Skin disease in pets

Pete pic

Pete Wedderburn aka Pete the Vet

Skin disease is one of the most common reasons for dogs being taken to the vet. It has been estimated that around 25% of veterinary consultations are due to skin problems. Many skin diseases are simple to cure, and within days of treatment, a full and permanent recovery occurs. However, some skin diseases are very difficult to resolve. Some unfortunate dogs suffer from chronic skin conditions which require a lifetime of daily medication, regular shampooing and almost constant veterinary supervision.


In all cases of skin disease, to give the most effective treatment, it is important to be able to identify the precise cause of the problem. Sometimes dogs with minor symptoms may respond to a general, nonspecific treatment, but if the symptoms are more severe, it is often necessary to carry out investigations to find out the exact cause of the problem.

Unfortunately, such investigations can be complicated and expensive. Although no single item may be very costly, many visits to vet are needed, often with long term medication. A complete list of possible causes of skin disease would be several pages long, but your vet will often be able to narrow down the possibilities quite rapidly, with a combination of a good case history, a thorough physical examination and sometimes using further investigations.

In some cases (such as fleas) the cause of a skin condition may be immediately apparent to the vet. During the physical examination, distinctive symptoms may be evident (such as the presence of flea droppings) which provide an immediate diagnosis. In such cases, a one-off course of medication and a check-up a few days later may be sufficient to resolve the problem. Even if fleas are not seen, vets may recommend a thorough flea treatment (such as a long acting tablet or a spot-on vial) to be absolutely sure that they are not the cause.

In other cases, diagnosis of the cause of the problem may not be simple. The vet may decide that further investigations are needed, which may involve a wide array of tests. A skin scrape is often the first stage. Skin scrapes are examined under a microscope, and allow the identification of certain parasitic mites. Even if a mite is not seen under the microscope, the vet may recommend a series of special anti-mite washes to make sure that mites have been completely ruled out. In some cases, a skin biopsy may be needed. A small wedge of skin is excised, from one or more affected parts of the body. The sections of skin are sent to a laboratory for analysis of the tissue. The microscopic appearance of the skin cells often provides useful clues about the type of skin disease.

The vet may recommend certain restrictive lifestyle changes for your dog if an allergy is suspected. This may involve keeping your dog on brown paper for bedding, on tiled floors only, and on tarmac only for exercise. If your dog improves on the restricted regime, then one by one new substances are reintroduced to your dog’s life. The old bedding may be returned to the basket, then exercise on grass may be allowed again, then access to carpets may be reintroduced. If your dog starts to itch again at any stage, then the cause of the itchiness must be the latest item to be re-introduced.

A similar approach to the diet, using specially prepared foodstuffs, may also be suggested. It is exceptionally difficult to reach a diagnosis in some cases of skin disease, and your vet may recommend a referral to a vet with a special interest in dermatology. When the diagnosis of the cause of a skin disease has been reached, a long term treatment plan can finally be devised. The process of investigation may have been lengthy, expensive and tiresome, but hopefully the resulting effective treatment will resolve your dog’s problem and make all of the effort worthwhile.

Please ensure you discuss any of your pets ailments with your vet to get accurate advice.

flea life cycle



Harvest mites

Pete pic

Pete Wedderburn BVM&S MRCVS (aka Pete the Vet)


The creature on the consulting table had six hairy legs. It had a bulging round body which was a bright orange colour. After peering at it for a moment, I looked up from the magnifying glass and said to the owner ‘Yes – it is definitely a harvest mite’.

Harvest mites are seasonal parasites. They suddenly emerge in late July, August and September, and vets regularly find them infesting the feet of dogs and cats. The mites are correctly called Trombicula autumnalis, but most people know them by their colloquial names – Harvest mites or Red mites. Adult harvest mites have no interest in mammals – it is the larvae which cause problems. The larvae hatch out in meadows and scrubland, and they stick themselves to the underside of passing dogs, cats and wild animals. They remain on the skin for several days while they feed on the skin of their host. Unlike many parasites, they do not suck blood. Instead, their saliva digests the outer layers of the skin.

The mites most commonly attach to the underside of the feet. The skin here is very thin, sensitive and easily irritated. The symptoms of harvest mite infestation are so characteristic that many owners have made the diagnosis by the time they bring their pets to the vet.Affected dogs and cats start to lick their feet, and as the irritation worsens, they begin to chew the affected areas. This self damage causes the initially small irritated area to become a large, swollen, bright red patch of skin. Some dogs even become lame because of their painful feet. When the undersides of the feet are examined, it is often possible to see the mites with the naked eye. They have a red or orange colour, and they are no bigger than a pinhead. They tend to cluster together, and they can be seen like a sprinkling of red dust between the animal’s toes. When they are examined under magnification, their distinctive anatomy can be identified, and the diagnosis is confirmed.

There are many other causes of itchy feet, so it is always rewarding to find harvest mites. Some of the other conditions can be very difficult to treat and even impossible to cure. Problems caused by harvest mites are usually easily resolved. In a few cases, it is impossible to find the mites, even though the animal is showing classical signs of an infestation. This is because some animals are so thorough with their licking and chewing that they dislodge the mites before any treatment can be given. They should be treated for the mites anyway, to prevent further problems. The mites can cause itchiness in other parts of the body – the abdomen and the sides of the head can be affected, particularly in cats.

Infestations of Harvest Mites are treated by regular applications of insecticides. These can be applied in different ways – as shampoos, powders or sprays. Anti-flea preparations often help, and these now come as long-lasting products that can be given as sprays, spot-ons or even tablets. It’s important to choose the right product, and your vet is the best person to help you do that. Animals with Harvest Mites often need other medications, such as antibiotics and cortisone, to resolve the redness, itchiness and infection which accompany infestations. All in all, a visit to your local vet is the fastest way to completely cure your pet.


Keep your pet and home Flea-free!


What every pet owner needs to know about fleas….

  • What are fleas?
  • Where do fleas hang out?
  • What is the lifespan of the flea?
  • How do I know if my pet has fleas?
  • How do I control or prevent fleas?

Various products are available for controlling fleas. Your veterinary practitioner is best placed to advise you on the product of choice for your pet.

For further information on the product for fleas, marketed by MSD Animal Health, please click here.


Ticks….what you need to know

Spring is here, and the Spring Rise of ticks has arrived. Ticks are tiny blood sucking

Pete pic

Pete Wedderburn MBV&S MRCVS (aka Pete the Vet)

parasites, closely related to spiders. They have complicated life cycles, and are not very active for much of the year. However, in the Spring and Autumn, they have so-called ‘Rises’, when there is a sudden surge in their numbers and activity. Thousands of almost invisible tick larvae climb up on grass stems and other vegetation, and wait for a suitable animal to stroll past. They wave their legs towards any passing creatures, and ‘hitch a lift’ as the animal brushes against them. They then clamber up to a suitably succulent piece of skin, and bury their needle-like mouth parts under the surface of the skin, into a juicy blood vessel. They spend the next few weeks sucking blood, and they swell up from pin-head sized to pea sized or bigger. At this stage, they relax their grip and tumble off the animal into the undergrowth again. They go through a few repeat cycles, with moults in between, and finally, they become adult ticks and they mate. The adult females go through the same blood-sucking, swelling-up phase, but when they fall off this time, they lay hundreds of eggs before collapsing exhausted and dying. The eggs hatch into young tick larvae, and the life cycle starts again.

Ticks are fascinating creatures. They can pass on blood-borne diseases, because they suck blood from one animal and them move on to another. Such diseases are common in cattle and sheep, but less significant in dogs and cats. There is one important condition – Lyme Disease – carried by ticks, which can infect humans as well as dogs. This can cause vague signs at first, and if not diagnosed and treated, can cause serious illness in both species. This is one of the main reasons why people need to take ticks seriously, and why it’s worth preventing ticks using modern medication.

As a vet in practice, I see ticks most often when an owner comes in to me complaining of the sudden appearance of a “small tumour” on their pet. Swollen ticks can look like warts. However, close examination, using a magnifying glass if needed, reveals the tick’s tiny bristle-like legs sticking out at the base of the “tumour”.

Once you have recognised that your pet has a tick, what do you do? Ticks often irritate dogs and cats, and it’s best to remove them. My personal preferred technique is to pull them out, using a proprietary tick removing tool, called an “O’Tom Tick Remover”. Wear gloves, dispose of the tick properly (in a fire, or by squashing and putting in the bin), and wash your hands afterwards.

If the head of the tick breaks off as the tick is pulled out (and this can happen very easily if you just pull them out with your fingers), an abscess can form. This can look red and swollen at first, and can develop into a large lump later. Any such reactions should be bathed twice daily in mildly salty warm water. If they don’t settle down within a few days, you may need to visit your vet for further treatment.

If you want to protect your pet from ticks, there are various options available from your vet. For dogs, the most effective preventive method is a new tablet which just needs to be given every three months: it’s highly effective, and it also prevents fleas and some mites. Sprays and ‘spot on drops’ are also available. It’s best to talk to your vet to find out which method is most appropriate for your pet’s situation.

For further information on the product for ticks, marketed by MSD Animal Health, please click here.



Putting shoes on your dog’s feet?

Pete picPete Wedderburn BVM&S MRCVS (aka PETE THE VET)
I saw a Wicklow Collie with a sore foot today. On examination, there was a purple-red soft swelling developing between his toes. The purple swelling was soft and seemed to contain
a bubble of fluid. I suspected an abscess, and under local anaesthesia, I used a sharp curved scalpel blade to nick an opening into the swelling. A teaspoonful of dirty fluid gushed out,
and I then gently probed the inside of the hole with fine-nosed forceps. The ends of the forceps bumped against a hard object, so I squeezed them closed and pulled. A sharp splinter of wood emerged, about half as long and twice as thick as a match stick. The dog had obviously stood on the splinter – it had penetrated the skin between his toes. By the time I saw the dog (probably a few weeks after the wood had first entered the foot), an abscess had formed. The dog went home on a course of antibiotics, and the owners have instructions to bathe the wound with salty water. An uneventful recovery should follow. Hopefully the dog, like Androcles and the Lion with the thorn in his foot, will always remember my assistance with gratitude!
This case is an example of a common problem at this time of year.
There is a profusion of new plant growth underfoot, and dogs don’t wear shoes, so their feet are vulnerable to damage. The soles of their feet have hard pads over the toes, made of
thickened black skin, which provide essential protection, allowing dogs to walk on rough surfaces without seriously damaging their feet. (How many of us humans would be able to run barefoot through dense thorny undergrowth?) However, the skin between the pads is soft and thin. If a dog stands on a sharp object which protrudes from the ground, the
object may puncture this soft skin. In most cases, this will just result in a small wound which may heal naturally. If the object penetrates the skin and then snaps off, the
story becomes more complicated. The initial small penetration wound will often heal perfectly, but the small fragment which has entered the inside of the foot causes problems. Sharp grass awns, pieces of glass, or splinters of wood commonly cause problems like this. Animals’ bodies are very good at recognising objects which are
not supposed to be ‘on the inside’. Such objects are referred to as ‘foreign bodies’, and the body usually attempts to eject them. The body’s defence mechanisms surround the foreign body with cells and fluid ( so-called ‘pus’) and as this pus accumulates, a soft blister like swelling develops – an abscess. In the ideal world, this abscess bursts, the foreign body is ejected along with the pus, and the wound heals naturally. In the real world, an abscess can cause pain for weeks or months. When it finally bursts, the foreign body may not be ejected at all. The whole process of the body trying to eject the object then begins again, with the animal remaining in pain for a prolonged period. When a vet lances an abscess, he/she will check that there are no foreign bodies remaining on the inside, so the chances of long term complications are minimised. It isn’t always easy to find tiny foreign bodies, and they don’t usually show up on x-rays, so this apparently common problem can sometimes get very complicated. I’ve even had to send dogs for expensive MRI scans to track down hidden grass seeds that cause repeated abscesses.
Perhaps it is time to think of putting shoes on your dog’s feet, after all!


Diseases lurk on and around your pet all of the time…However, help is at hand…. Check out the resource links above on fleas, ticks, risks and others and enjoy your pet…without sharing them with parasites…Ask your vet about longer-lasting protection today.



Heat stroke in dogs

Heat stroke is a common serious disease of pet dogs at this time of year. Most people are aware of the risk to dogs left in cars on sunny days. Many vets have directly encountered cases of dogs dying in hot cars. However, cars are not the only dangerous places. There are potential problems whenever a dog is left in an enclosed space with no shade or no water on a sunny day. Additionally, when the dog is excited or very active e.g. at a dog show or after heavy exercise, the internal heat produced by muscular effort has an additive effect to the high environmental temperature, and heat stroke may result.

Dogs do have sweat glands in the pads of their feet but the most important heat-losing process is panting. The breathing becomes rapid and short ( up to 400 breaths per minute), the mouth is opened and the tongue becomes enlarged as its blood supply is increased. The movement of air causes evaporation of water from the surface of the tongue, which carries with it excess heat from the body. Panting is an extremely effective process of heat loss, but it uses large amounts of water, which is why it is essential that dogs have access to plenty of fresh water in hot weather.

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of heat stroke, so that affected animals can be identified and treated as soon as possible. The most obvious signs that a dog is overheating are panting and an increased pulse rate. Affected dogs stand still, looking anxious, panting rapidly, and unable to do anything else. They feel hot to the touch and the body temperature may be over 104’F, and up to 109’F. If a dog is not treated, the body temperature will continue to rise until the dog collapses. Vomiting and diarrhoea may occur, the dog enters a coma, and will often die. This is a situation where first aid can be life-saving. Obviously, the first thing is to remove the dog from the overheated situation – get into the shade and out of the sun. The dog should then be immediately immersed in a bath of cold water. If this is not possible, soak the dog with cold water either from a hose or using a bucket. The skin should be massaged vigorously, and the legs flexed and extended, to maximise the blood flow to skin and limbs.

The owners should rush the dog to the vet as soon as possible after a 10 minute cold bath. The vet will be able to give other treatment to bring the temperature back to normal.


  1.  Never leave a dog alone in a car
  2.  Be aware of keeping your dog cool when on car journeys together e.g. leave a window     open for fresh air etc.
  3. Always ensure a plentiful supply of drinking water.
  4. Never leave a dog in a sunny place with no shade.
  5. Give long haired dogs a short clip.
  6. Exercise the dog out of the heat i.e. morning or evening.
  7.  Take your dog for a cool swim rather than a walk.
  8. Give your dog 10% less food than normal.
  9. Give the meals at cooler times of the day e.g. morning and evening.
  10. Carry water with you on hot days, and give your dog frequent small amounts.

Always consult your veterinary practitioner for advise on caring for your pets.

Pete pic



places ticks may hide on your pet

Places ticks may hide on your pet..