Pet Dermatology Conditions and Treatment

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Knowing the functions and benefits of the many dermatology products available for treatment can help your customers provide exceptional care.

A headline in a pet publication caught my attention recently, but not in a good way. It stated that veterinarians are no longer the first choice for pet owners when it comes to treating their animals’ skin and wound issues. Months of clinics operating under pandemic restrictions and people stuck at home with plenty of time to search for information on the internet no doubt contributed to this troubling trend. With dozens of different skin disorders in dogs and cats, diagnosing and treating dermatology issues can be a challenge for veterinarians, so pet owners who rely on “Dr. Google” or pet supply employees for advice may be prolonging their animals’ discomfort and causing long-term problems.

The fact that so many owners – particularly millennials and new “pandemic” pet parents – want to educate themselves about the health of their animals, gives your clinics the opportunity to be the trusted source for that information. Posting dermatology topics on social media and blogs – where pet owners are searching – and reaching out to customers via text or email are effective ways for veterinary staff to connect with existing and potential clients.

Curable or chronic

There may be numerous skin conditions, but they all fall under two different categories: curable or chronic conditions. Pets suffering from a chronic dermatologic disorder may have an endocrine-related disease, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism). About 20% of pets have allergies. Environmental allergies can include reactions to dust mites, pollens, dander, insect particles, and molds and are thought to originate with a defect in the barrier function of the skin. Food allergies are caused by a similar defect in the gut. Different types of allergies can look the same, and patients can have more than one type of allergy, which can complicate the diagnosis. A recent study of cats treated for dermatology issues at Cornell University showed that 22% had two skin diseases and 6% were diagnosed with three!

Pets with an allergic disease usually suffer from pruritis, or inflamed, itchy skin. Pruritis can dramatically affect the quality of life for both pets and the owners – the constant scratching is miserable for both. Often, as the severity of itch increases, the pet’s quality of life decreases. Both allergies and endocrine disease often lead to secondary skin infections. Bacterial and yeast overgrowth on the skin or ears can worsen the pruritus beyond the dog’s allergic itch.

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) or flea bite sensitivity is the most common skin disease in dogs and is the main cause of allergic skin reactions in cats (feline miliary dermatitis.) FAD is caused by a reaction to the saliva injected by fleas as they feed that contains a variety of histamine-like compounds. The pruritis caused by FAD can be intense and may spread over the animal’s entire body. If untreated, dogs can experience hair loss (alopecia) and secondary bacterial or yeast infections. Obviously, controlling fleas and preventing their recurrence is critical for pets with FAD.

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the second most common pet allergy, affecting about 10% to 12% of both dogs and cats. Nearly 60 dog breeds are considered predisposed to the condition and purebred cats seem to have a higher risk. Both species typically start to show clinical signs from 1 to 5 years of age. Atopic dermatitis is an inherited
predisposition to develop hypersensitivities to environmental allergens absorbed primarily through the skin, orally, or even from breathing, that results in chronic inflammatory skin disease. The paws, axillae (or “armpits”), abdomen, and face are common areas to develop pruritus and secondary lesions since these areas tend to have less hair and increased exposure to common allergens.

Atopic dermatitis is a lifelong disease, but a multimodal approach including both topical and systemic therapies to improve the epidermal barrier, greatly improves the quality of life for affected pets. The epidermal barrier has been shown to be abnormal in atopic pets and allows allergens to penetrate the skin. Certain topical therapies not only decrease bacterial populations but help restore the top layer of the epidermis. Along with topical treatments, bathing with high-quality shampoos containing 3% to 4% chlorhexidine has antimicrobial properties and removes allergens from the surface of the skin. For owners unable to bathe their pet, or when additional topical therapy would be beneficial, recommend alternate formulas like mousses, sprays, and wipes.

Allergen-specific immunotherapy, or ASIT, is often the best long-term treatment for AD. It’s formulated based on the results of allergy testing and consists of giving gradually increasing quantities of the allergen extract to the pet with the goal to successfully reduce or eliminate clinical signs associated with exposure to causative allergens. ASIT can take up to a year for full effect, and about 70% of pets have a positive response. Successful management usually requires lifelong therapy.

Treatment with systemic antipruritics is necessary for most cases of AD. Options include Apoquel (oclacitinib) that blocks the itch receptor; Cytopoint, a biological that binds to the molecule that triggers itch receptors and neutralizes them; Atopica (cyclosporine) or corticosteroids.

Diets and supplements are available that can improve barrier function of atopic dogs through nutrition. Diets include Royal Canin Skin Support, Hill’s Prescription Diet Derm Defense Canine, and Hill’s Prescription Diet Derm Complete. They’re high in fatty acids and contain vitamins clinically proven to improve the epidermal barrier and decrease pruritus in dogs with AD. Dermaquin Skin Support Supplement is a soft chew that helps support and fortify the skin barrier. Redonyl Ultra is a nutraceutical soft chew that helps stabilize mast cells, white blood cells activated by allergens that release histamine and inflame the skin.

Dermatology issues often have a variety of causes that make them difficult to diagnose and a challenge to treat. Veterinarians should be the pet owner’s first choice when it comes to solving these complex problems that can have such a detrimental impact on a pet’s quality of life. Knowing the functions and benefits of the many treatment options available gives you the opportunity to discuss and recommend the variety of dermatology products you offer and help your customers provide exceptional care.

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/PK-Photos