Small animal veterinarians see lots of pets with skin problems. We call these derm cases — short for dermatology.
Derm conditions are common, but we probably see so many of them because a skin condition is more obvious than, say, a metabolic disorder where symptoms may be under the radar. A pet scratching constantly or who has icky-yicky-licky lesions all over her body makes you take notice.
Dermatologic problems are frustrating for everyone involved. Extreme itch or irritation will make a pet scratch until her skin bleeds or she tears her hair out. Cats might ingest so much hair as to create a secondary hairball problem. Dogs with severe lick sores on an extremity might chew the lesion almost to the bone.
It can be heartbreaking to watch your buddy go through such misery. Here are 3 things that I find frustrating when dealing with an itchy pet — and how we humans can help.
1. Skin Problems Make Your Pet Miserable
Watching your pet scratch uncontrollably, seeing skin lesions worsen and getting more concerned about her discomfort are very disconcerting issues for people to deal with. Anyone who’s ever had a case of poison ivy or allergic itch can identify with the desire to scratch yourself until the pain replaces that itch.
Feeling scabs or greasy coats, seeing balding areas, smelling infected ears — these are constant reminders that our pet is uncomfortable and has a serious condition. So what do we do to show her some love? We pet her and try to give her some short-term relief.
2. Skin Problems Are Chronic
Many skin problems can be controlled but not cured. Allergic, inflammatory and cancerous skin diseases are often lifelong problems that can be managed with medications, injections, topical therapies and diet.
The word here is “control,” not “cure” — but, often, people don’t listen to the distinction. That’s why vets hear comments like:
- “Those pills you gave us aren’t working now, Doc.”
- “Puggles got better, but now it’s back again.”
- “I don’t know why we can’t get rid of Paddy’s ear infections.”
- “You mean Babe can’t eat regular dog food again? I have to get it from you?”
- “Robo’s got that same rash, but I don’t want to come in again.”
- “Why don’t you know how to get rid of this for good?”
Believe me — skin problems are frustrating for vets to treat not only because of the pet’s misery but because of a lack of listening on the human’s part.
3. Skin Problems Are Expensive to Manage
Diagnostics, repetitive tests, repeat rechecks, medications. It’s no joke — dermatologic cases hurt the pocketbook.
There is, however, some light at the end of the itch tunnel. Dermatology is a priority in veterinary research. There are always new discoveries about allergies, autoimmune skin disease and inflammatory skin conditions and how to treat them.
Early detection and intervention is always the best way to go. If you know your pet goes through seasonal allergies or gets “hot spots” and recurrent skin infections, getting the problem seen early may lessen the severity of the flare-up.
If your pet has one of those skin problems that stumps your regular vet and she recommends a consult with a dermatologist, try it. This may save you money and time in the future as well as getting some needed, first-rate relief for your pet.
Honesty and Hope
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to talking to clients about potentially chronic skin problems. Scaring or depressing folks is not the goal; rather, explaining that a pet will not “get rid of her allergies” and that those allergies can be diagnosed and managed is the idea.
Autoimmune skin problems can go into remission, but they may recur. Food allergies can be diagnosed and treated with the right diet, but our furry friends may develop new allergies. These are usually conditions, not a one-off that just needs a quick fix.
Hope is on the rise for these suffering pets. New drugs introduced in the last several years have changed the course of how we treat these conditions. These new medications, such as Apoquel and Cytopoint, have reduced the use of corticosteroids with all their potential side effects.
If your pet is living with an uncontrolled skin condition, talk with your vet. The typical medicine may not work, so we need to find treatment together that can help manage your pet’s itchiness.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Feb. 8, 2017.