Well, that time of year is approaching: The Dog Days of Summer. Days get hot and sticky. Step outside and break into a sweat. But, here’s a fun fact: dogs don’t sweat (except from their feet).
That’s why this time of year veterinarians in this area all become dermatologists. The warm, wet weather causes a quite common skin condition in pets, pyoderma. Pyoderma is an infection of the skin. Anatomically, there are two types:
This can also simply be called dermatitis. It only involves the top layer of skin. It appears as mild to moderate inflammation. It is usually very itchy. If ignored, it can lead to the second type.
This is a much more serious infection involving all the layers of the skin. It appears deep red to purple and exudes a clear to yellowish discharge. It is painful and spreads rapidly.
This is the most common. Superficial pyodermas are almost always Staph infections. This bacteria lives on the canine skin and becomes disease causing when normal skin defense mechanisms break down. This occurs with inflammation and self trauma (scratching). Deep pyodermas are also usually staph infections but can also evolve into more serious infections from other bacteria such as pseudomonas, e. coli, or proteus. These are called gram negative organisms and usually produce toxins that can enter the bloodstream causing internal damage to organs. They represent a serious challenge to treat effectively.
This organism is usually called Malassezia. It, like the bacteria, usually becomes infectious after the normal skin defense mechanisms break down. It is not as common as bacterial pyodermas. The skin appears wrinkled with a brownish discoloration. It is usually secondary to chronic staph infections.
Dog Days, Heat, and Humidity
Outdoor dogs, especially swimmers, get moisture down on the skin. Their coats hold the moisture in allowing it to heat up, creating a great environment for bacteria to grow.
Poor Dermal Hygiene
Poor grooming and no bathing allow dirt and oils to accumulate on the skin again creating an environment conducive for bacteria.
Allergies in dogs, and to a lesser degree in cats, are exhibited through the skin. Pollens, grasses, molds, air pollutants, to name a few, can cause severe itching leading to skin inflammation with excess oil production. This causes severe itching and self induced trauma. All lead to secondary infections.
These nasty creatures carry an array of bacteria and toxins. The infection is usually localized at the bite but can quickly spread.
These usually are localized, commonly at ear tips. Inflammation and infection ensues which in turn attracts more flies and biting insects. The problem can compound quickly. Beware, flies can lay eggs under thick coats in deep pyodermas which hatch into those lovely larvae referred to as maggots!
The grand daddy of all causes of pyoderma. The flea population is exploding this time of year. Flea allergies are the most common allergy we see. Even if not allergic, the flea population can become large enough to cause irritation from bites leading to secondary infection.
There are many other causes that can attribute to a skin disorder, we always recommend stopping by with your pet for a visit with a doctor when dealing with any skin issue, big or small.
There are several treatments available for skin diseases depending on what your pet is diagnosed with after seeing a veterinarian. Systemic or oral antibiotics are often prescribed. Staph on dogs is usually very susceptible to certain types of antibiotics if given as prescribed for the appropriate amount of time.Systemic anti-yeast medications are also very effective when treating certain infections.
For localized, superficial pyodermas an antibacterial ointment can be effective. If deep pyodermas are present we usually will clip, clean and scrub the area. We often employ hydrotherapy, which is simply irrigating the area with tepid water. We also commonly use medicated shampoos and conditioners if the infection is widespread.
Occasionally, we will use cortisone for a short period to get the itching and self trauma under control.
This allows the skin to ‘breathe’ and dry out after a swim or rain. Be careful of sunburn for the first few days after the clip.
Good Skin Hygiene
We recommend bathing weekly to every two weeks. If the pet has dry skin we will add moisturizers.
If possible keep indoors as much as possible. If allergies involve the feet consider booties. If the problem is not seasonal consult us for diagnosis of possible food allergy.
Even if you don’t have a problem, exposure this time of year can explode into a serious infestation in a matter of days. Prevention is easy with all the monthly medications available. Please consult us for recommendations because many of the O.T.C. products are not effective for as long as they claim. Avoid rip-offs! Also, if the problem is more than mild, treat the house. It is much easier and requires fewer treatments if started early before the flea population has ‘gone nuts’.
If a problem is developing or if you have questions do not hesitate to call us. The earlier the problem is caught the easier and quicker it can be resolved. We’ve recently switched our entire shampoo and moisturizer inventory over to what we feel will give us a much improved arsenal of treatments. Please take advantage of these new products. Many of these problems can be controlled with simple topical products if started early in the process.
So, there you go. You can avoid the Dog Days with good coat maintenance and a few simple preventative measures. Then, the summer is once again a time for all to enjoy.