Pet health care questions and answers about medical issues impacting  the skin and coat

Questions and answers about dog health care and skin and coat


Browsing through a veterinary dermatology textbook recently I was amazed to note there were over 100 disorders listed relating to skin and coat issues of dogs.  No wonder it’s standing room only at veterinary conventions featuring dermatology topics!

 In this column we’ll barely scratch the surface (sorry) of that list of complex disorders affecting the dog’s exterior but I’ll mention a few of the most difficult dermatological challenges you and your dog might face some day.

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There may arise various physiological abnormalities inside the dog that impact what we see on the outside of the dog.  Even if you feed a high quality meat-based food, are supplementing conservatively if desired, and your dog has no internal or external parasites dermatological problems still may arise.  With certain skin and coat problems no amount of cosmetics nor creative grooming will hide from view the effects of these physiological disorders.

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A young, well nourished and parasite free dog with noticeable skin and coat problems surely should have blood and urine testing done for organ dysfunction, anatomic abnormalities and metabolic disorders.  Metabolic and anatomic dysfunction may not specifically impact the skin and coat but ultimately cause secondary dermatological issues because the entire animal is sick. Pups that appear unthrifty, have skin and coat problems, appear poorly nourished and stunted may have a porto-systemic shunt. In these cases  aberrant blood vessels bypass the liver’s buffering actions allowing unmetabolized digestive substances to directly enter the blood stream.

Another juvenile disorder often first seen as a skin disorder involves protein deposition in the kidneys.  Present from birth polycystic kidneys often predispose young dogs to appear malnourished with degraded skin and coats.  Metabolic aberration of fat metabolism can play havoc with lipids such as fatty acids and the pup displays a coarse, dry coat and generally unhealthy body condition.  Few cures are known for most of these biochemical or anatomic defects.

Leading the pack of medical disorders impacting the skin and coat is hypothyroidism. An underachieving thyroid gland usually creates a bilaterally symmetrical thin coat over the thorax and lumbar region.  Every physiological pathway inside the dog is under the whip of the thyroid gland.  Fortunately, once the diagnosis is made specific therapy restores the dog’s vigor and healthy appearance.  Other endocrine gland system glitches, such as adrenal gland problems that lead to Cushings Disease or Addisons Disease, can masquerade as thyroid related and can be a challenge to establish as a definitive diagnosis.  Over-active, under-active or cancerous endocrine gland afflictions often first reveal their presence in the patient’s skin and coat.

Some disorders only become noticeable at about three years of age… often well into the dog’s public career but prior to filling the trophy case with ribbons and medals.  Among these are the autoimmune disorders that may first show up as small patches of hair loss, crusts, scabs and itchiness.  Resistant to antibiotics, mainly because bacteria are only opportunistic visitors to the damaged skin tissues of the face, pinnas, toes and trunk, immune diseases can

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`Good nutrition plays a fundamental roll in healthy skin and coat.  Tiny larval ticks cause skin problems for cats and dogs. An autoimmune disorder is often the culpret in chronic dermatitis. Laboratory techniques are essential for making a correct diagnosis of skin issues.
Optimal nutrition is the foundation for a healthy skin and coat Even tiny tick larva will adversely impact skin health and can often affect humans Autoimmune disorders require laboratory analysis for confirmation Microscopic bacteria, yeast, fungi and parasites commonly harm the skin and coat

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be lifelong problems. Such autoimmune disorders as systemic discoid lupus erythematosus and pemphigus foliaceus can have severe effects on the skin and hair follicles.

Fleabite hypersensitivity (it takes only a single flea bite to trigger a cascade of dermal inflammatory chemicals) or immune reactions to food antigens,Severe FAD... flea bite dermatitis; optimal nutrition is needed. environmental substances such smoke and insecticides, house dust, and pollen can ultimately affect skin integrity.  When the biochemistry of the skin is disrupted the coat will surely suffer no matter what diet or “special skin supplement” you use.

Any dog suffering from an “allergic dermatitis” deserves to be evaluated for atopic dermatitis (called atopy) and assessed for potential administration of this prescription medication.  Before and after cyclosporine therapy photos are really amazing.  To suppress some allergy disorders this medication may be much more desirable than the use of cortisone-like medications. The approval of prescription immune modulating medication containing cyclosporine has helped many dogs suffering from atopic allergic dermatitis. 

Keratin is the protein substance that comprises the hard substance of the toenails, hair shaft and outer skin layers.  Midlife keratinizing disorders in some breeds can end promising show careers!  Whether keratinizing disorders have an unknown origin (called idiopathic) or are genetically programmed, the thickened and oily, darkly pigmented, and easily infected skin presents a life-long management issue for the dog and his owner.  Some breeds seem never to have problems with keratinizing defects and others such as the West Highland White Terrier, Dachshund, Schnauzer, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, and Cocker Spaniel have more than average numbers of these patients.

Furunculosis is the term used to describe ruptured hair follicles. This annoying and chronic condition usually affects the chin (acne), pressure points, calluses and between the toes of mainly short coated breeds.  According to veterinary dermatology specialist Diane T. Lewis, DVM, DipACVD at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, deep infection and furunculosis cause hair follicle breakdown, which allows the escape of proteinaceous keratin into the dermis.

The keratin acts as a foreign body and stimulates even further hair loss, inflammation and tissue damage.  Labrador Retrievers commonly suffer from furunculosis between their toes and lengthy therapy may only alleviate the discomfort because some of these cases cannot be cured; control is the best we can expect.

Over secretion of sebum (seborrhea) from the skin’s oil glands triggers aFurunculosis in a Labrador Retriever sequence of ill effects.  The rancid, sweat-sock odor to skin and coat that dissipates briefly after a thorough bathing is almost always due to excess sebum on the skin surface.  Dietary fat plays a huge role in the control of seborrhea since low fat levels and poor quality of dietary fats can create skin and coat degradation.  When superficial skin oils are acted upon by an overgrowth of resident superficial skin bacteria and yeast these microorganisms raise havoc with the skin due to their toxic and irritating metabolic waste products; hair follicles are disrupted, skin becomes thickened and discolored and layers of keratin are deposited.  The poor dog doesn’t feel well and is in no condition for winning.  I think their feelings get hurt, too, when they hear family members cry out “Ohhh, go away, you stink!”   Omega fatty acid supplement and increasing the diet’s total fat content often ameliorate signs of seborrhea; but, again, there is no cure.

Diagnosis of the underlying causes for skin and coat abnormalities often hinges on the analysis of small skin biopsies taken from “normal” and abnormalBiopsy specimen in formalin appearing areas.  Allergic dermatitis, no matter the source, always harms the skin and coat.  My suggestion for any dog owner whose canine companion seems never to be ready for the ribbon ceremony is to be proactive, not reactive, in your determination to get a diagnosis for the dog’s unhealthy outsides.  Be patient but determined in insisting on a full diagnostic evaluation; skin problems run a wide gamut of similarly appearing but truly different underlying origins.  Tough cases resolved through careful analysis prompt us veterinarians to keep up with the latest developments in veterinary dermatology.  We continue to look to the experts to show us the way… even if at the next dermatology seminar we can be found in the “standing room only” section way in the back. 

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