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Can Dogs Be Allergic to Grass?

By Nancy Dunham

You and your dog may have something in common you hadn’t considered before: spring and summer allergies caused by grass and other sources of pollen.

Devoted dog owners often scratch their own heads as they try to determine why their four-legged pals won’t stop clawing and biting their bodies to the point of causing wounds and hair loss. This self-harm is especially vexing to owners who have had their dogs tested and treated for flea, tick, and other parasite infestations, as well as for food allergies.

When the clean bills of health don’t buy dogs any relief, what should owners do? A good place to start is to consider the possibility of an environmental allergy.

Symptoms of Grass Allergies in Dogs

“The first step is for pet owners to understand that there’s really no difference between their allergies and those of their dogs,” said Diarra D. Blue, DVM. Blue works with Cy-Fair Animal Hospital in Cypress, Texas, and is a co-star on Animal Planet’s The Vet Life.

The culprit of the allergies may be pollen in grass and other plants, says Blue. Some dogs are allergic to grass and pollen their entire lives, while other dogs develop allergies as they mature. Other common environmental triggers are mold spores and dust or storage mites.

Blue says that just as “you can go weeks with no symptoms and then have watery eyes and all the other symptoms of an allergy, so can your dog.”

Humans and canines have similar reactions to allergens, but the site often differs. People with grass and flora allergies have the watery eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat associated with hay fever. They may also develop patches of dermatitis — an itchy rash on the skin.

Dogs’ allergy symptoms are the same, but the severity is flipped, Blue explained. Canines allergic to grass and flora usually develop dermatitis, itchy patches of skin. It is usually localized to one or two spots, but can spread all over the dog’s body. Dogs that are allergic to grass may also have watery eyes, noses, and scratchy throats, but the symptoms are less pronounced than in humans.

Sometimes pet owners who don’t have grass or flora in their yards will insist that pollen cannot be the cause of their dogs’ distress. Blue reminds them that they may be forgetting that pollen from nearby areas can be blown into their yards.

Symptoms of Grass Allergies May Be Masking Other Conditions

Even when owners believe they’ve settled on allergies as the cause of persistent scratching, it’s important to double-check for concurrent parasite infestations and food allergies, said Victor Oppenheimer, DVM, director of the Perla del Sur Animal Hospital in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Blue agrees. “I see it every day,” she said. “People tell me they are positive their dogs don’t have fleas and I find them.”

The same is true with food allergies. Even if your dog’s diet hasn’t changed, that doesn’t mean the ingredients in the food have remained the same, or that your dog’s sensitivity to the ingredients have remained static.

Allergies that were minor and unremarkable can become more severe with repeated contact with the offending trigger. Adult-onset allergies to foods, pollen, and other substances can occur in dogs, just as in people.

If after other causes have been excluded and grass/pollen is still suspected, further testing may be ordered.

Testing Your Dog for Grass Allergies

The testing process for allergies may not be as straightforward as you think. “Intra dermal testing and blood serum testing are the most common tests available,” Oppenheimer said. However, veterinarians debate among themselves the benefits of the blood allergy test. Some believe the resultant data doesn’t aid diagnosis, while others think it can be helpful, though most agree that it is not as accurate as skin testing for allergies.

Veterinary dermatologists may order skin biopsies and other tests for severe cases.

Standard Treatments for Grass Allergies in Dogs

The best way to treat mild seasonal grass allergies in dogs is to limit their exposure, keep the grass mowed, and wash and carefully dry their feet when they come into the house, said Jeff Levy, DVM, of House Call Vet in New York, NY.

“The feet are affected especially between the toes,” said Levy. “Have your dog walk through a foot bath [when it enters the house] and then gently but thoroughly clean and dry the feet. Leave no moisture between the toes.” Regularly bathing your dog will help remove pollen from the rest of its coat and skin.

If limiting exposure doesn’t adequately manage a dog’s symptoms, more aggressive treatment will be necessary. Options include oral or topical omega-3 fatty acid supplements, antihistamines, short-term doses of corticosteroids, immunotherapy, and the use of immunosuppressive medications (e.g., Atopica®) or drugs that reduce itching (e.g., Apoquel®).

Alternative Treatments for Grass Allergies in Dogs
 

Levy said that he is able to treat some allergy-prone patients with acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that can be used to modify dogs’ immune systems and lessen or alleviate allergic reactions.

Another alternative treatment, one which Oppenheimer specializes in, involves “very low, cold laser treatments.” These treatments can be used to restore the immune system and alleviate allergic reactions with no side effects, said Oppenheimer.

Allergy Prevention is Key

Any dog can develop an allergy to grass, but Golden Retrievers, Cairn Terriers, English Cocker Spaniels, and Pit Bulls are among the breeds in which allergies are most commonly diagnosed.

Even if your dog shows no signs of allergies to grass, watch for symptoms, said Levy. If your dog develops signs of allergies — the constant itching, watery eyes, and other symptoms listed above — limit your dog’s exposure and consult your veterinarian right away.

“It’s wise to jump in early in a pet’s life, when you see allergies just starting,” said Levy. “It’s the same as with children. It’s important to treat allergies early in life before they establish themselves in [the system of] a dog, cat, or child.”

Related

Learn more about allergies in dogs at our Dog Allergy Center, and about the differences between food allergies and outdoor allergies in Food Allergies vs. Seasonal Allergies in Dogs.

This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

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Wart Virus in Dogs

Papillomatosis in Dogs

The term papillomatosis is used to describe a benign tumor on the surface of the skin. A virus, known as the papillomavirus, causes the growth. The general appearance is wart-like, raised, with the central surface having an open pore if the wart is inverted. In dogs, the warts are most commonly presented in a raised manner; however, inverted warts are not uncommon. The pigmented appearance normally presents as a rough surface that is flat in appearance and black in colour.

There are instances where the papillomatosis can progress, causing common forms of skin cancer. It is also possible for invasive cancerous cells to penetrate and begin eating the underlying tissues. They are usually located around the lips, mouth and tongue. In young dogs the wart virus may be present around the mouth, genitals or eyes. However, the skin can be affected at any age.

Papillomatosis can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms related to this disorder include bad breath associated with oral papillomatosis, bleeding from the mouth, increased or decreased appetite, and excessive excretion of saliva. Dogs will usually develop the papillomas, which are oval or circular in shape, around the lower abdomen.

Causes

Papillomatosis is contagious in nature and is caused by the canine oral papillomavirus. There are some cases where the wart virus is genetically related by breed.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will take a biopsy of the lesions if the papillomavirus is oral in nature. When there is evidence that the papillomatosis has affected the skin, or there are visible changes to the skin and cellular structures, pathology tests will be required. Further tests associated with the immune system will establish whether viral antibodies are present within the lesions.

pathology

The study of the causes and development of disease

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

benign

Not being able to cause harm; the opposite of malignant.

excretion

Eliminating or the material that has actually been eliminated

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Is Your Pet’s Excessive Shedding a Sign of Illness?

By Nancy Dunham

Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but skin is truly the window to the health of your pet.

Our furred pets rely on hair to protect their skin, help regulate body temperature, and insulate the internal organs from cold and heat. Like your own daily hair loss, some shedding is natural in pets. Some breeds of dogs and cats naturally shed more than others, especially during seasonal changes when they are exposed to less light.

But excess shedding can be a sign of disease or illness that requires veterinary care. That’s why it’s important to determine the normal shedding pattern of your dog or cat and monitor it for changes.

What is Regular Shedding?

The amount of shedding that is “normal” for your pet depends on many variables, including its breed, anatomy, physiology, and genetics, said Roy Cruzen, DVM, of Phoenix, AZ.

The amount of shedding that is “normal” depends on the breed of dog or cat and an array of variables including anatomy, physiology and genetics, he said. Ideally an owner should determine a pet’s baseline shedding as soon as it is adopted.

“It’s vital to pay close attention to our pet’s health when it is young,” said Jeff Levy, DVM, of New York, NY. “Allergies and other issues can be detected early and some preventative treatments may be available.”

The notion that longhaired dogs and cats shed the most is a fallacy, said Megan Mouser. Mouser is a certified groomer and Andis Co. animal education manager in Milwaukee, WI. Shorthaired animals have denser coats and generally shed more, but the length of their hair makes it less noticeable, she said.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, but some dogs and cats are just naturally heavy shedders, explained Cruzen.

Labrador Retrievers are shedding machines,” said Cruzen. “When a lab comes in the vet clinic for 20 minutes, we have to immediately go in and vacuum. The floor is covered with hair.”

Akitas, Chow Chows, Siberian Huskys, and German Shepherds match the Lab in terms of shedding.

Cat breeds that are generally heavy shedders include Persians, Russian Blues, Maine Coons, and American shorthairs.

Ideally, owners should brush their dogs and cats once a day, but even once a week is helpful to remove excess hair, increase circulation to the skin and bond with the pet, said Mouser.

The Causes Behind Excessive Shedding

There are myriad reasons why a dog or cat sheds excessively. One of the first things to do if it occurs is to look at the animal’s hair. Does it have a healthy sheen? Does the skin beneath the fur appear normal, or is it flaky, dry, or discolored?

Feeding an Imbalanced Diet

“The number one reason for excessive shedding is a poor diet,” said Cruzen. “People go to discount stores, by a 40-pound bag of cheap food, and then see their pets’ shedding increase. Even though the food meets the minimum quality requirements, it may not have enough protein or nutrients for your pet.”

Although you shouldn’t buy the cheapest pet food, you also don’t need to spend $8 a pound, said Cruzen. A quality pet food generally costs about $4 a pound, he estimated.

“Besides the quality of food, the number one pet peeve I have is giving pets gluten-free diets,” said Pete Lands, DVM, of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. A grain-free diet may actually cause health issues in the pet, said Lands. “There are very few breeds that are gluten [i.e., grain] intolerant.”

Using the Wrong Shampoo

If the pet sheds excessively but you don’t believe food quality, intolerance, or allergies are to blame, consider grooming.

“I cringe when people tell me they use their own shampoo on animals,” said Mouser. It’s too harsh on their skin and coats.”

“Rinsing is very important,” Mouser went on to explain. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wet a dog’s coat and it lathers [from leftover soap]. I tell people rinse, rinse, rinse, and when you think you’re done, rinse again.”

Stress at Home

All of the doctors who spoke on this agree that excessive shedding can also be caused by stress. If the pet has a major change in routine, has welcomed a new person or pet into the home, or otherwise had change in its routine, the stress from the changes can cause extra shedding.

If eliminating or lessening the stress does not help, a veterinarian will consider the judicious use of drugs, supplements, and even acupuncture, said Cruzen.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that for pets, a visit to the vet is a highly stressful event, said Katie Grzyb, DVM, of One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, NY “Stress is the underlying cause to excessive shedding in the veterinarian’s office. Nine times out of ten an owner will note that their pet is shedding excessively during a visit to the vet.”

Skin Parasites

If your pet is shedding and excessively scratching, it may have fleas, ticks, or mange mites. Those parasites and the itching and scratching they cause can lead to more serious health issues, including inflammation of the skin and secondary skin infections.

“If kittens have fleas, they can actually cause anemia and kill the kitten,” said Joan Vokes, a veterinary technician in Green Acres, FL. “But if your pet has fleas, check with your vet before you use any products.”

Vokes recounted pet owners using over-the-counter products to kill parasites in their pets, only to cause the pet to be violently ill, in some cases with seizures.

Because these parasites can hitch a ride on our clothing or come through screened windows and doors, even indoor cats and dogs can acquire skin parasites, so it’s important to talk to your vet about preventive strategies for all of your pets.

Hormonal Imbalances, Tumors, and Other Underlying Diseases

Excessive shedding may also be a sign of hormonal imbalances. Some breeds shed excessively after giving birth or after spaying or neutering, especially if the surgery occurs when they are older, said Levy.

Shedding on various parts of the body, clumps of shedding, and skin discoloration may also be signs of an array of serious issues, including bacterial infections, ringworm and other fungal infections, thyroid disease, Cushing’s disease, skin allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and genetically related skin problems.

If the skin of the animal is dark or discolored it could be related to an endocrine imbalance, allergies, or even tumors, said Lands. He advised owners to report any loss of appetite, lethargy, or poor mental state to their veterinarians.

As well as loss of appetite and excessive tiredness, Dr. Grzyb adds that other signs to look for are sudden increase in appetite, including a ravenous appetite, vomiting, or a significant increase in thirst and urination.

“None of this is easy stuff to determine,” said Levy. “The most important thing to do if you suspect your pet has excessive shedding, scratching, or changes in behavior is to consult your veterinarian so we can help you determine the cause and treatment.”

This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

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5 Common Dog Skin Problems

7 Common Skin Problems in Cats

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Skin Ulcers in Dogs

Dermatoses, Erosive or Ulcerative in Dogs

Erosions are shallow defects in the skin that only affect the skin’s upper layers. They can be quite painful, but tend to heal quickly if the skin is protected and the underlying cause is eliminated. With ulcers, the surface layers of the skin are compromised completely, since the defects go deeper into the skin. Ulcers require careful wound care to prevent infection, and tend to heal slowly. Erosive, or ulcerative, dermatoses (diseases of the skin) are from a group of dissimilar skin disorders characterized by the presence of erosions or ulcers.

The condition or disease described in this medical article can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms will depend on the cause. However, they can include one or more of the following:

  • Erosions or ulcers; they may be found anywhere on the body
  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Single or multiple lesions; lesions may be inflamed (indicated by redness and swelling)
  • Lesions over pressure points (where skin lies closest to the bone)
  • Dried discharge on the surface of a skin lesion (crust); or, may have moist discharge oozing from the lesion
  • Loss of pigment in skin and/or hair (depigmentation)

 

Causes

A wide variety of conditions can result in erosions or ulcers of the skin. Common causes are burns, trauma, and skin infections, as well as more complicated conditions, such as drug reactions, certain types of cancers, and autoimmune diseases of the skin. Viruses can also be the cause of erosions or ulcers, and can appear identical to burns or trauma. Your veterinarian may need to run a battery of tests, including blood work, cultures for different types of infections, and skin biopsies (sample of skin tissue) to determine the root cause of the reaction and prescribe proper treatment.

In some cases an underlying cause cannot be identified. Your veterinarian will diagnose this outcome as an idiopathic (unknown) disorder or disease.

A partial list of disorders that cause erosions or ulcers of the skin include the following:

Immune-Mediated Disorders

  • Inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis)
  • Canine juvenile cellulitis: also referred to as ‘puppy strangles,’ this condition is characterized by swelling of the head, neck, muzzle, eyes, and ears. The skin will crack in response to swelling, with the swollen lymph nodes draining through the skin and leaving crusted lesions
  • Toxic epidermal necrolysis (tissue death, usually medication-induced)
  • Feline indolent ulcer: an inactive, slow healing lip ulcer that causes little to no pain; also called a rodent ulcer, but is not related to rodents. Usually caused by flea bite sensitivity or food allergies
  • Pemphigus (an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the skin)

Infectious Disorders

  • Skin infection caused by Staphylococcus, characterized by the presence of pus (pyoderma)
  • Deep fungal or mycotic (parasitic fungi) infections, such as sporotrichosis, cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis)
  • Superficial fungal infections, like Malassezia dermatitis, and dermatophytosis
  • Actinomycetic bacteria, such as Nocardia, Actinomyces, and Streptomyce; indications of an actinomycetic bacterial infection are similar to a fungal infection

Parasitic Disorders

 

Congenital/Hereditary Disorders

  •  Various skin disorders in which the skin is abnormal at birth (that is, a “congenital” abnormality), and that may or may not be inherited.

Metabolic Disorders

 

  • Excessive production of steroids by the adrenal glands (hyperadrenocorticism), especially when complicated by secondary infections or calcium deposits in the skin (calcinosis cutis).

Cancer

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Lymphoma of the skin (mycosis fungoides)

Nutritional Disorder

  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis
  • Generic dog-food dermatosis (allergy to specific ingredients in dog food)

Miscellaneous

  • Thermal, electrical, solar, or chemical burns
  • Frostbite
  • Chemical irritants
  • Venomous snake and insect bites

 

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will begin with your dog’s full medical history and a physical examination. This is especially important owing to the extensive differential list (see Causes). Many of the causes have subtle differences in appearance and distribution. The wide variance of possible causes, and the similarities of many of the manifestations, make diagnosing and treating a dermatological skin disorder a challenge. An in depth history will be necessary for the true nature of the disorder to be made apparent. The history of the itching will be taken into account, as well as incidences of exposure to infectious organisms, and recent travel history (to account for some fungal diseases that can be acquired from environments other than the one in which you and your pet live). Diet, and any other signs of systemic (whole body) reactions will be recorded.

Lesions, ulcers and blisters will need to be biopsied for an in depth analyzation. Your veterinarian will perform a histological skin biopsy — an analyzation of the diseased tissues — as well as mycobacterial, and/or fungal cultures, and evaluations of fluid and pus from the lesion or blister. An aspirated sample of the fluids, and a subsequent microscopic examination of the involved cells in the fluid will also be used to determine the presence of bacterial infection, either aerobic or anaerobic (bacteria that can live with, or without oxygen, respectively).

pus

A product made of fluid, cell waste, and cells

mycosis

A type of disease that is created by the presence of fungus in living things

pyoderma

A disease of the skin in which it emits pus

systemic

Something that is related to the whole body and not just one particular part or organ

vasculitis

Any inflammation of a blood vessel or lymph.

muzzle

The term for the nostrils and muscles in the upper and lower lips of an animal; may also be used to describe a type of tool used to keep an animal from biting

spraying

The act of urinating on objects or areas as a method of marking territory

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

dermatitis

A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

dermatosis

A condition of the skin

idiopathic

Relating to a disease of unknown origin, which may or may not have arisen spontaneously

anaerobic

a) living in an environment lacking free oxygen b) pertaining to an organism with the ability to live in an environment lacking free oxygen.

lesion

A change in the way that tissue is constructed; a sore

mange

The term for a disease of the skin caused by certain mites

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Skin Rash Due to Contact with Irritants in Dogs

Contact Dermatitis in Dogs

Contact dermatitis may be caused by an allergy, or it may simply mean that your pet has touched something that has irritated its skin, such as the sap in poison ivy, or salt on a road. It is difficult to distinguish one from the other because the symptoms usually appear the same. Allergic reactions require a previous, sensitizing experience with the irritant. The next contact with the irritant is when symptoms occur. Both dogs and cats can suffer from allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. It can occur at any age, and is a direct result of the irritating nature of the offending compound.

There is an increased risk of allergic reaction in German Shepherds, French Poodles, Wire-haired Fox Terriers, Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, and Golden Retrievers. Some dogs have reactive dermatitis from medications. An overall reaction, as from shampoo, is uncommon. If it seems to occur at certain seasons, it indicates that the offending source is a plant or outdoor compound.

The condition or disease described in this medical article can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms and Types

Dogs suffering from contact dermatitis will most likely suffer from rashes and/or bumps which occur on the skin that has come in contact with the ground (i.e., the chin, neck, chest, abdomen, groin, anal area, scrotum, tail, and between the toes). These rashes may stop abruptly at the hairline. Other common symptoms include itching, which is usually severe, and swelling.

Causes

Factors and/or substances that have been reported to be skin irritants are:

  • Plants
  • Mulch/Cedar chips
  • Herbicides
  • Fertilizers
  • Fabrics
  • Plastics
  • Rubber
  • Leather
  • Rugs
  • Carpets
  • Concrete
  • Metal
  • Rough surfaces
  • Soaps
  • Detergents
  • Floor waxes
  • Carpet and litter deodorizers
  • Sensitivity to the sun/heat
  • Topical agents
  • Medications
  • Food allergy
  • Insect bites
  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection (e.g., ringworm)
  • Lupus
  • Dandruff
  • Flea collars
  • Parasitic hypersensitivity or infestation (e.g., mites, fleas)
  • Insecticides, including newer topical flea treatments

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian’s first task will be to find out what the offending irritant is. The symptoms cannot be treated until tests are completed, to avoid aggravating the condition. There are several ways to approach tracking down the triggers. One is to do what is called a patch test: the suspected substance is placed on a patch and taped to the skin for 48 hours. Any reaction is then assessed. The second is to remove the pet from the offending environment for a period of time and then return it to the environment, monitoring what happens and whether it has had any impact one way or the other.

Your veterinarian will also want to perform bacterial cultures. A clip of hair may be taken from a patch in an area that is not affected, applied to a sample of the suspected antigen, and observed for possible reaction. Skin biopsies are also sometimes required.

mites

Any type of arachnid excluding ticks

scrotum

The sac that holds the testes; may also be referred to as the scrotal sac

hypersensitivity

A reaction to a certain pathogen that is out of the ordinary

dermatitis

A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed

antigen

Any substance or item that the body of an animal would regard as strange or unwanted; a foreign disease or virus in the body (toxin, etc.)

allergen

Any substance with the potential to produce an allergic reaction in an animal prone to such a reaction.

groin

The area between the abdomen and thighs; the inguinal area

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Skin Inflammation on the Paws in Dogs

Pododermatitis in Dogs

Pododermatitis is a medical term for skin inflammation, particularly inflammation in the feet or paws. With treatment, prognosis is positive. The disease is more common in dogs than it is in cats. However, if you would like to learn how it affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.

Symptoms 

The following symptoms are commonly seen:

  • Lameness
  • Reddened/swollen paws
  • Painful paws and itchy paws
  • Fluid buildup in the paws
  • Small, solid masses
  • Thickened, raised, or flat top areas
  • Loss of the top portion of the skin
  • Discharge from the paws
  • Inflammation of the soft tissue around the nail

Causes 

Bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections can cause this skin inflammation to develop. Other potential causes for it can include cancer, trauma, poor grooming, decreased levels of thyroid hormones, increased levels of steroids present, and irritants from the environment.

While this medical condition can occur in any breed, it is more common in the following:

 

Diagnosis 

In some instances, a skin biopsy is performed to ensure that pododermatitis is brought on by cancer. A thorough skin examination may be done as well.

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

allergen

Any substance with the potential to produce an allergic reaction in an animal prone to such a reaction.

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Skin Infections and Loss of Skin Color Disorders in Dogs

Dermatoses, Depigmenting Disorders

Skin dermatoses is a general medical term that applies to several types of bacterial infections or genetic diseases of the skin. Some dermatoses are cosmetic conditions involving loss of pigmentation of the skin and/or hair coat, but are otherwise no harmful.

For instance, German Shepherds tend to bacterial skin infections involving areas of the lips, eyelids, and nostrils. German Shepherds, Collies, and Shetland sheepdogs are predisposed to lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own skin and other organs, and discoid lupus, an autoimmune disease involving the skin only, usually the face.

Chow chows and Akitas are predisposed to an autoimmune disease involving the skin, characterized by inflammation with crusting, and lesions containing pus.

Akitas, Samoyeds and Siberian huskies tend to develop a rare syndrome that causes inflammation in the front part of the eye. The most affected area is the iris, with coexistent inflammation of the skin characterized by loss of pigment in the skin of the nose and lips.

Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers may develop a condition characterized by symmetrical lack of pigment in the skin and a white hair coat, especially involving the face and nose. Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Labrador Retrievers can display a seasonal loss of pigment in the tough, hairless skin of the nose. St. Bernards and Giant schnauzers can be afflicted with inflammation of the arteries of the nasal philtrum, the juncture between the sides of the upper lip extending to the nose.

Symptoms and Types

  • White hair (known as leukotrichia)
  • Partial or total lack of pigment in the skin (known as leukoderma)
  • Reddening of the skin (known as erythema)
  • Loss of the top surface of the skin (known as an erosion or ulceration, based on depth of tissue loss)

Causes

  • Bacterial skin infections; the most commonly affected areas are:
    • Lips
    • Eyelids
    • Nostrils
  • Fungal infection of skin
  • Contact hypersensitivity (allergies)
  • Skin on face tends to be primarily affected
  • Red skin and pus – face and ears
  • Crusting scabs and pus on skin
  • Loss of skin/hair color after skin was inflamed
  • Loss of color on nose and lips, vision loss
  • Seasonal nasal depigmentation
  • Inflammation of the arteries of the nasal philtrum (very front of nose, above upper lip)
  • Albinism (genetic)
  • Vitiligo (smooth white patches of skin due to loss of skin color)
  • Severe: skin and bodily organs affected
  • Autoimmune disease (often there is a genetic predisposition)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus
  • Pemphigus foliaceus
  • Pemphigus erythematosus
  • Uveodermatologic syndrome
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Drug reaction

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition, such as whether your dog suffered a recent infection. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health and onset of symptoms. Your veterinarian will order a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis. Blood samples can be tested for autoimmune factors.

As part of your dog’s physical exam, your veterinarian will take skin samples and skin scrapings to send to a lab for bacterial and fungal cultures. If the skin biopsy shows that skin cells are separating from each other (acantholytic), this is diagnostic for pemphigus. Direct immunofluorescence of skin samples using fluorescent dyes can also be used to demonstrate antibodies. Your veterinarian may also take fluid samples from your dog’s joints to check for lupus.

ophthalmologist

A professional skilled in the study of the eye

pus

A product made of fluid, cell waste, and cells

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

iris

The colored layer around the pupil

systemic

Something that is related to the whole body and not just one particular part or organ

hypersensitivity

A reaction to a certain pathogen that is out of the ordinary

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

erosion

Loss of epithelium to the basement membrane

erythema

Redness of the skin

autoimmune disease

Any disease in which an animal’s body creates antibodies that are used against itself.

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Skin Disease, Autoimmune (Pemphigus) in Dogs

Pemphigus in Dogs

Pemphigus is the general designation for a group of autoimmune skin diseases involving ulceration and crusting of the skin, as well as the formation of fluid-filled sacs and cysts (vesicles), and pus filled lesions (pustules). Some types of pemphigus can also affect the skin tissue of the gums. An autoimmune disease is characterized by the presence of autoantibodies that are produced by the system, but which act against the body’s healthy cells and tissues — just as white blood cells act against infection. In effect, the body is attacking itself. The severity of the disease depends on how deeply the autoantibody deposits into the skin layers. The hallmark sign of pemphigus is a condition called acantholysis, where the skin cells separate and break down because of tissue-bound antibody deposits in the space between cells.

There are four types of pemphigus that affect dogs: pemphigus foliaceus, pemphigus erythematosus, pemphigus vulgaris, and pemphigus vegetans.

In the disease pemphigus foliaceus, the autoantibodies are deposited in the outermost layers of the epidermis, and blisters form on otherwise healthy skin. Pemphigus erythematosus is fairly common, and is a lot like pemphigus foliaceus, but less afflictive. Pemphigus vulgaris, on the other hand, has deeper, and more severe, ulcers because the autoantibody is deposited deep in the skin. Pemphigus vegetans, which affects only dogs, is the rarest form of pemphigus, and seems to be a gentler version of pemphigus vulgaris, with somewhat milder ulcers.

Symptoms and Types

  • Foliaceus
    • Scales, crust, pustules, shallow ulcers, redness, and itching of the skin
    • Footpad overgrowth and cracking
    • Fluid-filled sacs/cysts in the skin (or vesicles)
    • The head, ears, and footpads are the most commonly affected; this often becomes generalized over the body
    • Gums and lips may be affected
    • Swollen lymph nodes, generalized swelling, depression, fever, and lameness (if footpads are involved); however, patients often are in good health otherwise
    • Variable pain and itchy skin
    • Secondary bacterial infection is possible because of cracked or ulcerated skin
  • Erythematosus
    • Mainly the same as for pemphigus foliaceus
    • Lesions are usually confined to the head, face, and footpads
    • Loss of color in lips is more common than with other pemphigus forms
  • Vulgaris
    • The most serious of the pemphigus types
    • More severe than pemphigus foliaceus and erythematosus
    • Fever
    • Depression
    • Anorexia may occur if the animal has mouth ulcers
    • Ulcers, both shallow and deep, blisters, crusted skin
    • Affects gums, lips, and skin; may become generalized over the body
    • The underarm and groin areas are often involved
    • Itchy skin and pain
    • Secondary bacterial infections are common
  • Vegetans
    • Pustule groups join to form larger patches of oozing lesions
    • Mouth is not usually affected
    • Few symptoms of general illness (fever, depression, etc.)

 

Causes

  • Autoantibodies: the body creates antibodies that react to healthy tissue and cells as though they are pathogenic (diseased)
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Certain breeds appear to have a hereditary predisposition

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, including a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. Patients with pemphigus will often have normal bloodwork results. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health and onset of symptoms. Possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition should also be reported to your veterinarian (e.g., exposure to sun).

A skin exam is crucial. A skin tissue sample will be taken for examination (biopsy); and pustule and crust aspirates (fluid) should be wiped onto a slide to diagnose pemphigus. A positive diagnosis is achieved when acantholytic cells (i.e., separated cells) and neutrophils (white blood cells) are found. A bacterial culture of the skin may be used for identification and treatment of any secondary bacterial infections, and antibiotics will be prescribed in the event that there is a secondary infection present.

pus

A product made of fluid, cell waste, and cells

pathogenic

Having the ability to produce disease

pustule

A lesion on the skin that is filled with pus

remission

The disappearance of the signs and symptoms of a particular disease; this is often used in association with cancer

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

pancreatitis

A medical condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed

lameness

Any type of pain or tenderness or lack of soundness in the feet or legs of animals

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

autoimmune disease

Any disease in which an animal’s body creates antibodies that are used against itself.

epidermis

The outside layer of the skin

groin

The area between the abdomen and thighs; the inguinal area

antibody

A protein in the body that is designed to fight disease; antibodies are brought on by the presence of certain antigens in the system.

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

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Skin Disease Due to Food Allergies in Dogs

Dermatologic Food Reactions in Dogs

Dermatologic food reactions are non-seasonal reactions which occur following ingestion of one or more allergy causing substances in an animal’s food. The physical reaction is frequently excessive itchiness, with resultant excessive scratching at the skin.

While the pathogenesis of these reactions is not fully understood, immediate reactions and delayed reactions to food are thought to be due to a hypersensitive immune response.  On the other hand, food intolerance is a non-immunologic idiosyncratic reaction due to the metabolic, toxic or pharmacologic effects of the offending ingredients. Since it is not easy to distinguish between immunologic and idiosyncratic reactions, any negative response to food is generally referred to as an adverse food reaction.

Symptoms and Types

  • Non-seasonal itchiness of any body location
  • Poor response to anti-inflammatory doses of glucocorticoids generally suggests food hypersensitivity
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive gut sounds, passing of gas, and frequent bowel movements
  • Malassezia dermatitis (fungal skin infections), pyoderma (bacterial skin infections), and otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear)
  • Skin plaques – broad, raised flat areas on the skin
  • Pustules – pus-containing raised skin inflammations
  • Erythema – redness of the skin
  • Crusts – dried serum or pus on the surface of a ruptured blister or pustule
  • Scale – flakes or plates of dead skin on the skin’s surface
  • Self-induced baldness due to scratching
  • Abrasions/sores on the skin due to scratching
  • Leathery, thick, bark-like skin
  • Hyperpigmentation – darkening of the skin
  • Hives – swollen or inflamed bumps on the skin
  • Giant wheals (elongated marks) on the skin
  • Pyotraumatic dermatitis – infection of the skin wounds due to scratching excessively, and bacteria entering the wounds

Causes

  • Immune-mediated reactions – result of the ingestion and subsequent presentation of one or more glycoproteins (allergens) either before or after digestion; sensitization may occur as the food passes into the intestine, after the substance is absorbed, or both
  • Non-immune (food intolerance) reactions – result of ingestion of foods with high levels of histamine (an antigen known to cause immune hypersensitivity) or substances that induce histamine either directly or through histamine-releasing factors
  • It is speculated that in juvenile animals, intestinal parasites or intestinal infections may cause damage to the intestinal mucosa, resulting in the abnormal absorption of allergens and subsequent sensitization to some ingredients

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, including a dermatological exam. Non-food causes of dermatologic disease should be ruled out. Your veterinarian will order a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel to rule out other causes of disease. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, especially regarding any changes in diet, and any new foods added to your dog’s diet, even if temporary.

Food elimination diets are advised for dogs thought to be suffering from adverse food reactions. These diets typically include one protein source and one carbohydrate source to which the dog has had limited or no previous exposure to. A clinical improvement may be seen as soon as four weeks into the new diet, and maximum alleviation of clinical signs may be seen as late as thirteen weeks into the food elimination diet.

If your dog improves on the elimination diet, a challenge should be performed to confirm that the original diet was the cause of disease and to determine what ingredient in the original diet triggered the adverse reaction.

Challenge: feed your dog with the original diet. A return of the signs confirms that something in the diet is causing the signs. The challenge period should last until the signs return but no longer than ten days.

If the challenge confirms the presence of an adverse food reaction, the next step is to perform a provocation diet trial: going back to the elimination diet, begin by adding a single ingredient to the diet. After waiting a sufficient amount of time for the ingredient to prove either agreeable or adverse, if there is no physical reaction, move on to adding the next ingredient to your dog’s diet. The provocation period for each new ingredient should last up to ten days, less if signs develop sooner (dogs usually develop signs within 1–2 days). Should symptoms of an adverse reaction develop, discontinue the last added ingredient and wait for the symptoms to subside before moving forward to the next ingredient.

The test ingredients for the provocation trials should include a full range of meats (beef, chicken, fish, pork, and lamb), a full range of grains (corn, wheat, soybean, and rice), eggs, and dairy products. The results of these trials will guide your selection of commercial foods, based on those that do not contain the offending substance(s).

pyoderma

A disease of the skin in which it emits pus

sensitization

To be allergic to or sensitive to a certain vaccine or medication

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

pustule

A lesion on the skin that is filled with pus

otitis

A medical condition in which the ear becomes inflamed

dermatitis

A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed

hypersensitivity

A reaction to a certain pathogen that is out of the ordinary

antigen

Any substance or item that the body of an animal would regard as strange or unwanted; a foreign disease or virus in the body (toxin, etc.)

pus

A product made of fluid, cell waste, and cells

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Skin Disease Caused by Licking in Dogs

Acral Lick Dermatitis in Dogs

Acral lick dermatitis is a firm, raised, ulcerative, or thickened plaque usually located on the back side of the wrist, on the ankle, or between the toes. This disease primarily affects dogs, and most commonly large breeds, especially Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, Irish and English Setters, Golden Retrievers, Akitas, Dalmatians, Shar-peis, and Weimaraners. The age at which it occurs in animals varies with the cause. Some experts suggest that it is more common in males; others indicate there is no preference.

Symptoms and Types

The following are some symptoms that may be observed if your dog is suffering from acral lick dermatitis:

  • Excessive licking and chewing of the affected area
  • Occasionally, a history of trauma to the affected are
  • Bald, ulcerative, thickened, and raised firm bumps (usually located on the back of the ankle, heel, or between the toes)
  • Lesions often occur singly, although they may occur in more than one location

Causes 

  • Skin diseases, such as staph infections
  • Allergies
  • Hormone problems, such as hyperthyroidism
  • Mites
  • Fungal infection
  • Reaction to a foreign body
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Trauma
  • Nerve dysfunction

Diagnosis 

A veterinarian will first need to do a behavioral history on your dog. The following are a list of other possible examinations generally used to diagnose acral lick dermatitis:

  • Skin scrapings, fungal and bacterial cultures, biopsies and Tzanck preparations (for herpes infection)
  • Skin allergy testing – allergic animals often have multiple-lick inflammation and other areas of itching compatible with the specific allergy
  • Laboratory tests to rule out endocrine diseases (such as hyperthyroidism), bacterial infections, cancer, fungus infections, and parasites
  • Food-elimination diet

It is important that the veterinarian rule out any underlying diseases prior to diagnosing neurologically caused (psychogenic) skin disorders.

 

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

dermatitis

A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed