Spotting skin problems in dogs and cats

Skin problems in dogs and cats can be indicated by symptoms such as:

  • Excessive hair loss
  • Flaky or scaly skin
  • Redness
  • Bald patches
  • Scratching (particularly for dogs)
  • Licking and chewing their skin (particularly for cats)
  • Lumps and bumps under the skin
  • A dull-looking coat

Causes of skin problems in cats and dogs

Some of the potential causes of skin problems in cats and dogs, include:

  • Fleas (particularly Flea Allergy Dermatitis). See also cat fleas and dog fleas.
  • Ringworm (a contagious fungal infection that can be passed onto humans and other animals that is characterised by round areas with a red ring around the edges)
    Parasites (such as ear mites and lice)
  • Seasonal allergies, including to pollen, dust, mould and trees
  • Food allergies
  • Contact Dermatitis following exposure to certain chemicals or fabrics
  • Bacterial infections
  • Stress (which can cause pets to chew and lick at their skin)

Does your pet need to see a vet?

Because you can potentially tell a lot about your pet’s overall health from the condition of their skin, it’s advisable to take them to see the vet if you notice signs of a skin problem. It can be challenging to diagnose exactly what is behind skin problems as there can be a wide range of potential causes.

A guide to skin conditions in dogs and cats - cat and dog outdoors

Flea Allergy Dermatitis and seasonal allergies may be the initial suspicion as they are common causes of skin problems in cats and dogs but other causes will also be considered by your vet, particularly if your cat or dog is regularly protected against fleas and does not appear to be affected by the most common seasonal allergy culprits.

If your vet cannot find any other obvious cause for your pet’s skin problems, stress may be to blame. Pets that are bored, frustrated or anxious will sometimes alleviate their emotions by overgrooming or repeatedly licking and chewing, which can then lead to some of the symptoms that have been discussed.

Skin conditions may lead to secondary bacterial infections that need additional treatment, particularly as a result of continuously scratching and chewing affected areas.

Treatment for skin problems

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and can take a range of forms.

For Flea Allergy Dermatitis, it will be crucial to treat your pet for fleas so that they don’t suffer any further reaction. If other parasites are the culprit (such as mites or lice), they will be tackled as an immediate priority.

Antihistamines may be prescribed for allergies, and steroids are a possibility here too.

Ringworm and other fungal problems will be treated with antifungal medication, for example. If there are other pets in the home, they may also need to be treated (as it is a contagious condition and can spread to other animals and even humans).

If stress is to blame, you’ll need to work out what is causing your pet’s anxiety and take steps to address the situation.

Preventing skin problems

Prevention can be crucial for preventing future skin problems, particularly with regards to Flea Allergy Dermatitis. For pets who are sensitive to flea saliva, a year round flea treatment is crucial to prevent this. A single flea is all that is needed to trigger FAD in pets that are hypersensitive to it.

Other preventative steps can include:

  • Skin lotions and treatments prescribed by your vet
  • A healthy diet to prevent coat and skin problems
  • Avoiding direct sunlight for light coloured and hairless breeds so that sunburn does not become an issue
  • Regular grooming to prevent matting of the fur

It’s always a good idea to have a pet insurance policy in place should your pet suddenly get an unexpected skin problem.

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