Signs Your Pet Needs to Visit a Veterinary Dermatologist

October 16, 2017

Signs Your Pet Needs to Visit a Veterinary Dermatologist

Do you see your cat or dog constantly scratching or licking their skin? If so, it may be time to take your pet in to see a board-certified veterinary dermatologist in Long Island.

At East End Veterinary Center, we understand the need for a skin specialist for your beloved pets. Nobody wants to watch their cat or dog be completely miserable, and a dermatologist can help diagnose, treat, and sometimes even cure your pet’s skin issues.

Common Signs of Dermatological Issues in Pets

Cats and dogs suffering from skin problems typically show a variety of symptoms that range from fairly harmless to self-destructive. The following behaviors or symptoms are signs that may signal a skin disorder in your pets:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Repeated rubbing of the face or ears
  • Chewing on or biting skin
  • Scooting or rubbing against carpet or other surfaces
  • Excessive licking of the legs, feet, or body
  • Red, irritated skin or sores
  • Flaky, dry skin
  • Hair loss

If you notice any of these symptoms, your pet probably needs to get in to see his or her vet.

Common Dermatological Issues in Pets

Much like people, pets can have skin problems. Since skin is the largest organ for both people and animals, when there is a problem, it can be extremely uncomfortable. There are a few skin conditions that are common to dogs and cats that may be the cause of discomfort for your pet.

Allergic Dermatitis

Skin allergies, or allergic dermatitis, are common in both cats and dogs. Cats and dogs, surprisingly, often suffer from skin conditions when they have allergies, unlike people who tend to sneeze and have runny eyes and noses. Allergies will cause itching and redness and oftentimes leads to hair loss.

Since allergies are genetically linked, there is no cure for allergic dermatitis. Instead, a dermatologist will be able to help you properly identify the source of the allergies with allergy tests and teach you how to avoid an allergy flare-up in your pet. Some common allergens for pets are fleas, mosquitoes, trees, weeds, grasses, house dust, dander, wheat, soy, beef, and dairy products.

Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include avoiding the allergens or medications to help calm the symptoms of the allergy.

Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease, formally known as hyperadrenocorticism, occurs when your pet’s adrenal glands secrete too much cortisone. It is more common in dogs than cats, but it does affect both species.

Cushing’s disease can be linked to a tumor of the pituitary gland (located in the brain) or can be caused by a non-pituitary disease of the adrenal glands. Giving too many steroids can also cause Cushing’s disease, referred to as iatrogenic Cushing’s disease. This will usually resolve with time when the steroid is withdrawn.

Common symptoms of Cushing’s include hair loss, excessive appetite, excessive thirst, excessive urination, and lethargy. To diagnose this disease, your vet will need to run a blood panel, urinalysis, and possibly a variety of other tests.

Treating Cushing’s disease depends greatly on the cause of the disease in your pet. A veterinarian can help you determine the best course of action.


Hypothyroidism is the most common hormone problem dogs face. Insufficient quantities of thyroxine secreted by the thyroid gland cause hypothyroidism. Cats do not suffer from hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism can be caused by a variety of factors including lymphocytic thyroiditis. Symptoms include lethargy, obesity, and hair loss. Certain dog breeds are also more prone to hypothyroidism including boxers, dachshunds, and Great Danes.

Blood panels and thyroids tests are necessary to diagnose hypothyroidism, but your veterinarian may also want to do additional testing.

Treatment for hypothyroidism is life-long. Your dog will need to take a thyroid supplement for the rest of his or her life.

Lick Granuloma

Lick granuloma can be caused by a variety of other medical conditions such as allergic dermatitis, arthritis, neoplasia, and fungal infections. Boredom and stress can also cause lick granuloma. Lick granuloma’s symptoms include excessive licking of any part of the body, but most commonly the extremities. Skin infection is usually present at the site of granuloma.

There are various ways of treating lick granuloma. A veterinary dermatologist will be able to determine the proper treatment for your pet based on physical and diagnostic test findings.


Ringworm is probably the most well-known skin condition that pets can suffer from. This skin condition is actually caused by one of three fungi, not a worm. Ringworm is more of a problem in puppies and kittens, but older pets can contract it as well.

Symptoms of ringworm include skin lesions that may or may not appear in a ring shape on the skin. Hair loss and scaly patches are also symptoms of ringworm.

Diagnosing ringworm requires a test, because you can’t make a diagnosis based on appearance alone. One common test requires that hairs from affected sites are evaluated in a lab.

Oral and topical medications are needed to treat pets with ringworm. It’s important to keep in mind that ringworm is a zoonotic disease. This means that humans can catch it from their pets. If you have lesions on your skin and you are living with a pet that has been diagnosed with ringworm, you should see your physician.


Scabies is caused by an external parasite that burrows into the skin. This contagious skin disorder causes intense itchiness that generally affects the face, ears, elbows, and legs of dogs. Other symptoms of scabies include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and inflammation.

Diagnosis of scabies includes taking skin scrapings in the areas lacking hair. Many diseases mimic scabies in both cats and dogs, so deep and superficial skin scrapings are usually required for a diagnosis.

Scabies can occur in many other animals as well, including rabbits, cattle, foxes, pigs, and even humans. Pets can even pass the disease to their human caregivers, so if your pet is diagnosed, take extra care to avoid contact with the area. Cleaning up your pet’s living environment is also very important for control of this mite.

Visiting a Dermatologist

Before your pet visits a veterinary dermatologist, you will probably need to see your regular veterinarian for a referral. Sometimes a veterinarian can help your pet without sending you to a specialist. When traditional treatments aren’t helping your pet, a visit with a veterinary dermatologist for more advanced management of the condition may be necessary.

Before you visit the dermatologist, be sure to prepare information about your pet’s behavior, history of when it started, what you noticed that caused you to determine that your pet has an allergy or skin issue, as well as all the foods you have fed him or her before and after the problem started.  If it is possible, bring along all medications that your pet is taking as well as any previous medications to the appointment. A veterinary dermatologist can perform allergy tests, skin biopsies, and other diagnostic tests to determine what is causing your pet’s problems. A pet dermatologist will determine the underlying problems and work with you and your family veterinarian to control them. After your visit to a veterinary dermatologist, you may need to provide further treatment to your pet at home to control the symptoms of the condition. You will be instructed on how to administer your pet’s medications so that you can feel comfortable in doing so. If you live on Long Island and your pet needs dermatological care, call East End Veterinary Center in Riverhead, New York. East End Veterinary Center can book you an appointment with our board-certified veterinary dermatologist on staff.