Skin problems are very common in domestic pets but there is certainly an increased incidence in the summer months. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is a barrier to stop unwanted substances from entering the body as well as holding everything together so it is important that it is looked after.
Signs of skin disease are varied depending on the cause but can range from itchiness to scabby, red, fatty, greasy or just plain smelly skin! Not to mention alopecia – that’s hair loss to you and me.
Pets can be allergic to many things from house dust, fleas, pollen or even human skin cells. Allergies are more common in the summer because pets are outdoors more and many of the allergens, such as fleas and pollens, are more prevalent. Most skin allergies cause severe itchiness. The skin is often red and hot to touch and licking, scratching and biting the itchiness results in more trauma to the skin. Treating allergies depends on the cause. Strict flea control is advised for all animals but is even more important if they are flea allergic. If it is impossible to remove the allergen, then antihistamines can be used just like for hay fever in humans.
Another common problem in the summer is a condition called "eczema" or "hot spots". These are mainly seen in long-haired dogs such as Retrievers but can affect any breed. The initial cause is not always obvious but it usually results in an area of wet and red skin that the animal finds irritating. They usually repeatedly lick the area making it even stickier and ultimately more inflamed very quickly so a "hot spot" is a very accurate name. Although they are very painful and angry looking, the infection is very superficial so a suitable cream, an anti-inflammatory injection and a course of antibiotics from your vet will help stop them from traumatizing the area and usually clears them up quickly.
Often the cause of a skin condition is not obvious and the vet will need to do lots of tests. These can range from skin scrapes to check for mites, to blood tests to check hormone levels or even a skin biopsy. Many skin diseases do have a cure and but some will need to be managed with continuous medication.