Is your pet itching and scratching? If so, your pet is suffering from skin problem and it is the time to visit your vet. All the skin problems look very similar and animals show similar signs like itching, scratching and hair loss of the affected area. Let’s find out more on this.
At times your pet may show altered behaviour, loss of appetite and various degree of restlessness too. Irrespective of the similar symptoms, there could be various causes of skin problem like bacterial or fungal infection, allergy, parasite like ticks or mites, hormonal disorder, nutrient deficiency or even altered immunity. Sometimes your pet may suffer from more than one disorder hence it’s very important to diagnose the actual cause of the problem as different etiology needs different care and management.
Bacterial infection: Bacterial skin infection, also known as pyoderma, is associated with pustules and crusts. Bacterial infection is very common cause of dermatitis (skin inflammation), but is not the primary cause most of the times and is associated with other causes like parasitic infestation, hormonal deficiency or altered immunity. It is essential to understand that all the animals including human have bacteria on their body surface, but they do not generally get infected until their skin is damaged specially by scratching or injury, hormonal imbalance or altered immunity.
Occurrence of allergies: Allergies occur when an animal’s immune system overreacts to certain substances called allergens. When these allergens come in contact with your pet through direct contact, respiration or through food (food allergies) a sever immune reaction against these allergens may result in rashes, itching and dermatitis. Skin allergies are generally associated with running nose, sneezing, vomiting or diarrhoea. Unfortunately, there is no complete cure of allergies and hence the medicine that is advised is to make animal more comfortable rather than curing him.
The best way to control allergic dermatitis is to find out the substances that are triggering immune response in animal and then avoid its contact with animal. A very careful observation is required to identify the substance. Any recent change in feed, shampoo, soap or anything that may cause allergies can be suspected.
Fungal infection: A healthy skin is not susceptible to fungal infection; so the fungal infection generally occurs as secondary infection following a parasitic infestation, allergies or bacterial infection. Some fungal infections like ringworm are contagious hence children and other pets should be kept away from the infected pet in the course of treatment. Fungal infections can be diagnosed by skin scraping and fungal culture. Treatment of fungal skin infections may take longer time than other skin problems. Once diagnosed, fungal infections can be treated accordingly but the underlying problems need to be treated or the fungal infection may return.
Parasitic infestation:Parasitic infestation is one of the most common reasons for skin problems in dogs. Signs like dermatitis, loss of hair, rough and dry skin with variable degree of itching may result from ectoparasites like ticks, mites, lice, biting flies and fleas. Few animals are allergic to bite of these insects, especially fleas, and show severe allergic reaction even after a single bite. These parasites can cause severe discomfort and altered behaviour in animals besides skin problems. Diagnosis of parasitic infestation is easy and a careful examination of animal coat reveals the presence of ectoparasite on their body surface.
Besides these causes there could be other cause like hormonal imbalance that may result in hair loss and skin irritation and your pet scratch the skin and makes it vulnerable for other infections. Similarly vitamin deficiency, specially vitamin A and E, may also result in dry and rough skin that gets infection easily.
If you notice any change in animal behaviour, restlessness, rough skin, hair loss or any other external lesions, immediately consult your veterinarian. Remember that your pet may be allergic to some allergen so do not forget to mention any change in food, soap, shampoo, etc. A correct diagnosis is the key to the treatment of skin problems and a skilled veterinarian can diagnose the cause by seeing pattern of hair loss, types of skin lesion and by laboratory examinations.
(Dr Vivek Singh is Assistant Professor at College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry, Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), Junagadh, Gujarat; and Dr Sunita Meena is a Scientist at National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, Haryana).