The symptoms such as itching, redness and scaling resemble each other. Nevertheless, skin diseases in dogs can have many different causes. A helpful guide to the correct diagnosis.
"It's like that all day long", complains dog owner Wilfried Kroneder. His eight-year-old Labrador, Emma, lies on the tile floor and licks her paws, smacking loudly. She suffers from an allergy that causes excruciating itching. Paws, ears and inner thighs are worked on from morning till evening. Due to licking, biting and scratching, their paws are swollen and littered with open, infected areas. Kroneder family seeks help from dermatologist Dr. Cornelia Fittschen.
"The owners often suffer with them", says Dr. Fitt's. A few months ago, she opened Berlin's first dermatology practice for small animals in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. How empathically dog owners are predisposed, could recently be scientifically proven. The more the fur-bearers scratch themselves, the more the owners also feel impaired in their quality of life. And yet, dermatology for animals still sounds like luxury medicine to many. Skin rashes or itching, although rarely life-threatening, can be very frustrating for both animal and human if not treated causally. Because relapses are the order of the day. "Without some diagnostic effort, the cause of a condition is usually not recognized", knows Dr. Christine Lowenstein, dermatologist with internationally recognized diploma.
Dermatology is a relatively young specialty in veterinary medicine. So far, Christine Lowenstein and Cornelia Fittschen have only a few colleagues who exclusively treat skin patients. Expert knowledge has also become important in veterinary medicine. With the rapid growth of knowledge in medicine, it is becoming more difficult for the normal family veterinarian to keep track of everything in every field. More and more veterinarians are referring difficult cases to specialized colleagues for help with diagnosis and treatment.
Diagnostics and therapy Cancer in dogs: Those who had to die in the past can often be cured today
Dermatologists perform special examinations. For example, they take tie samples, so-called skin biopsies. They use a scalpel to scrape superficial layers of skin to examine under a microscope for evidence of pathogens or parasites. They perform allergy tests or diagnose skin cancer. But there are other differences from the normal veterinary practice.
The first visit to the dermatologist takes an unusually long time. No animal leaves the treatment room within an hour. In the case of skin diseases, it is particularly important to know the exact course of the disease and the patient's living conditions. For the diagnosis, it may be important, for example, whether the dog has ever been abroad or when it was last dewormed. "It is best for pet owners to "prepare for the interview", says Christine Lowenstein – pet owners can find a questionnaire for this on her website.
Allergies are the most common skin diseases
The most common diseases in the specialized practice are allergies. They gain weight like bipeds. "This is due in part to the fact that allergies are recognized much more frequently today than they were ten years ago", says dermatologist Fittschen. "In addition, certain allergy-sensitive dog breeds such as the pug or French bulldog are very fashionable right now."
Heredity plays a major role in allergies. The susceptibility to allergies is passed on from the parents to the puppies. Veterinarians distinguish three major groups of allergies in dogs: environmental allergy (atopy), flea saliva allergy and food allergy. All three have in common that the immune system overreacts and starts to fight harmless substances (allergens).
Tips from the expert What is the right diet for old dogs??
In environmental allergy, the body reacts to allergens from the environment, substances found in the average household such as house dust mites or storage mites. Pollen from grasses and trees can also become an enemy for the immune system. Boxers, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds are particularly susceptible to environmental allergies.
If the dog develops an allergy to flea saliva, a single tiny flea, even if it bites the dog only once every two weeks, can cause a devastating skin reaction. Such dogs scratch themselves bloody, the skin is reddened, and bacterial infections can develop.
Food allergies account for only about ten percent of all allergies. Beef and dairy are among the most common allergy triggers in dogs, with grains, pork, chicken, soy, eggs and fish also at the forefront.
"Allergies manifest themselves differently in dogs than in humans", says dermatologist and allergist Christine Lowenstein. A pollen allergy, which can cause watery eyes, sneezing fits or asthma in humans, usually manifests itself exclusively as a skin problem in dogs. "Sometimes a chronic ear infection or itching of the paws is the only symptom", says Lowenstein.
Skin and coat disorders
Hair and hormones are somehow connected, everyone has probably noticed that about themselves. In dogs, hormones have a decisive influence on the condition of the coat. Dogs with hypothyroidism often suffer from thinning, dull fur and dry skin.
The hormones of the adrenal gland, which are released more frequently in Cushing's syndrome, can also cause skin problems. Affected dogs show hair loss, black discoloration of the skin and recurrent skin infections. Some animals have a paper-thin skin through which you can see the blood vessels. If increased female hormones are produced, for example in a male dog due to a testicular tumor or in a female dog due to a tumor of the ovaries, this can also lead to loss or a change in the coat.
Some diseases in which the immune system reacts to the body's own tie also affect the dog's skin. Discoid lupus erythematosus, often called collie nose, can develop in many breeds other than collie and sheltie, such as Siberian husky, German shepherd dog, German shorthair. Exposure to sunlight worsens the condition.
In more than 90 percent of the animals, pigment loss and skin redness are first seen on the nose leather, i.e. at the transition to the upper lip, and in the adjacent hairy skin areas. The nose leather loses its surface relief and becomes smooth. Later crusts can be. Ulcers develop. The so-called pemphigus foliaceus manifests itself in crusty skin lesions, first on the face and ears, later spread over the whole body. Suspicious are also skin infections that are resistant to antibiotics. It is also typical that the dogs initially show a good general condition despite massive skin changes.
Bacteria are involved in almost all skin diseases. They multiply when the dog's skin is already weakened, for example in allergies.
Filamentous fungi usually settle in the face or on the ears of the fur bearer. They are more frequent in puppies than in adult dogs. Usually it is a fungus called Mikorsporum canis that is responsible for the infection. This fungus causes exactly circular, hairless areas surrounded by a small wall. But it can also cause quite untypical thinning coat, scaly or greasy coat. Attention danger of infection: The mushroom goes over on the line leader, particularly children are endangered. Malassezia dermatitis is a disease in which yeast fungi proliferate on the skin surface, leading to skin infection. This usually happens when the skin's defense mechanisms are weakened by another disease. Skin redness, dandruff, greasy surface and oily-rancy odor are typical. Especially ears, underside of the neck, paws and armpits are affected.
"Very important in the diagnosis of allergies is the exclusion of another itchy disease", adds Fittschen. For example, it must be excluded that the itching is caused by parasites. Therefore the dogs are prophylactically treated against fleas. mites are treated or a blood test is performed.
In search of the trigger
Once an allergy has been diagnosed, the allergens can be identified most reliably with a skin test. Suspicious substances such as house dust mite are. Consorts injected into the skin. If an allergy is present, a wheal forms after fifteen to thirty minutes, indicating an immediate allergic reaction of the skin. Some veterinarians also used blood tests to identify the allergen.
Tear production What do watery eyes mean in dogs??
However, allergy-causing substances in the food cannot be clearly determined by a blood test. The only way to track down a food allergy is through an exclusion diet. Such a diet can become a kind of culinary voyage of discovery for the dog. The goal of this diet is to give the animal only a food it has never eaten before. Furthermore, the food should contain only one type of meat, if possible. Contain one type of carbohydrate. Since most canned foods from the supermarket do not declare exactly what meats they contain, these are not suitable for conducting diagnostic diets. Berlin dermatologist Fittschen recommends that owners of potential allergy sufferers offer home-cooked horse meat. Canned horse meat is also available, for example, through veterinarians. Horse lovers can resort to canned food with reindeer or ostrich with potatoes.
What are the therapies?
Generally speaking: Allergies are not curable. "The goal of allergy therapy is to "manage" the disease, says Dr. Lowenstein. Ideally, the allergen that triggers the allergy should be avoided or removed from the bowl, depending on the allergy. But even in the cleanest of households, different types of dust mites can be found in different regions. Pollen is also difficult to avoid. Therefore, secondary infections with bacteria or yeast fungi may need to be treated, lifelong flea prevention must be carried out.
The immune response can be influenced with drugs such as cortisone or the expensive cyclosporine. "However, because of its potential side effects, cortisone should only be used when all other treatment options have been exhausted", gives Dr. Lowenstein to consider. With hyposensitization or immunotherapy, dermatologists try to accustom the body to the allergen step by step. Once they have identified the allergen, it can be diluted and injected in ascending concentrations. This is a lifelong therapy, the success often appears only after one year with approximately three quarters of the patients.
When to see a specialist?
With acute skin complaints and common parasites, your four-legged friend is in good hands with the family veterinarian. He will provide you with competent advice and, in case of doubt, decide when he is not getting anywhere with his remedies. "In the UK, the referral mentality is more pronounced than in Germany,", says Dr. Ariane Neuber, who works as a dermatologist in London. General veterinarians refer dogs to specialists, who, once they have made a diagnosis, refer the dog back to the family veterinarian.
If your vet is hesitant, you could point this option out to them. It makes sense to consult a specialist for the following complaints: chronic skin conditions that do not respond to any treatment, therapy-resistant itching or recurring skin rash.
By the way, this is also useful in case of a chronic disease of the ears, which at first gets better under treatment, but then comes back again. Often behind a chronic ear infection is an allergy. The animal dermatologist can also help with chronic problems with the claws or anal pouches.
Essential fatty acids can also help – as can dog mattresses or cushions, whose fine-pored cover prevents mites from entering. Allergens can be removed mechanically by frequent shampooing of the dog's coat.
"If a feed allergy is diagnosed, no ready-made feed should be given where not all ingredients are declared", advises Dr. Fittschen. "Self-cooking is often time-consuming, because the food should be balanced" knows Dr. Birgit Schulte, a veterinarian with pet food manufacturer Hill's. She recommends using special food for allergy sufferers (for example, "Prescription Diet Canine z/d Ultra" or "Low Allergen, both Hill's). "A therapy of inflammation or. Changes in the skin can be supported by feeding special protein sources as well as high levels of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids as well". (for example "Prescription Diet d/d") or "Science Plan Sensitive Skin, both from Hill's).
Parasites in the dog's fur and on the skin
Dermatologists, like entomologists, are constantly on the lookout for crawling six- or eight-legged creatures. However, their terrain is not the tropical rainforest, but the dog's fur.
Fleas are particularly tricky, finds London derma specialist Ariane Neuber. "Flea remedies are not used often enough or are used incorrectly, or people claim that their dog does not have fleas, because these creepy-crawlies have a bad reputation." Fleas cause many skin problems: Coat carriers can be allergic to flea saliva and develop dramatic clinical pictures. In addition, the annoying lodgers are difficult to find.
DOGS trick: You run the dog through the fur and let dandruff, hair and possible flea droppings trickle onto a damp white kitchen paper. In the water, the digested blood in the flea feces turns red. Once the flea is discovered, some rules should be followed to combat it: Dogs are mostly infested by cat fleas, therefore, in addition to all dogs, cats present in a household must also be treated. Sleeping areas, carpets and sofa nooks also need to be de-fleaed, as most fleas are not on the dog, but in its environment.