What Is A Board Certified Veterinary Dermatologist?
A veterinary dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of benign and malignant disorders of the ears, skin, mouth, hair, and nails. A veterinary dermatologist has also had significant training in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic disorders in pets.
While your general practitioner veterinarian can diagnose and treat many routine skin ailments, certain diseases and injuries require the care of a doctor who has had specialized training in veterinary dermatology in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet.
Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Dermatologist?
While your general practitioner veterinarian can handle many aspects of your pet's care, just as in human medicine, sometimes there is a need for the attention of a specialist. If your pet has a complicated or difficult problem, your pet may need the care of a veterinary dermatologist. You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when to refer you and your pet for more specialized diagnostic work or treatment is one that is caring and committed to ensuring your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her problem.
While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with a specialist in veterinary dermatology about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to the specialist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment.
What Special Problems Does A Veterinary Dermatologist Treat?
Skin problems are some of the most common reasons owners bring their pet to the veterinarian. Most routine skin problems can be handled by your general practitioner veterinarian. Certain skin problems, however, can be difficult to diagnose and treat and the help of a specialist may be required. These include skin problems associated with allergies, parasite infestations, infectious, autoimmune, and endocrinologic (hormonal) diseases, chronic or recurrent ear infections, diseases of the feet, footpad, or nails, and skin cancers.
While it is important to realize that your pet's skin problems, especially those that have been developing over a period of time, often aren't solvable overnight, most can be cured or made much more manageable with the help of a specialist.
The following general conditions are among those that frequently require the assistance of a veterinary dermatologist:
Most of the allergic disease that occurs in dogs and cats affects the skin. These allergies include reactions to food items (food allergy), air borne and contact substances (atopic dermatitis), and fleas (flea allergy dermatitis). Allergies can be difficult to diagnose and treat and are the kinds of cases where involving a specialist early can not only help diagnose and resolve the problem earlier but also potentially save the pet owner money in the long run.
Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?
Your veterinary dermatologist will work together with your veterinarian as part of your pet's total veterinary health care team. Your general practitioner veterinarian will still oversee all aspects of your pet's care, but with the added, specialized input of a veterinary dermatologist.
Did You Know?
If you believe your pet is in need of a veterinary dermatologist, talk to your VCA vet or find a VCA board certified veterinary dermatologist near you.
Some skin disorders are inherited and are therefore hard to prevent. To help avoid those that are preventable, consider these tips:
Make sure you are following your veterinarian's recommendations regarding flea and tick prevention products. Many skin problems are caused by these pests.
Keep your pet's skin and haircoat clean and well-groomed using pet friendly products only.
Think twice before you put any perfumes or sprays on your pet's coat. Some sprays, lotions, perfumes and shampoos made for people can irritate pet's skin.
Prevent boredom. It's easy for bored pets to start itching or licking or engaging in other inappropriate behaviors.
Spend plenty of time with your pet daily, grooming and petting him or her and regularly and taking special note of any irritated looking areas or lumps and bumps. Be sure to have anything unusual checked by your veterinarian.
If your pet's skin problems are a result of an allergy, follow your veterinarian's instructions to minimize your pet's exposure, either by eliminating the food from your pet's diet or keeping your pet indoors when pollens and other irritants are present in high levels outside.
You can help by strictly adhering to the recommendations of your veterinary team for the scheduling of any follow up appointments and care. At every appointment, be sure to write down any important recommendations, or ask the veterinarian or a staff member to write them down for you.
Pruritus: Intense itching.
Erythema: Inflammatory redness of the skin.
Alopecia: Hair loss.
Acral lick dermatitis: Skin wounds that are caused by a dog's constant licking of the site.
Pyoderma: A bacterial skin infection.
Some pets are not allergic to food but to substances in their environment. When inhalant allergens are suspected, this type of skin problem is called atopy. Like humans, dogs and cats can be allergic to pollen, mold spores, dust, or other allergens that can appear in the outside environment or even in the house, that they breathe in or absorb through the skin. The bite of certain insects, such as mosquitoes and gnats, can also cause an allergic reaction. The symptoms are typically seasonal in nature, and tend to worsen as the pet ages. While people tend to sneeze when they are allergic, animals tend to itch. Once recognized, the symptoms generally can be controlled although not totally eliminated. Allergy testing through the use of an intradermal skin test can help determine what the pet is allergic to. Management and treatment consists of removing the allergen from the pet's environment or preventing exposure to it if possible and treating the pet with topical and systemic therapies and medications. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) can also be helpful for some atopic dogs.
Flea infestations are a common cause of itching and scratching in pets. Some pets are so allergic to fleas, that even just a bite or two will cause a severe reaction leading to itching, scratching, lesions, crusting, and hair loss. FAD is particularly difficult to diagnose in cats because of their fastidious grooming efforts: they may groom fleas and any signs of fleas completely away. In addition, because cats tend to groom themselves frequently anyway, it can be hard for owners to tell the difference between normal
and excessive grooming. If a pet has a suspected reaction to fleas, aggressive steps must be taken to eliminate fleas on the pet, in its environment, and from any other pets in the household.
Dogs and cats of any age can develop food allergies. Specifically, ingredients in some pet foods can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive dogs and cats. Symptoms can include itching, ear infections, and gastrointestinal upsets. The problems are usually related to a protein or carbohydrate in the diet. Pets with food allergies tend to itch all year long instead of seasonally. What can complicate diagnosis of a food allergy is that many of these pets also may have concurrent allergies to fleas or other allergens in their environments.
When a food allergy is suspected, the veterinary dermatologist will recommend that you put your pet on something called a 'food elimination diet' that will help determine which food item your pet is reacting to. This is a complex process that takes place over a period of several months. Your pet is first fed a hypoallergenic diet, which is a prescription diet available only through a veterinarian, until symptoms disappear. Then, your pet is 'challenged' by feeding it different special diets that can help determine which food item your pet is reacting to. Once the allergen (s) is identified, it can be eliminated from your pet's diet, hopefully ending the allergic reaction that is making your pet itch and scratch. Note: While on a food elimination diet, it is very important not to feed your pet anything other than the elimination diet and treats and medications that are expressly approved by your veterinary dermatologist.
This is really just a fancy name for an ear infection, specifically the external ear canal. If the middle or inner ear canal is infected, it's called otitis media or otitis interna. Ear infections can run the gamut from a mild infection due to a temporary situation, such as a dog getting water in its ears during a swim and developing inflammation, to a more serious, chronic infection that can be difficult to treat. Ear infections can be caused by allergies, ear mites, water in the ears, systemic disease, allergies, or any number of things. Dogs with flopped ears are also more prone to ear infections. Cats are less prone to ear canal infections than dogs but they do get them. Infected ears are usually red, sensitive to the touch, and may
exude an odorous fluid. Serious, chronic cases may require surgical correction. Severe ear infections can lead to partial deafness, imbalance, and vomiting.
Just like a human dermatologist, veterinarians interested in dermatology must seek additional, intensive training to become a specialist and earn this prestigious credentialing. In veterinary medicine, specialty status is granted by the American College of Veterinary Dermatologists (ACVD). A veterinarian that has received this specialty status will list the initials, 'DACVD,' after his or her DVM degree. Or, the veterinarian may indicate that he or she is a 'Diplomate' of the ACVD. The word 'Diplomate' typically means the specialist has achieved the following:
Obtained a traditional veterinary degree (three or four years of college plus four years of veterinary school).
Completed at least a one-year internship in small animal medicine and at least two additional years of residency training in dermatology in a program accredited by the ACVD. This includes focused training in clinical dermatology and dermatopathology as well as study of skin diseases in a variety of species, including humans.
Completed the credentialing application process established by the ACVD, which includes publishing original research in scientific journals and submission of case reports.
Passed a rigorous, multi-day examination administered by the ACVD.
After completing and passing all of the above, the veterinarian is recognized by his or her peers as a board certified specialist in veterinary dermatology. As you can see, when your pet needs the specialized care of a veterinary dermatologist, all of the intensive training and additional education outlined above is focused on helping your pet to recover and/or enjoy the highest quality of life while living with the condition.