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.