The Truth About Pet Skin Conditions

The Internet has made it easy for dog and cat owners to research their pets’ health issues. Unfortunately, the information they gather isn’t always reliable, particularly when it comes to common skin conditions. Bad information may prompt owners to think their pets are dying of skin cancer, or have skin issues that can be fixed through exotic diets, when both situations are rare.


According to Krista Magnifico, DVM, it can take a number of steps to accurately diagnose and treat skin conditions. Veterinarians use a variety of diagnostic tools to evaluate problems like hair loss, itchy skin and wounds, as well as related behavioral issues such as scratching and lack of energy. Veterinarians start with a physical exam, to evaluate the symptoms, and may request biopsies, skin scrapes, cultures and cytology (the examination of cells under a microscope).

It’s important to look at the big picture, notes Dr. Magnifico, including environmental factors. Diet, medical history and preventive medications are also typically part of a professional examination. Cats share many of the same skin issues as dogs; however, they’re typically the result of poor caregiving and mismanagement of parasite prevention.

While allergies can sometimes be treated with diet, Dr. Magnifico stresses that this is rarely the case. Most of the time, allergies are due to factors such as grasses, trees, plants, dust and mites. Pets typically need a more intensive treatment of antipruritic, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medications.

Dogs can also experience hair irritation when hair is allowed to mat or get in the eyes. This can lead to excessive tearing in the inside corners of the eyes, which can cause a bacterial skin infection called pyoderma. Cleaning the area using antibiotics, and practicing preventive care, is the typical treatment plan for hair irritation.

Fleas are one of the most common––and annoying––skin conditions for pets. Not only are pets miserable, but owners can be affected, too, when fleas invade a household. Veterinarians treat the problem on pets with topical medications, oral medications and long-duration collars.

Unfortunately, treating skin conditions isn’t always cheap. Expenses can add up quickly for those without pet insurance, leading some owners to focus simply on treatment and not at getting to the root of the problem. Dr. Magnifico warns that this may not save money in the long run, as conditions can progress over time and require additional medical care.