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 primary care veterinarian. However, certain skin problems can be very difficult to diagnose and treat and the help of a doctor with specialized training in dermatology may be required. This can include skin problems associated with allergies, parasite infestations, infectious, autoimmune, and endocrine (hormonal) diseases, chronic or recurrent ear infections, and diseases of the feet, footpads, or nails.

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 veterinary dermatology care team.

Most of the allergic diseases that occur 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 types of cases where involving a dermatology team early on can help facilitate specific treatments and faster recovery periods.

Will My Pet’s Primary Care Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

Your veterinary dermatology team will work together with your primary care veterinarian as part of your pet's total veterinary health care team. Your primary care veterinarian will still oversee all aspects of your pet's care, but with the added input and expertise of a veterinary dermatology team.

Did You Know?

  • Dogs suffer from seasonal allergies just like people, but unlike us, they tend to scratch rather than sneeze when they are allergic to something.
  • Atopy (allergic inhalant dermatitis) occurs in approximately 10% to 15% of the dog population, usually starting between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Pets can even be allergic to the skin dander from other pets in the same household!

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Urticaria: Hives.

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.