There are few things prettier to the dog fancier than an animal with healthy skin and topped by a beautiful,
well-kept coat. The snow-white powder puff look of the Samoyed, the flowing chestnut hair of an Irish Setter, the glossiness of the smooth-coated Rottweiller, or the long flowing hair of an Afghan can make fanciers of other breeds sit up and take notice.
Many think that only proper grooming is required for this look but they are so wrong. The way to get a beautiful coat is to maintain a healthy animal with skin in excellent health.
The skin is the largest single organ of the body. Its function is to protect the internal organs and muscular tissues from bacterial invasion; it provides a means to control body temperature during changes in the environment and helps to prevent dehydration. It also provides an area full of nerve endings that transmit tactile feelings to the brain. If a dog reaches up to sniff a hot BBQ pit, it is these nerve endings that will make him realize that hot hurts and to leave it alone.
When the skin is healthy, it is smooth and supple while being free of flakes, irritation, parasites, sores, lumps, or hair loss. Common signs of possible skin problems are intense itching, scabs or actual bleeding, swelling, redness and inflammation, foul-smelling discharges, dandruff, patches or overall hair loss, discoloration and lumps.
Parasites are the most common source of skin problems and irritation. Due to the scratching and rubbing a dog will do to relieve the itch, many secondary problems may arise. Fleas and ticks are the easiest parasites to see and if not eradicate at least control.
Mites, on the other hand, are microscopic parasites that a veterinarian will need a microscope to diagnose. The two most common mites found on dogs are the causes of Demodex mange and sarcoptic mange. Both of these cause intense itching, scratching, and hair loss. Demodex is often called red mange because it leaves the skin very red and inflamed. Sarcoptic mange is actually contagious to humans so great care should be taken when handling the dog.
Allergies are another common cause of skin problems. A dog, like a human, can be allergic to almost anything. Flea allergies are seen on a regular basis by veterinarians with the main symptom being a dog that has chew the area between the base of the tail and the area over the rump until it is rough, raw, and bleeding. Many owners will say the dog’s back looks like “raw hamburger meat.”
Other common causes of allergies in dogs are pollen, dust, mold, grass, food, shampoos to even carpet cleaners, and powder deodorizers. Owners wishing to know the exact causes of their dog’s allergies can have their veterinarians do allergy testing. Once the nature of the allergy is determined, the cause can possibly be removed from the dog’s everyday life. If the allergy is from things that are uncontrollable such as pollen, grass, and mold spores, the veterinarian can arrange to have an antigen made up specifically for the dog. This will be administered by injection and will usually show dramatic results.
Abscesses are pockets of pus under the skin. They are often caused by a bite or puncture wound that closed up trapping bacteria inside. Snakebites are notorious for causing abscesses. Occasionally an abscess will burst open on its own and allow for drainage, others will need a veterinarian to lance and clean it out.
Bacterial infections are often a secondary infection to another condition. A dog that has scratched or rubbed at an area and left opened skin without proper cleansing or antibiotic treatment will often have a bacterial infection set in. The infected area or wound becomes red, swollen, warm to the touch, and very painful. This infection can worsen and cause a discharge of pus that will require a veterinarian to treat.
Calluses are typically seen in the larger breeds that regularly lay on a hard surface such as concrete. These calluses usually occur on the elbows, outer sides of the hocks, hips, and legs. The skin will thicken and become gray, wrinkled and the dog will lose all hair in the affected area. The best prevention against calluses is to provide the dog with a soft, padded bed area.
Hot spots are usually seen in dogs that have heavy, dense coats like the Collie, Samoyed, German Shepherd, and so on. They can appear in others but the heavy coat actually aids in the worsening of the problem. Hot spots seem to appear overnight and without warning. They worsen quickly as the dog licks and chews at the skin to find relief from the pain caused by the moist, swollen, foul-smelling area. Treatment should include clipping or shaving the area as well as a portion of the unaffected area around the hot spot, cleaning and medicating as soon as the symptoms appear. Owners need to use caution if they attempt treatment on their own. Hot spots are extremely painful and even the best-natured dog may attempt to bite during the clipping and cleansing process.
Hypothyroidism is the cause of many of the skin problems seen by veterinarians. Certain breeds even seem to have a prevalence of the condition. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t secrete enough of the hormones that control the metabolic rate of the dog. When an insufficiency occurs, the dog will often gain weight, become less active, and loose hair from the main portion of the body. There will often be a darkening of skin pigmentation while it also becomes scaly.
Bacterial and ear infections often set in as well. To determine whether your dog suffers from hypothyroidism, a veterinarian will do testing on a sample of blood. If thyroid insufficiency is proven, the veterinarian will prescribe a hormone replacement such as Soloxine. The initial dosage will be educated guesswork and will require to follow up blood testing to ensure the proper blood levels are reached. Once started on the thyroid medication, the dog often shows miraculous results in as little as two to three weeks. The time for the re-growing of hair may take up to several months.
Ringworm isn’t an actual worm but a contagious fungal infection. The hair is lost in a circular pattern and scaly lesions appear. These lesions can be small or encompass large areas of the body. If left untreated, crusty areas will often occur. Ringworm treatment is an involved, drawn-out process that often requires several days of oral medications. Owners need to be warned that ringworm isn’t just contagious between dogs.
It is a Zoonotic infection that can be transmitted from dogs to other animals as well as to humans. A veterinarian will use several ways for diagnosing ringworm such as skin scrapings, fungal cultures, and a Wood’s lamp. Owners are very fond of the latter procedure since Wood’s lamp is similar to a black light. A technician will usually hold the dog, the veterinarian will pass the lamp over the dog in a darkened exam room and the owner can actually see infected areas on the dog. Fungus such as ringworm will glow under the Wood’s lamp but all too often; the owner is horrified to find spores also glowing on them.
Seborrhea is a condition that causes flaky skin covered with greasy, yellowish-brown, foul-smelling scales. It us caused by the production of abnormal skin cells and although usually incurable, it can often be controlled by special shampoos and medications.
As with so many of the common problems that can affect a dog’s skin, proper diagnosis by a veterinarian and owner follow up care is essential to the chances of curing or at least controlling the various conditions.