Introduction to Skin Conditions 101

Welcome to Part 1. Let’s talk about skin conditions. Many dogs and cats will have varying types of skin conditions, and many can be mistaken for each other. Among the long list of dermal afflictions, some that our clinic typically comes across include:

  • atopic dermatitis
  • yeast infections
  • folliculitis
  • impetigo
  • seborrhea
  • ringworm (not a worm!)
  • alopecia
  • mange
  • fleas (flea dermatitis)
  • ticks (their bites and the results of)
  • color or texture change (ex: lichenification)
  • dry, flaky skin
  • lick granuloma
  • hot spots
  • skin tumors
  • immune disorders
  • anal sac disorders

Atopic dermatitis, or allergic dermatitis, or environmental allergies:

The culprits here are airborne particles like grass, pollen, dander, flowers, fungal spores, mold, and other allergens which could be indoor or outdoor allergens. In simple terms, when these things affect people we may get a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing bouts. But unlike their human caretakers, when our pets are effected by allergies they typically suffer from itchy skin. If you imagine your pet’s skin as a protective barrier – which, by definition, we all know that’s what skin is – then you can understand that if there is a weakened spot of your pet’s skin, this will allow all these allergens entry into the skin. Their immune system then kicks in and reacts to these intruders by making the skin swell with redness and inflammation. Your pet’s response to this is “I’m itchy!” Thus your pet will itch and scratch various parts of their body – wherever the allergen gained entry – and this persistent scratching will cause trauma, further breaking the skin barrier and allowing more pesky allergens in, creating infection. It is a frustrating cycle.

Why does Max suffer from allergies while his housemate, Bella, is just fine? Some pets are predisposed to allergies, like humans. Yup. Genetics play a role in this. Sometimes it won’t be until they’re older, but allergies can develop at any stage. And, unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies, only management. Lucky for us, the first stepping stone to managing this common but infuriating condition is relatively cheap and safe. Consult your veterinarian about the different over-the-counter pet-safe human antihistamines you can try. There are the popular brand names and their generic counterparts: Benadryl (Diphenhydramine), Claritin (Loratadine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), and Allegra (Fexofenadine). And for cats, there is Chlorpheniramine. Your vet will tell you to beware of certain liquid versions or certain children’s versions, or any with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols – the use of Xylitol is toxic to your pet. And also steer clear of any that employ the letter “D” at the end, giving your pet a decongestant is also dangerous to your pet’s health. But if you follow the basic guidelines for antihistamine use from your vet, this would be the safest, most economically-priced option. Do allow for at least a two-week period of consistent dosing of one type of antihistamine before you say “it didn’t help.” It can take two weeks to actually see results.

For topical options of keeping allergens at bay, you may also consider wiping off your pet’s skin and feet with a gentle baby wipe after they come back in from being outside, this will help remove those pollens clinging to their skin and fur. And if you have the time and a pet that tolerates them, routine baths in a vet-recommended shampoo and/or conditioner can help condition the skin, strengthen your pet’s skin barrier, and keep the accumulation of infection-inducing bacteria overgrowth to a minimum.

Photo credit: Featured image provided by Veterinary Partner, specifically the following article

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