Why is my pet itching or loosing its hair?

Dermatology cases can often be very frustrating for both owners and veterinarians, as the diagnosis and treatment is often a lengthy process that requires dedication on both the part of the veterinarian and you as an owner. cat scratching

Your pet’s skin is its largest organ system and can be affected by a variety of things, often more than one thing is causing your pet to itch or lose its hair.  It is probably no surprise that your pet’s skin can be affected by things it comes in contacts with, such as environmental allergies or food allergies, but did you know your pet’s skin can be affected by abnormalities of other organ systems, such as liver, kidney, immune, and endocrine/hormone?  A change in skin or coat quality is often the outward sign of a deeper problem.
What types of things can cause my dog or cat to itch or lose its hair?
Your pet’s skin disease can be due to a variety of things including:
Allergies: food, contact, inhalant Parasites: fleas, mites Infection: fungal or bacterial Autoimmune disease, Liver disease, Endocrine abnormalities including Cushing’s disease, Hypothyroidism Breed-specific skin/coat changes: West Highland White Terriers, Nordic breeds (Huskies, Malamutes, Chow Chows, etc), Poodles, etc.

How can my veterinarian determine the cause?
Since so many things can affect your pet’s skin, it is often a multi-step process to determine the cause of the problem.  Many times there is a secondary infection and the true cause of the itch or hair loss cannot be determined until the infection is resolved.  Some of the tests your veterinarian may recommend include: skin scrapes, comprehensive bloodwork, and urinalysis, endocrine testing to look for diseases such as Cushing’s disease or thyroid abnormalities, cultures (fungal and or bacterial), allergy testing, or even a biopsy.  Depending on your pet’s individual case, they may need some or all of these diagnostics in order to fully know what is affecting your pet’s skin.  Your veterinarian may even refer you and your pet to a veterinary dermatologist.
How can my pet be treated?
Your veterinarian may recommend medications to treat an infection, a special diet to eliminate a certain type of food your pet may be allergic to, medicated shampoos, or medications to treat endocrine abnormalities, depending on your pet’s diagnosis.  With any pet with skin disease, we recommend your pet be on a good flea preventative.  It is always recommended to be in good communication with your veterinarian so they can know how your pet is responding to the medication, or if any changes need to be made.
When will my pet start to feel better?
Many times, you may not notice a significant change in your pet’s skin right away.  Your veterinarian can often help your pet to feel better, but it may take weeks to months to fully resolve your pet’s skin problem.  If your pet is placed on a food trial as a treatment for potential food allergies, you may not notice a significant change for 4-8 weeks.  Many of the treatments for various skin diseases may be long-term or even lifelong.  Often though, with the proper diagnostics and treatment, you will notice a significant improvement in your pet’s skin and coat.

The most important thing with diagnosis and treatment of skin disease is patience and perseverance.  Dermatology is one of the most frustrating areas of veterinary medicine, but also one of the most rewarding.

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