Due to the climate here in Florida, skin problems are very common in our pets. Many of these problems can mimic each other, so the proper diagnosis by your veterinarian is essential.
Pet First Aid Mobile Application
Remember the day your cocker spaniel drank half a gallon of dish detergent? Or the time your Maine Coon cat started choking on a Lego? Not knowing what to do during a pet emergency can be scary. And it’s not exactly like the little guy can tell you, “Don’t worry. That raspberry torte I got into isn’t actually lethal.” That’s why we’re immediately installing Pet First Aid ($2), a new app from the American Red Cross. Upon downloading, you can easily toggle between the cat and dog sections (sorry, guinea pig owners) and then look up common emergencies and proper care. Say you think your dog might have a beesting. Head to the “allergic reactions” section to learn about and see pictures of sting and bite symptoms (swelling around the eyes, bumps on the face). Then tap for authoritative to-dos (don’t try to remove the stinger; call your vet if the hives progress).
The app includes handy tutorials on administering medications and taking a pet’s vitals (we found the “how to determine dehydration” entry particularly useful) and a super-helpful section for locating pet-friendly hotels.
After all, isn’t the greatest emergency a Holiday Inn that won’t accept your four Siamese kittens?
Download the app here.
As you probably know, whether fleas bite you or your animals, the bites are very itchy. Fleas multiply rapidly and when a female lays her eggs, the eggs fall off your pet and into the environment. Then, within a few weeks, the eggs hatch and the new fleas jump back onto the host–your pet. To properly control and eliminate a flea problem, all animals in the house, as well as the environment, need to be treated. This means that even cats who stay inside must be treated for fleas, since your dog can carry them inside. There are a variety of products available at your veterinarian office, including the product Frontline, which we use here at the Humane Society. Frontline controls fleas and ticks. Special carpet treatments are available in pet supply stores as well (read labels carefully before you use any of these products).
Pets who are allergic to fleas can suffer from severe itchiness from even one flea bite. This is called a flea bite allergy, and the itchiness can progress to hair loss and skin infection. Treatment includes aggressive flea control and antibiotics. Fleas can also carry deadly diseases such as the blood parasite Babesia, and can carry tapeworm eggs that mature in your pet’s intestinal tract.
Ticks, like fleas, prefer to live on your pet–especially dogs. They can cause itchy lesions but more significantly, ticks can carry very serious diseases such as Ehrlichia and Lyme disease. The Ehrlichia organism infects the blood cells and can cause anemia and a low platelet count. This disease is fatal if not treated. Lyme disease is seen mostly in the northeast United States. Ticks start out as tiny specks, hardly noticeable. As they suck the animal’s blood, their bodies become engorged.
Once the females lay their eggs, the adults fall off the animal and die, and the young continue to feed. Just as with fleas, your veterinarian has a variety of products that can be used topically to prevent a tick infestation. (At the shelter, we use Frontline for tick control, too.) It is important to treat the environment as well. Like fleas, ticks can live in your yard and house, so both areas need to be treated.
Hot spots occur when a dog is bitten by a flea or tick, or by some other irritant that causes the dog to chew at the area. Usually, the hot spot is on the outside of the thigh, but dogs can get hot spots anywhere on their bodies. When the dog chews, he irritates the area and it itches even more; thus the cycle continues. The key to successfully treating the hot spot is to remove the cause, such as a flea or tick problem and to break the itch cycle. Often, dogs need Elizabethan collars (or “lamp shade collars”) to stop them from scratching. Your vet will tell you if antibiotics by mouth or special shampoos are needed as well. These are some of the more typical skin problems that can affect your pet.
Skin Infections (Pyodermas)
Dogs have normal bacteria or “good” bacteria on the surface of their skin. When the bacteria overpopulates, it causes circular lesions all over the body, concentrated on the belly. The bacteria can overpopulate for a variety of reasons (such as excessive swimming). The bacterial overgrowth or pyoderma needs to be treated with oral antibiotics and special shampoos. Antibiotics should be given one week longer than when the skin appears normal. Skin infections are very itchy for your dog, so they need attention. This problem is not contagious to you or other pets.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm. The ringworm fungus can be found anywhere, including the soil. When an animal is infected with ringworm, the resulting skin lesions can form any pattern on the skin. To test for the fungus, a culture must be done; it takes ten days to grow. When a pet has ringworm, the condition can be contagious to other animals as well as people. In people, a “bullseye” red single lesion forms on the skin and is very itchy. Though the ringworm lesion can resolve with medication, the animal can shed the fungus for months. Ringworm is not life threatening but can be an annoyance.
The lice that infects animals is different from the lice that infects people. In other words, lice are species specific; each species has its own kind. If your pet is diagnosed with lice, flea shampoo can kill the lice. Lice do not cause any clinical signs in animals.
Sarcoptic mites, or scabies, is also called mange. Sarcops are microscopic parasites that burrow under the skin and cause severe itching. Dogs can have hair loss and a variety of lesions such as tiny red spots and scaling. Sarcops can be contagious to animals and people and are spread by direct contact. Typical areas of the dog’s body that are infected include the margins of the ear flaps, elbows and hocks. Your veterinarian can recommend the best treatment to rid your dog of this parasite.
Demodectic mange or demodex mites are microscopic mites that live in the hair follicles in all dogs. When the mite overpopulates due to a compromised immune system or illness, the hair falls out. This mite does not cause itching unless there is also a bacterial infection of the skin. Hair loss and red skin are classic signs of demodecosis. The lesions usually start on the face and then progress to anywhere on the body. Demodex is not contagious to people or other animals and it does not live in the environment. There are several treatment options including oral and topical medications.
Skin allergies are very common in Florida due to our warm weather and high humidity. These allergies can be caused by inhalant or contact irritants, or even food. Diagnosing the cause can be very challenging so it’s important that you give your veterinarian as much information as possible about any changes in your dog’s environment. Classic signs of allergies in dogs include chewing and licking at the paws and rubbing the nose into the carpet. Skin lesions range from hives to red skin. It is also common for allergic dogs to have bacterial skin infections. Diagnosing allergies is usually based on a process of elimination. There are a variety of treatments including antihistamines that will give your dog relief. Just keep in mind that allergies can only be controlled, not cured. Your goal is to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.
When an animal suffers from an immune mediated disease it means that the dog’s normal cells are treating other normal cells as foreign and attacking them. When it affects the skin, dogs suffer from blisters and sores that can go deep into the skin. These lesions are not responsive to antibiotics because the problem is not caused by bacteria. Dogs suspected of having immune mediated problems need a skin biopsy done to diagnose the problem. Once diagnosed, your vet can prescribe the proper medication.