3 Reasons Your Pet May Need to See a Veterinary Dermatologist

March 25, 2021

3 Reasons Your Pet May Need to See a Veterinary Dermatologist

Do you know that your pet’s skin is their largest organ? Your pet’s skin covers their entire body surface, and forms a protective barrier, prevents dehydration, manufactures important nutrients, and houses many sensory receptors. Skin issues, particularly those that cause chronic pain or itching, can be uncomfortable for your pet, and stressful for them—and you. Your family veterinarian can handle many skin conditions, but when your pet’s skin problem becomes more than a minor inconvenience or does not resolve with typical treatment, you need to seek help from a board-certified veterinary dermatologist.

Our East End Veterinary Center dermatology department treats a variety of skin conditions, including:

  • Allergic skin disease 
  • Food allergies
  • Fungal and bacterial skin infections
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Immune-mediated skin diseases
  • Parasitic skin disease

It can be challenging to know when to consult a veterinary specialist, so the following are several situations where our EEVC dermatology department recommends a visit to a veterinary dermatologist. 

#1: Your pet’s itching is interfering with their quality of life

Chronic itching is extremely uncomfortable and can interfere with your pet’s normal activities. If your pet constantly scratches, licks, or bites their skin, or if your pet’s itching is keeping them—and you—up at night, their quality of life is definitely impacted. Atopy, or allergic skin disease, the most common cause of pets’ chronic itching, can cause mild to severe itching, depending on your pet’s allergy severity and allergen exposure. Pets can suffer from a number of environmental allergens, including:

  • Pollens
  • Molds
  • Dust and storage mites
  • Fleas

Some allergic pets experience only mild itching for a few weeks when a particular tree or plant blooms, but others experience more intense itching or year-round symptoms. Pets with mild, short-lived allergy signs can be treated symptomatically to help them through an allergen’s peak season. However, pets with more severe allergies require in-depth diagnostics and personalized long-term treatment plans. EEVC’s veterinary dermatologist can perform allergy testing to identify your pet’s specific allergens and formulate a long-term treatment plan that focuses on desensitizing their immune system to the offending allergens, so they can live more comfortably. 

Possible culprits in chronic itching cases also include parasites, skin infection, or other problems, and our dermatology department will determine the best diagnostic and treatment plan for your pet’s situation. 

#2: Your pet has a persistent rash

Pets develop skin inflammation and rashes for a variety of reasons, from contact sensitivity to superficial skin infections. However, a rash or skin lesion that persists despite treatment, or worsens over time, may require a veterinary dermatologist’s expertise. A less-common immune-mediated skin disease, which can be difficult to diagnose and treat, may be the cause. Immune-mediated diseases result when a pet’s immune system attacks its own body. The most common immune-mediated skin diseases to affect pets include:

  • Pemphigus complex — Pemphigus comes in several forms, with each type involving an immune-mediated attack of the proteins that hold skin cells together. The most common, pemphigus foliaceus, causes blisters and pustules that typically form on the face, ears, and feet.
  • Lupus complex — The most common lupus form, discoid lupus erythematosus, causes redness and depigmentation of the nasal planum (i.e., top of the nose), with eventual loss of the normal cobblestone appearance. Skin ulceration and crusting may also develop, and lesions can extend to the muzzle, lips, oral mucosa, eyelids, ears, and paw pads.
  • Vasculitis — Circulating immune complexes can deposit in blood vessel walls and initiate an inflammatory response that leads to immune-mediated vessel destruction, and resulting skin ischemia (i.e., insufficient blood flow). Affected skin may develop redness, bruising, plaques, scaling, and hair loss. 

Diagnosing an immune-mediated skin disease typically requires a skin biopsy with microscopic evaluation. Our dermatology team can partner with your family veterinarian to get to the root of your pet’s chronic rash and determine whether an immune-mediated disease is to blame. 

#3: Your pet is losing their fur

Alopecia (i.e., hair loss) can be caused by a number of factors, from skin allergies to metabolic disease, and reaching a definitive cause can be challenging. While alopecia caused by allergic skin disease is paired with intense itching, metabolic and hormone-related diseases cause hair loss without itching. Alopecia can also be caused by congenital conditions, such as color-dilution alopecia or black hair follicular dysplasia, that cause gradual hair loss in younger pets. A skin biopsy with microscopic analysis is required to diagnose these uncommon conditions. 

One advantage of seeking help from a large specialty hospital is the multiple departments that can provide collaborative care to your pet. Our dermatology department can team up with EEVC internal medicine specialists, who will lend their expertise to help diagnose and treat the most complicated diseases, including Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and sex hormone imbalances, that could be causing your pet’s hair loss.  

At EEVC, we don’t want anything to stand in the way of your pet’s quality of life, and we take their discomfort—and your concern—seriously. Our veterinary dermatologist will get to the bottom of your pet’s skin condition, so they can start enjoying life again. Contact us if your family veterinarian recommends a veterinary dermatologist for your pet’s skin problem.