Browsing tag: skin problems

Ask a vet online- ‘my Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers’

Question from Shell Cottam:

My Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers, we are have in to keep his cone on to stop it, is there anything you can recommend to stop him doin this please

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Shell and thank you for your question regarding your dog going for his side.  I will discuss some possible reasons for your dog’s behaviour and then possible ways to tackle these.

From what you are describing it sounds as though your dog is biting and or scratching at himself to the extent that he is losing his hair.  I am sure that both you and your dog would be a lot happier if he did not have to keep a cone on his head long term to prevent his hair loss.  The first think we need to do is find out the history of how your dog is in general and how long the condition has been going on.  Your vet will ask you some of the following questions:

Is your dog generally well?

By this we mean is he eating, drinking, toileting, happy to exercise and generally acting as normal other than the condition you have brought him in for.  We ask this as underlying illnesses can sometime show up in unexpected ways, so something you may not at first think is linked to the hair loss could be.  An example of this would be if your dog was generally listless and not as keen to exercise along with hair loss this may suggest an underactive thyroid gland.

How long has the condition been present and has it changed?

Your vet will want to know when the condition first started and if there were any particular changes at this time e.g. getting a new pet, change of food, starting a new job all things that can help us to work out why your dog is losing hair and if the situation is stable, improving or getting worse.  It is really important to tell your vet if you have already tried any treatments even if these are over the counter shampoos or anti parasitic treatments.

What are some possible causes for the biting and hair loss?

Top of the list is always parasites; they can sometimes be tricky to spot at first.  We would consider fleas(both cat and dog fleas) and mites(sarcoptes and cheyletiella) as possible causes, these can be diagnosed by examining your pet, and sometimes we need to take skin scrapes, hair combings or hair plucks to look at under the microscope.

Bacterial infections can sometimes lead to irritation and hair loss, this may be seen in the form of spots, scabs, crustiness and or areas of raw wet skin.  In some cases we would take swabs or biopsies from the skin to make sure we were treating with the correct antibiotic and for the correct length of time.  The samples can be looked at by your own vet but are sometimes sent away to a laboratory to be analysed.

Allergies can cause a dog to lose hair, these can be to something your pet has been in contact with such as shampoo/new bedding/plants, something your pet has eaten such as a new food or scavenged items or something inhaled such as pollen and dust (we call this atopy).

Hair loss can be due to a behavioural problem such as boredom or stress.

Hopefully the questions your vet asks will help narrow down the list of possible causes for the hair loss and will point to the answer or at least the most appropriate tests to carry out.

What tests will they do on my dog?

After the basic examination and history taking your vet may suggest doing skin scrapes, hair plucks or combings to look for parasites as mentioned above.  If examining the sample in house(at your own vets) did not give enough information they may ask if the samples can be sent away to an external laboratory, the results may take days to week to come back.  Blood test and or biopsies can give us information as to what is happening in your pet’s body/skin e.g. certain white blood cells are increased in cases of allergies, there may be bacteria present in the blood and or infection fighting cells. Specific blood tests to look for allergies and or hormone imbalances which could be causing the hair loss can also be useful.  Special diets, shampoos or medications may be tried and then the how well your dog responds to these can help us to work out the cause of the problem and if we are on the right track.

What treatments are there?

If parasites are suspected or detected then routine flea and mite treatment will be advised including treatment of the home environment.

For some bacterial infections shampoos are very effective but they may need to be used in combination with the appropriate antibiotics also.

Allergies can be treated by avoiding the substance if possible, anti-allergy drugs, special diets and special vaccines or a combination of these.

Behavioural conditions may need treatment by retraining your dog, strengthening the pet owner relationship, making the home environment more stimulating and sometimes the use of behaviour modifying drugs.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand that we need to take a logical step by step approach to helping your dog, this would most likely start with ruling out parasites followed by a thorough examination and diagnostic work up by your vet.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

Ask a vet online – ‘ have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs’

Question from Margaret Duke:

Have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs. Vet thought it maybe an allergy and we stopped allowing her milk. Vet gave her tablets which made her eat [she is a very fuzzy eater] This has gone on for months and she is just the same.

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Margaret, sorry to hear that your cat has been suffering with ongoing hair loss on the inside of her back legs.  I will discuss possible causes for the hair loss and some treatment options.

Why has my cat lost hair on the inside of her back legs?

It is really important to have a full clinical examination of any pet suffering from hair loss by your vet to make sure that your pet is in good health, hair loss can be associated with conditions such as hormone imbalances, parasites and allergies .  It is also worth being aware that hair loss can be self- inflicted as a result of stress this is often referred to as ‘over grooming’.

Could my cat have an allergy?

Yes it is possible that the hair loss could be due to an allergy causing your cat’s skin to feel uncomfortable and then it licking and chewing away the hair on the inside of its legs.  Allergies can be to substances that your cat eats/drinks, breathes in or is in contact with.  Most cats are fed a commercially prepared diet with few treats, but if trying to rule out a food allergy a low allergy or specific protein diet (a protein your cat has not eaten before) can be tried. Diet trials need to be carried out for 8 weeks or longer to give meaningful results.  If the allergy is a contact allergy then you need to avoid your cat coming into contact with the suspected substance. Inhaled allergy or ‘Atopy’ is sometimes more challenging to avoid as it may be to for example house dust mite which would be difficult to avoid other than keeping your cat 100% outdoors.

What tablets did the vet give my cat?

From the side effect of the tablets your cat was put on it sounds likely that your cat was given a steroid treatment to try and treat the suspected allergy.  Steroids come in tablet and injectable forms and treat allergies by suppressing your cat’s immune system so as to stop it feeling uncomfortable in the first place.  Steroids also can stimulate the appetite which would explain why your cat was eating more when previously its appetite had not been so great.  Cats on the whole tend to tolerate steroid treatment well and your vet will try and reduce the dose to the smallest amount that works.

Why did the tablets not work?

There are a few possible reasons as to why the tablets did not work, the condition causing your cat to lose hair might not be allergic, and your cat might have needed a different dose of tablets or even treatment for a longer period of time.

The next step would be to return to your vet and discuss how your cat’s condition has not improved and take further steps to find out the cause and then the correct treatments plan.

How can a diagnosis be made for the hair loss?

As much as examining the cat, the details you give to your vet about your cat’s behaviour, home environment and general activities will help to make a diagnosis.  Physical examination plus or minus skin/blood tests may be performed to look for hormone imbalances, parasites and signs of allergy.  Which tests are carried out on your cat should be a joint decision between you and your vet.

Could the hair loss be due to stress?

I always keep in mind with hair loss and cats the possibility of stress being the cause. Stress can cause some cats to lick and chew at their fur most commonly on the inside of their hind legs, on their tummy and on their front legs.  Some cats may lick excessively in between their feet pads making them, wet, red and sticky/infected.

It is not often easy to tell if a cat is stressed as they tend to become quieter, hide away or simply over groom.  The smallest change to your household from new work hours through to a big change like a new pet or baby arriving can impact on your cat’s well-being.

Hopefully a chat with your vet will help to work out if your cat could be suffering from stress leading to over grooming.

Treatments for hair loss

If an allergy is suspected the avoidance, medications to supress reactions to allergy or specific vaccines may be an option.

Antiparasite treatment for your pet, the home and any other pets you have may be needed if parasites are detected.

If a hormone imbalance is detected on a blood test then correcting this may then allow the hair to regrow.

If there is infection present then your cat may need a course of antibiotics to help clear this.

If stress is suspected then treatment may involve medications to help your cat feel more at ease such as antidepressants or hormones.  There are also pheromone products in plug in or spray form which can help to reduce stress levels in cats.  The obvious thing not to forget is to make changes at home to minimise stress to your cat such as giving it a space of its own to retreat to where no one else can bother it.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand some possible causes and treatment option for your cat’s hair loss and that she is soon feeling a lot more comfortable and that her hair regrows.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet – or try our online Symptom Guide.

Ask a vet online – ‘Can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please?’

Question from Sharon Barett:

Hi can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please? I used the spot on treatment off the vet for 3 months but it did not make any difference she still scratches it a King Charles Spaniel 5 months old thank you .x

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet

Hi Sharon and thank you for your question regarding your itchy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  In order to answer your question I will discuss the possible causes of the itch, how we work out a diagnosis and then some treatment options.

Dog Scratching Flea

Getting the itch!

Why is my pet scratching/itchy?

If your pet is scratching itself then something will be causing an irritation, most commonly this is due to the presence of external parasites such as fleas (Ctenocephalides canis or felis) or mites (e.g. cheyletiella, sarcoptes scabeii). Itchiness can also be due to the presence of an allergy to things you pets eats (food allergy), contacts (contact allergy) or inhales (atopic allergy).

How to diagnose the itch

It is really important to work with your vet to find out the cause of your pet’s itch. The first thing your vet will do is ask for a detailed history of your pets condition including how long it has been going on, any changes to your pets routine, any changes to your household, what treatments have already been tried and if they have had any effect.

The next step is for your vet to perform a full physical examination of your pet paying extra attention to the skin and coat, underlying diseases can have symptoms that affect the skin which include Hypothyroidism( under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease ( over production of steroid) and diseases of the immune system.

Finally your vet may suggest performing some diagnostic test on your pet such as skin scrapes, hair plucks, sticky tape strips, skin biopsies, wet paper test, swabs and blood tests.

Skin scrapes: these involve use of a sterile scalpel blade to scrape the surface of your pet’s skin to collect surface cells and debris, which is then examined under a microscope usually for parasites and or fungi.  For certain parasites such as Demodex mite (not usually itchy) a deep scrape has to be taken.

Sticky tape strips: a strong sticky tape is applied to your pet’s skin and then removed, again this is examined under a microscope looking at the surface cells and debris similar to above but it is a less invasive procedure.

Hair plucks: as the name suggests a clump of hair is plucked from your pet and examined as for skin scrapes and sticky tape strips, sometimes this can help to show up Demodex mites (which live down the hair shaft in the hair follicle) or ring worm (actually a fungal skin disease). Hair plucks can be cultured to try and grow bacteria and fungi; this is usually done at a laboratory.

Skin biopsies: this is usually performed under general anaesthesia or sedation as a full thickness sample of the skin is cut out, put into preservative and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Often several samples are taken from different sites.  This gives a lot of information about how the skin is reacting and what types of cells and changes are present.

Wet paper test: your vet will comb through your pet’s coat and collect the debris and put it onto a sheet of wet white paper, if small red dots appear this is suggestive of fleas, as the flea dirt contains digested blood and this turns red when wet.

Swabs: there are sterile cotton bud tipped sticks which are wiped in any discharges present on the skin (often in the ears), the material on the swab can then be stained and examined under a microscope or sent off for culture and sensitivity to grow bacteria and see which antibiotics are affective against them.

Blood test: these can be routine to check overall body function or very specific looking into what your pet is allergic to.  The test chosen will be a decision made with you and your vet depending on your pet’s condition.

What treatment will help my pet?

As external parasites are the most common cause of an itchy pet this is often the first treatment approach whether parasites have been detected or not.  It is important to use a product recommended by your vet that is safe for your pet and covers the suspected range of parasites.  It is also important to use the treatment correctly and repeat as advised. It can take several weeks to clear up some parasites.  Your vet may also advise you to treat other pets in your household and the home environment itself. Especially in the case of fleas as the majority of the flea population is living in the environment ant not only on your pet.

Parasite treatments come in tablet, injection, spot on and spray preparations. Your vet will help to direct you to the method which is most appropriate for you and your pet.

Food allergies are usually treated by feeding a low allergy or special diet (in which protein molecules are broken down so as not to cause reaction).  In some cases your vet may recommend a home cooked diet.  The diet needs to be stuck to strictly and can take 3 months or more to begin to allow improvement in your pet’s skin signs.

Contact allergies usually are present on the paws and tummy, which are areas in contact with the ground.  Once the substance your pet is reacting to has been worked out it is then needs to be avoided or stop being used.

Atopic allergies are usually diagnosed by a combination of examination, skin and blood tests.  There are several treatment options which include medical therapy using drugs or special vaccines.  The drugs often used to treat atopy include antihistamine (reduce allergic reactions), steroid (anti-inflammatory and suppress the immune system from reacting), immunosuppressant (which suppress the immune system form reacting) and antibiotics may be used to treat any infection present on top of the allergy. Special vaccines can be made up in some cases to try and help desensitise your pet to the individual things that he or she reacts to; these are administered in gradually increasing doses over many months by injection.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question by explaining how complex an itchy dog’s condition can be.  I really recommend that you return to your vet and come up with a joint plan of attack to help your pet.  I hope that your dog is feeling much more comfortable very soon.

 Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)

If you are worried about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet or use our interactive symptom guide.

Ask a Vet Online – “My dog gets frontline flee treatment ..”

Question from Tracey Newall

My dog dexter gets frontline flee treatment but recently he seems 2 scratch more i havent found anything but his skin flakey

Answer from Shanika Online Vet

It is good to hear that you are treating Dexter for fleas; fleas are definitely high up on the list of causes for an itchy dog. Dry flaky skin may well be as a result of scratching due to flea infestation but can also be affected by allergies and medical conditions.

It is really important to remember that a pet suffering from a flea allergy or irritation does not need to be full of fleas. All it takes is one flea to bite your pet to set off the allergic reaction cascade that leads to the skin being irritated.

What is a flea?

Ctenocephalides canis or felis (the dog and cat flea) are a small wingless parasitic insect that live on our pets and in the environment.  Fleas can jump but they can’t fly, they need blood feeds to survive and a large proportion of the flea population are in the environment as oppose to on your pet.

Where are the fleas coming from?

Fleas live on animals as well as in the environment. The flea population consists of adult fleas, immature larval stages, dormant pupae and then eggs, as you move down the list the numbers increase significantly which is why we refer to them as a pyramid.

Fleas in the environment, by this we mean anywhere a pet with fleas has been, the warmth of our homes provides a great breeding ground for fleas in carpets, pet bedding and just about any nook and cranny.

Cats can also carry the fleas and they do not even have to be your own cats, for example if a cat comes through your home or garden then the fleas can jump off or deposit eggs as they go. This is why we often advise treating the home environment and in-contact animals also.

So how can you tell if your pet has fleas?

Gently part your pets fur and search through close to the skin, fleas are a reddish/brown colour and quickly move away from the light. It can be easier to find fleas on the underside of your pet as the coat is naturally thinner here. It is often easier to see the flea dirt in your pet’s coat than the actual fleas.

So what is flea dirt and how can you tell if there is any on your pet?

Flea dirt is the waste product produced by fleas and when dry it looks like little black specs, however if you wet it these black specs turn red as they contain digested blood. This brings us to the ‘wet paper test’, we comb through your pets coat and collect the debris onto a piece of wet white paper, if there is flea dirt present there will be small red dots visible where the flea dirt has dissolved in the water. The wet paper test helps to distinguish between flea dirt and just dried mud that may be on your pet’s coat.

Can the fleas live on humans?

You will be relieved to hear that cat and dog fleas don’t tend to live on humans, fleas can however bite humans and cause an irritation at the site of such bites. Commonly humans find flea bites on their ankles, wrists or at their waist band as small itchy raised red areas on the skin.

How to treat the flea problem?

I would recommend using a veterinary flea product either in the form of a spot on (applied to skin at base of neck), impregnated collar or a spray directly on your dog. It is however really important to treat any in-contact animals not just dogs but cats too. Lastly do not forget to treat the environment; this is most easily done by use of an aerosol spray applied to the carpets, skirting boards and soft furnishing. Instructions often advise to vacuum carpets before you spray to help the chemicals to be more effective. Always read the safety information as the chemicals may be harmful to fish or birds and it is important to allow good ventilation after spraying also. In my experience it is best to treat half the house at a time so as to leave somewhere for pets and people to hang out without having to breathe in the spray. The chemicals in the spray are designed to kill or prevent further development of the fleas and their various life stages. The effect of the environmental sprays can last for a year.

Why is my pet still scratching even though I have treated him/her for fleas?

Provided a thorough approach to flea treatment using appropriate products has been undertaken then if your pet continues to scratch there are likely to be other factors contributing. These may include allergies or intolerances to food substances, cleaning products and or an underlying medical condition.

What medical conditions may be causing my pet to scratch?

The skin has its own inbuilt barrier to substances that can cause irritation this however can be weakened in conditions such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (over production of natural steroids) and bacterial skin infection.

What should I do if after treating my pet, in-contact animal and the environment my pet is still scratching?

It is likely you will need to discuss further investigations into your pet’s skin condition with your vet, to try and rule out some of the conditions listed above. The investigations may involve blood and or skin tests. There is also the possibility that an exclusion diet or low allergy diet may be suggested if diet is suspected as a contributing factor to the skin problem.

So in conclusion an itchy pet may well need more than flea treatment. That is not to say that fleas are not very high up on the list of things to rule out by taking a thorough approach to flea treatment. If you are in any doubt always talk to your vet as we are here to help you and your pet.

It is good to hear that you are treating Dexter for fleas; fleas are definitely high up on the list of causes for an itchy dog. Dry flaky skin may well be as a result of scratching due to flea infestation but can also be affected by allergies and medical conditions.
It is really important to remember that a pet suffering from a flea allergy or irritation does not need to be full of fleas. All it takes is one flea to bite your pet to set off the allergic reaction cascade that leads to the skin being irritated.
What is a flea?
Ctenocephalides canis or felis (the dog and cat flea) are a small wingless parasitic insect that live on our pets and in the environment.  Fleas can jump but they can’t fly, they need blood feeds to survive and a large proportion of the flea population are in the environment as oppose to on your pet.
Where are the fleas coming from?
Fleas live on animals as well as in the environment. The flea population consists of adult fleas, immature larval stages, dormant pupae and then eggs, as you move down the list the numbers increase significantly which is why we refer to them as a pyramid.
Fleas in the environment, by this we mean anywhere a pet with fleas has been, the warmth of our homes provides a great breeding ground for fleas in carpets, pet bedding and just about any nook and cranny.
Cats can also carry the fleas and they do not even have to be your own cats, for example if a cat comes through your home or garden then the fleas can jump off or deposit eggs as they go. This is why we often advise treating the home environment and in-contact animals also.
So how can you tell if your pet has fleas?
Gently part your pets fur and search through close to the skin, fleas are a reddish/brown colour and quickly move away from the light. It can be easier to find fleas on the underside of your pet as the coat is naturally thinner here. It is often easier to see the flea dirt in your pet’s coat than the actual fleas.
So what is flea dirt and how can you tell if there is any on your pet?
Flea dirt is the waste product produced by fleas and when dry it looks like little black specs, however if you wet it these black specs turn red as they contain digested blood. This brings us to the ‘wet paper test’, we comb through your pets coat and collect the debris onto a piece of wet white paper, if there is flea dirt present there will be small red dots visible where the flea dirt has dissolved in the water. The wet paper test helps to distinguish between flea dirt and just dried mud that may be on your pet’s coat.
Can the fleas live on humans?
You will be relieved to hear that cat and dog fleas don’t tend to live on humans, fleas can however bite humans and cause an irritation at the site of such bites. Commonly humans find flea bites on their ankles, wrists or at their waist band as small itchy raised red areas on the skin.
How to treat the flea problem?
I would recommend using a veterinary flea product either in the form of a spot on (applied to skin at base of neck), impregnated collar or a spray directly on your dog. It is however really important to treat any in-contact animals not just dogs but cats too. Lastly do not forget to treat the environment; this is most easily done by use of an aerosol spray applied to the carpets, skirting boards and soft furnishing. Instructions often advise to vacuum carpets before you spray to help the chemicals to be more effective. Always read the safety information as the chemicals may be harmful to fish or birds and it is important to allow good ventilation after spraying also. In my experience it is best to treat half the house at a time so as to leave somewhere for pets and people to hang out without having to breathe in the spray. The chemicals in the spray are designed to kill or prevent further development of the fleas and their various life stages. The effect of the environmental sprays can last for a year.
Why is my pet still scratching even though I have treated him/her for fleas?
Provided a thorough approach to flea treatment using appropriate products has been undertaken then if your pet continues to scratch there are likely to be other factors contributing. These may include allergies or intolerances to food substances, cleaning products and or an underlying medical condition.
What medical conditions may be causing my pet to scratch?
The skin has its own inbuilt barrier to substances that can cause irritation this however can be weakened in conditions such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (over production of natural steroids) and bacterial skin infection.
What should I do if after treating my pet, in-contact animal and the environment my pet is still scratching?
It is likely you will need to discuss further investigations into your pet’s skin condition with your vet, to try and rule out some of the conditions listed above. The investigations may involve blood and or skin tests. There is also the possibility that an exclusion diet or low allergy diet may be suggested if diet is suspected as a contributing factor to the skin problem.
So in conclusion an itchy pet may well need more than flea treatment. That is not to say that fleas are not very high up on the list of things to rule out by taking a thorough approach to flea treatment. If you are in any doubt always talk to your vet as we are here to help you and your pet.

Rusty aims too high!

Rusty with his Vet

Rusty with his Vet

Young Rusty the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel had an embarrassing problem. Everything was going well until he started to cock his leg at about five months of age. Instead of watering the local lampposts, Rusty had a problem which meant he urinated on the underside of his body and under his armpits. He was now over a year old with no sign of things getting better.

His owners were becoming very distraught about the problem. It meant Rusty had to be bathed at least once a day and his skin was starting to get sore where it was constantly wet. Something drastic had to be done. We all scratched our heads in the practice. Rusty had no illness problems and all his nerve reflexes were fine but he just seemed to slightly arch his back when he had a pee and everything went skywards.

I consulted a soft tissue specialist in Bristol and he said that he had only seen one other case which took two operations to correct. He talked me through the procedure and said that he thought it was something we could do without the need for referral to a specialist centre.

The result of Rusty's operation.

The result of Rusty's operation.

The plan was to close up the hole where Rusty normally peed and make a new hole a little further back but pointing downwards. Technically it’s known as a prepucial urinary diversion operation.

It’s always a little daunting to be doing an unfamiliar operation but the surgery went very well. Rusty seemed very comfortable at his three day post op check and had started to use the new hole almost immediately after going home. His owner was delighted. He even got used to wearing his Elizabethan collar whilst his stitches healed.

On the first trip up the road, Rusty cocked his leg against a car wheel which made a metallic ping when he hit the hub cap. He was so surprised, it made him jump! Now Rusty is marking his territory just like nature intended and we are all delighted.

Rusty is much happier since his successful operation.
Rusty is much happier since his successful operation.

If you are concerned about urinary problems in your dog, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next. For more information about insurance which could ensure the cost of operations like this one are covered, please see our pet insurance pages

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