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Frequently Asked Questions -

Skin Problems

What are allergies?
When my dog’s allergies are bad, she seems to have a terrible smell. Is this normal?
What is flea allergy?
How can I tell if my animal has flea allergy?
What is the treatment for flea allergy?
What is food allergy?
What is inhalant allergy?
What is contact allergy?
What is an ear infection in a dog?
What is an ear infection in a cat?
What is the connection between allergies and ear infections?
What is the outcome of an untreated ear infection? A treated ear infection?
What are ticks?
How do I prevent ticks? What do I do if I find a tick on my dog, my cat or myself?
What is a lick granuloma?

What is discoid lupus erythematosus or nasal solar dermatitis?
How can discoid lupus erythematosus be diagnosed and treated?

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What are allergies?
Allergies are the body’s response to foreign substances like pollens or flea bites. In the allergic state, the cat or dog’s immune system "overreacts" to foreign substances. This is shown most commonly by itchiness of the skin, either localized in one area or generalized itching all over. Other signs can be coughing, sneezing, wheezing, vomiting and diarrhea.  Sometimes, there may be nasal or ocular (eye) discharge. The specific response that occurs is related to the type of allergy present: flea allergy, food allergy, inhalant allergy, contact allergy. Allergies can cause ear infections.

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When my dog’s allergies are bad, she seems to have a terrible smell. Is this normal?
When allergies occur, the skin produces more sebum, which is an oily material that causes a musty odor. Once the itching and scratching are controlled, the odor and seborrhea also clear up. Medicated shampoos can also help. Skin odor may also be caused by a skin or ear infection, which may require antibiotic treatment in addition to the allergy treatment. 

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What is flea allergy?
A normal animal experiences only minor skin irritation in response to flea bites. Even in the presence of dozens of fleas, there will be very little itching. On the other hand, an animal with flea allergies has a severe reaction to flea bites.  A flea allergy occurs because the pet develops an allergic response to the flea's saliva. When the pet is bitten, flea saliva is deposited in the skin and causes an itchy response. Flea allergies are the leading cause of itching in dogs and cats. Animals with flea allergy don’t have to be infested with fleas to be itchy; fleas do not stay on the animal except for when they are feeding and a single flea bite can cause intense itching for up to a week.

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How can I tell if my animal has flea allergy?
The animal’s response to the intense itching is to chew, lick, or scratch. This causes hair loss and can lead to open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to begin. The area most commonly involved in cats is over the rump, just in front of the tail. Many flea-allergic cats also chew or lick the hair off of their legs. Itching and hair loss around the tail base, neck and head should be considered suspicious for flea allergy. In dogs, itching and hair loss in the region from the middle of the back to the tail base and the rear legs can suggest flea allergy. Sophisticated skin and blood tests that will detect a specific flea allergy in your pet are available.

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What is the treatment for flea allergy?
The most important treatment for flea allergy is to control and prevent flea bites. Because one flea can be a problem, strict flea control is essential. When this is not possible or in cases of severe itching, anti-histamines or corticosteroids (steroids) can be used, under careful veterinary guidance, to block the allergic reaction and give relief. Some animals can be desensitized to the adverse effects of flea bites. Flea saliva extract is injected into the cat in tiny amounts over a prolonged period of time. Desensitization therapy is successful in approximately half of flea allergy cases.

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What is food allergy?
Animals are not likely to be born with food allergies. More commonly, they develop allergies to food products they have eaten for a long time. Food allergies are now estimated to be the second leading cause of allergic dermatitis in cats. The allergy most frequently develops in response to the protein in food; for example, beef, pork, chicken, or turkey. In dogs, the most common causes of food allergy are dairy products, beef, or gluten (from wheat). Food allergy may produce itching, upset stomach, and/or respiratory problems each time a pet eats food containing these substance. Other more subtle changes can also occur, including hyperactivity, weight loss, lack of energy and even aggression.

Food allergy testing is done with a special hypoallergenic diet. Because it takes at least eight weeks for all other food products to get out of the system, the animal must eat the special diet exclusively for a minimum of eight to twelve weeks. If the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a meaningful test. No table food, treats or vitamins can be given during the testing period. The only cure for food allergy is avoidance. Some pets will require medication during severe episodes but most pets can be successfully treated with a hypoallergenic diet.

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What is inhalant allergy?
Cats and dogs can be allergic to tree pollens, grass pollens, weed pollens, molds, mildew, and the house dust mite. These allergies can occur seasonally or year round. Affected animals will chew, lick and scratch all over, especially on the feet and face, but sometimes around the eyes, ears, armpits, groin or inside of the thigh. Saliva will often stain light colored hairs resulting in orange or reddish brown hair. Animals will occasionally have respiratory signs in addition to the itching.

Diagnosis is not easy. It is based on the presence of clinical signs and ruling out other causes of itching. Your dog may be allergic to several different antigens (sources of the allergy). If they can be identified by intradermal skin tests or IgE allergy tests, the dog should be protected from exposure to the antigens as much as possible. But this is difficult and recurrent bouts are likely. These allergies can be treated but a permanent cure is not usually possible.

For relief, anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids or antihistamines quickly block the allergic reaction in most cases. Hypoallergenic shampoo can help, and frequent bathing will reduce the amount of the antigen introduced through the skin and will provide some temporary relief from itching. Also, a third treatment is "allergy shots,"  where very small amounts of the antigen are injected weekly to retrain the body's immune system. It is hoped that as time passes, the immune system will become less reactive to the antigens.

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What is contact allergy?
Contact allergy is the least common of the types of allergy. It results from direct contact to allergens (source of the allergy) for example in flea collars, bedding such as wool and chemicals in the lawn or the grasses themselves. If the animal is allergic to these substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact, usually the feet and stomach. Removal of the allergen (once it can be identified) often solves the problem. 

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What is an ear infection in a dog?
Infection of the external ear canal (outer ear infection) is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. The most common causes are allergies and low thyroid function (hypothyroidism). Some breeds, particularly those with large, floppy or hairy ears like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles or Old English Sheepdogs, are more prone to ear infections.

Ear infections are painful. Many animals will shake their head and scratch their ears trying to get the debris and fluid out. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

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What is an ear infection in a cat?
Infection of the external ear canal (outer ear infection) is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs but not as common in cats because normal cats are very resistant to ear infections. Finding an ear infection in a cat signals us to look for an underlying cause such as an ear mite infestation, allergies or a disease affecting the cat's immune system.

Ear infections are painful. Many animals will shake their head and scratch their ears trying to get the debris and fluid out. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

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What is the connection between allergies and ear infections?
Allergies in dogs and cats commonly cause inflammation and itchiness of the skin and/or the ears. The increased wax is ideal for growing bacteria and yeast. This is why ear infections will occur over and over unless the underlying cause, the allergy, is controlled at the same time. The allergy is most commonly  caused by pollens, but food and flea bite allergies can also cause skin and ear inflammation.

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What is the outcome of an untreated ear infection? A treated ear infection?
Untreated, animals with ear infections are miserable. Their ears are a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching which itself can cause broken blood vessels in the ear flap requiring surgical treatment. Chronic ear infections can penetrate the eardrum and result in an internal ear infection and permanent hearing loss.

Treated, nearly all ear infections that are properly diagnosed and treated can be successfully managed. The results of the otoscopic and microscopic examination usually determine the diagnosis and course of treatment. An important part of the examination is the identification of underlying disease.  If underlying disease is suspected, it must be diagnosed and treated or the pet will continue to experience chronic ear problems. If there is a foreign body, wax plug or parasite lodged in the ear canal, the animal is sedated for removal. Some animals must be sedated to allow a thorough ear flushing and cleaning.

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What are ticks?
Ticks are arachnids similar to scorpions, spiders and mites. All ticks have four pairs of legs as adults and have no antennae. Ticks are among the most efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for a considerable time while feeding. Ticks take several days to complete feeding.

Ticks wait for host animals from the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks are not commonly found in trees. When brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump. Some species of ticks will crawl several feet toward a host.

In dogs and cats, hard ticks are the most common. They have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts (sometimes incorrectly called the “head”); unfed hard ticks are shaped like a flat seed.

  

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How do I prevent ticks? What do I do if I find a tick on my dog or myself?
There are many different types of tick preventatives available in the marketplace.  There are effective monthly preventatives that are applied to the skin at the back of the neck and represent a convenient method of control.

If you find a tick on your dog, your cat or yourself, use blunt tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick. If your fingers must be used, shield them with a tissue or paper towel. Ticks infesting dogs and other domestic animals can carry Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis or other diseases capable of infecting humans which may be contracted through breaks in the skin.

Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This reduces the possibility of the head detaching from the body upon removal. Pull the tick out straight out with a steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the chances of infection. Continue applying steady pressure even if the tick does not release immediately. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling to cause the tick to release. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. Home remedies such as applying petroleum jelly, grease, or a hot match to the rear of the tick are not recommended and do not work.

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What is a lick granuloma?
A lick granuloma, or acral lick dermatitis, begins as an area of hair loss and reddened skin most commonly on the top and outside surfaces of the front legs, where the dog can constantly lick while lying in a normal position. They are often associated with chronic, persistent licking, especially when the pet is alone or when the family is sleeping. The condition occurs mainly, but not solely, in medium to large breeds. The chronic nature of the condition is often associated with allergies complicated by a deep bacterial infection. Most dogs require treatment aimed at the allergy, inflammation, infection and psychological components for resolution, and most pets will benefit from increased exercise and decreased caloric intake. Since the problem is often related to anxiety or boredom, increasing interaction and stimulation are strongly recommended.

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    What is discoid lupus erythematosus or nasal solar dermatitis?

    Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is an autoimmune disease wherein a dog becomes allergic to its own tissues. This disease results in crusting, depigmentation, redness, and ulceration of the nose. Lesions may also appear around the eyes, ears, limbs, and other areas. DLE can occur at any age, and is seen more often in such breeds as Collies, German shepherds, Shelties, and Siberian huskies. Exposure to sunlight can worsen this condition. This is why it tends to be more severe in summer or in sunny climates. Depigmentation of the nose will also make your dog more susceptible to sunburns.

    Fortunately, the outcome is generally positve, although treatment must usually be continued for life. In a few chronic cases, DLE can develop into a malignant type of cancer.

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    How can discoid lupus erythematosus be diagnosed and treated?
    Diagnosis can be done with blood tests and skin biopsies. Because the nose is a very sensitive, a general anaesthetic is required to take a proper biopsy. After the diagnosis, treatment involves avoiding intense sunlight, various medications and, in extreme cases, surgical correction. In some cases, applying a sunscreen to the depigmented areas may prove helpful. Keeping the patient indoors during the day and allowing generous access outdoors at night instead can also minimize symptoms.

    It typically causes a loss of color in the hairless, moist part of the nose. A normally black nose may fade to gray or pink. The discoloration can be accompanied by ulcers and bleeding. The skin around the nose may also look abnormal, and rarely, the disease affects other parts of the skin. It does not affect other organs.

 

 

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