fact, athletes foot is a form of ringworm in people.
Pyoderma is a common disease in dogs and is caused by bacteria infecting the skin. Most bacterial skin diseases are usually treated with daily oral antibiotics and medicated baths 2-3 times weekly. There are three main types of pyoderma, depending on severity: surface, superficial, and deep.
Surface pyodermas are often called "Hot Spots". This condition causes a painful, inflamed area of skin and usually has a discharge and bad odor. Contributing causes are allergies, parasites, and poor grooming. Lesions often spread rapidly to the surrounding skin. Successful treatment involves controlling the itch with corticosteroids, and sprays and clipping the hair away to prevent spreading.
Superficial pyodermas are deeper infections and frequently have pustules and folliculitis present. They can be recurrent chronic problems. Staph bacteria may be very pruritic and can actually be a cause of allergies in some dogs. Treatment includes antibiotics, and benzoyl peroxide shampoos.
Deep Pyodermas may be localized or generalized, but usually involve the face, feet, and pressure points. The infections frequently drain pus and need long term (4-8 weeks) antibiotic therapy to control ,in addition to the medicated baths. Sometimes immune stimulants, such as immunoreglan or staph lysate, can be given by your veterinarian to help heal these serious infections.
Sarcoptic Mange is caused by Sarcopties scabiei and is sometimes called "Scabies". Unlike Demodex, scabies is highly contagious from pet to pet and from pet to owner.. This mite and its larva burrow and wander in tunnels in the skin. This burrowing causes extreme pruritus, red skin, and secondary scab and crust lesions from the dog traumatizing the area.
Treatment involves either weekly paramite dips or biweekly injections with ivermectin until no mites are detected on skin scrapings for 2 consecutive scrapings.
Seborrhea is a skin disease caused by the increased activity of the skin cells and glands. There are two main types of seborrhea: seborrhea sicca, which is a dry scaling, and seborrhea oleosa which causes a greasy skin and haircoat. Most animals with either type of seborrhea have a poor coat appearance and itchy skin.
There are many causes of seborrhea. Seborrhea sicca may be hereditary in some breeds such as German shephards, Irish setters, Labradors, and Dobermans. Other dogs have seborrhea because of a thyroid hormone deficiency, or other hormone problems. Many localized seborrhea problems are seen secondarily to skin parasites, fungal or bacterial infections, or allergies. Because of this, your veterinarian will always first search for a primary cause when treating seborrhea.
Antiseborrheic shampoos are the most important part of successful management of seborrhea. Depending on the cause and type of the seborrhea, different products can be used. Sometimes with seborrhea sicca all that is necessary is a good moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Seborrhea oleosa frequently requires shampoos containing salicylic acid, sulfur, and coal tar. It is important when using these medicated shampoos to leave the lather on the pet for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. In addition, a good diet with adequate fatty acids is beneficial with seborrhea sicca.
Lumps & Tumors
Lumps or tumors are common findings in the skin of both young and old dogs. Many types occur, and about 80% are benign. In young dogs, causes include a benign tumor called a histiocytoma. Histiocytomas are most common around the face and ears of dogs less than 3 years of age. Although they frequently go away with time, many owners have them removed and biopsied to be certain they are benign. Warts are common in older dogs and may bleed when cut or rubbed, but are not malignant or dangerous. Fatty tumors also occur in older dogs. Fatty tumors may be large or small and can occur anywhere, but are most commonly found in the armpit, side, and abdominal area. Fatty tumors can grow to enormous sizes and because of this sometimes have to be removed.
Sarcomas, and carcinomas are common malignant growths. They can occur anywhere on the skin. All dogs and especially Boston's and boxers get mast cell tumors. Mast cell tumors start as small red nodules raised above the skin, but are capable of spreading rapidly and returning quickly when removed. Squamous cell carcinomas are common malignancies causing skin ulcers which spread through the skin and lymph nodes. Most malignant tumors require surgery and follow-up care which may include chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Unfortunately, the chance for full recovery is not great with malignant tumors.
All tumors should be sampled with a biopsy to find out whether they are benign or malignant. Many biopsies can be taken with only a small needle used to aspirate just a few cells or fat. Owners should check tumors daily for bleeding, change in color or size, and whether the tumor is attached firmly to deeper tissues below the skin. Your veterinarian can biopsy, diagnose, and when necessary, remove skin tumors from your dogs skin before they cause more serious damage.
Canine Hypothyroidism has been recognized as a common problem causing skin disease in dogs. Thyroid hormone is important for maintaining normal skin and hair growth, oil gland production, and bacteria flora. Although hypothyroidism can affect any dog, the disease has a higher incidence in Dobermans, Irish setters, Old English sheepdogs, and Golden retrievers. The first sign is the development of a dry scaly coat and constant shedding. Alopecia and failure to regrow hair are also common signs. Other common signs include lethargy, mental dullness, and reproductive failure. Veterinarians diagnose hypothyroidism with a combination of clinical signs and blood testing. Treatment is lifelong with thyroid replacement hormone which should be checked for concentration with a biannual blood test.
Cushing's disease or syndrome is caused by the excessive production or administration of glucocorticoid hormones (cortisone). Glucocorticoid hormones in excess cause thinning of the haircoat, a pot bellied appearance, and an increased susceptibility to other skin conditions such as bacterial infections. Owners also notice their dog is drinking more water than normal and urinating more. The most common cause of this condition can be controlled by decreasing the amount of cortisone given to your dog. Whenever possible, hormones such as cortisone should be administered as infrequently as possible on a alternate day schedule.
Why good grooming is important
Healthy skin is the foundation of a fluffy, shiny coat. Healthy skin comes from good nutrition, good breeding, and proper care and grooming. When bathing or grooming your dog, owners can look for skin parasites such as ticks, lice, and fleas. These parasites can contribute to a poor haircoat and must be eliminated promptly Because fleas will run to the head during a bath, be sure and rub flea spray around the head before the bath. Bathing alone is inadequate in controlling fleas, ticks and lice. Most veterinarians recommend flea and tick sprays, with insect growth regulator (IGR's) ingredients, 2-3 times weekly for the ectoparasites. For ticks only, Preventic tick collars work great for tick prevention ,as do Program flea pills for flea infestation control.
Besides ectoparasites, an owner or groomer should look for other skin problems. Examples include:
* Excessive pruritus. Owners frequently complain about the scratching dog that kept them up all night. Dogs that itch excessively need to see a veterinarian for a cortisone injection or other medication.
* A thin, brittle coat, as well dry scaly skin (seborrhea) sometimes indicates a hormone problem such as thyroid deficiency or Cushing's disease.
* Alopecia in certain areas from poor hair growth or hair loss has many causes. Mange, allergic dermatitis, ringworm, and bacterial dermatitis, can all appear as hair loss.
* Lumps and bumps. Many skin tumors can hide and only be found during grooming and bathing. When found early, many can be easily removed by your veterinarian.
During your dogs bath and groom, look closely at the coat and skin for these problems. For most skin conditions, bathing and grooming is beneficial for your dog. Consult with your veterinarian for the shampoos and conditioners that would most benefit your dog's coat and skin.
How to bathe your pet
Your pet's skin is quite different from human skin. It's thinner, has no sweat glands, and has a higher pH. Therefore MOST human shampoos are not satisfactory and are often too harsh. Many over-the- counter pet shampoo products are also too harsh on some dogs, especially if the pet has any type of skin abnormality or disease. Bathe the pet whenever it is dirty or smells bad. We recommend you routinely bathe the pet every 10-14 days to prevent excessively drying the hair coat. BRUSH and COMB out mats BEFORE the bath and pack cotton in the ears. The eyes should be lubricated with mineral oil, or an eye ointment to prevent burning or irritating the eyes with the soap or dipping solution. WET your dog THOROUGHLY before applying soap and use luke-warm water for pets comfort. THOROUGHLY LATHER and ADD MORE WATER (INSTEAD OF SOAP) TO INCREASE the LATHER.
Always allow the soap lather to stand on the pets body for 3-5 minutes. (Medicated soaps: 5-10 minutes.) This step is very important! Use a sponge to wash the face. Using the fingers is better than any brush for lathering and scrubbing the skin! RINSE THOROUGHLY to prevent skin irritation. Repeat the soap procedure if the pet is extremely dirty. Squeeze hair to remove excess water before applying dip solution.
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