When to Visit a Veterinary Dermatologist

This is the second in a series of blog posts intended to help you determine when your four-legged family member might benefit from a visit with a veterinary specialist. Last week we visited the world of veterinary ophthalmology. This week, the focus is dermatology.

Veterinarians who specialize in dermatology devote their professional lives to diseases of the skin and ears. Itchy, scaly, bald, and greasy are just a few of their favorite adjectives. When should your pet be evaluated by a board certified veterinary dermatologist? I strongly encourage you to consider this when:

  • Your pet’s skin disease is not getting better or is getting worse despite multiple visits with your family veterinarian.
  • Your pet has chronic or recurrent ear infections. The external ear canals are simply an extension of the skin. So it makes sense that veterinarians who specialize in skin disease are also experts at diagnosing and treating ear disease.
  • You want to determine what your pet is allergic to with hopes of desensitization therapy and/or elimination of the offending environmental allergens (dust mites, pollens, molds, etc.). The most accurate way to do this is via skin testing, a technique performed by veterinary dermatologists. While simpler to perform, blood testing to detect allergen sensitivities produces far less reliable results. During the skin testing process, very small amounts of allergens are injected within the superficial layers of the skin to determine which ones induce a significant reaction. This procedure is pain-free, but sedation may be needed for patients who are wiggly or impatient.
  • Your pet has been diagnosed with an unusual type of skin disease, particularly one with which your family veterinarian has limited experience. By the way, it’s perfectly okay to ask your family vet how many cases he or she has treated in the past.
  • Your pet has a chronic condition such as allergic dermatitis or pyoderma (skin infection). The specialist will be aware of cutting edge therapies for such diseases.
  • You simply want to be more certain about the advice you’ve received from your family veterinarian.
  • You are unhappy with the side effects of medication prescribed for your dog’s skin disease. For example, cortisone (prednisone) is often used to treat itchy skin. Common side effects of this medication in dogs include muscle weakness and increased thirst, urination, appetite, and panting.

To find a board certified veterinary dermatologist in your community or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Dermatology.

Have you and your pet ever visited a veterinary dermatologist? What was the reason and what was the outcome?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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7 Comments on “When to Visit a Veterinary Dermatologist

  1. Food as a cause?

    Worked for a grain fee pet food company and then representing other grain free brands, saw my share of dogs with skin problems, chewing paws, tail, butt, scratching at ears.

    Getting the dogs, off the grain diet, helped in almost all cases. Of course, some are more in-depth, but, like humans we tend to overlook at what out pets eat.

  2. Of all of the problems we dealt with, our dog’s dermatology problems were the most vexing and ultimately could not be definitively diagnosed by two dermatologists. His problem didn’t fit neatly into any known diagnosis. I think eventually there may be a skin condition identified that is associated with diabetes because I have seen a handful of dogs over the years with similar symptoms to his.

    One of the big challenges is that a good diagnosis often depends on a biopsy and our dog was like many in that a biopsy was too invasive – he had crusting lesions around his eyelids, a delicate spot for removing a large tissue sample – to be justifiable. So we had to try various meds and see what worked and what didn’t. In his case, ophthalmic tacrolimus ointment was what worked to get rid of the lesions. Everything else dealt with bacterial infections but didn’t get to the source of the problem.

    I loved the dermatologist – he listened and considered our dog’s history so carefully and intently. He never threw out cookie-cutter advice. He was always running late but I didn’t mind because I knew when we got into the room we would have his undivided attention for as long as was needed to thoroughly address the problem.

    Just wish so many dermatology issues didn’t require a biopsy for a more definitive defintion.

  3. After 3 or 4 bouts with allergy issues (including antibiotics and steroid treatments) I sought out a dermatologist for my 5 year old cocker/terrier mix. I did not view repeating rounds of drugs as a good long-term solution. Our veterinarian had discouraged us, stating that dermatologists are usually extremely expensive and these conditions are hard to treat. So glad I didn’t listen to them. We found an amazing dermatologist who immediately did a skin test (after ruling out food and other allergies). In 40 minutes (and not that much more money than a standard vet visit) determined EXACTLY what she was allergic to. We discussed treatment options and decided upon allergy shots, which have already significantly improved her allergic response after only a few month. We will have to continue them for up to 24 months, but that in no way compares to keeping her itch (and antibiotic/steroid) free!

  4. We visited the doggie dermatologist for our chi mix – she had itchy feet and vaginal irritation – our vet tried several treatments and diagnostic tests but no real resolution occurred.
    The dermatologist gave us recommendations for very limited food and treats – we were unable to stick to her strict regimen! (Later we were talking with the staff and they referred to her as the “food Nazi” LOL!)

    What I did change is the way I clean the floors at home and I currently use vinegar and backing soda instead of other cleaner – it is not only cheaper but better for the dogs!

    We were prescribed numerous types of shampoo, rinse and sprays for her skin. Many of these were OTC products we can purchase online .

    She prescribed Temeril P for flare ups and also Keto for yeast – our regular vet refills these as needed. The skin and feet issues have cleared but the vaginal irritation remains.
    We did not follow her instructions regarding food and treats and we also did not place her in an e-collar either – so we were non-compliant!

    I do think the thing I learned from this is that dog owners should be careful of what cleaning supplies they use and some of the things she recommended like vinegar and baking soda for the tile floors is not only better for the dogs and humans in the house but it is also cheaper! I buy the containers of vinegar and large bags of baking soda from Sams!

  5. I agree with you, Dr. Kay – if repeated trips to the veterinarian for skin issues are not getting you and your pet relief, it is time to schedule a trip to the dermatologist! We see people and their pets slide into a chronic schedule of itchy skin that gets entrenched and harder to treat the longer it goes on. Lots of folks don’t realize that their are dermatologists for pets, and they can really be a lifesaver.

  6. p.s. I do map my cockers’ moles and lumps annually, which turned out to be a life-saver for my current oldie. I found a new lump that the vet determined was a lymphoma type lump, and an X-Ray found a huge lymphoma in her abdomen. She’s on prednisone for it and I watch that skin lump as a guage to how it’s working.

  7. Some of my rescued cockers have had skin issues but fortunately my regular vets and grain-free food have helped oodles. I don’t think it’s so much the grain as the spike in glucose that affects cocker ears. Yeast loves glucose. That’s just my pet theory, not proven science, but my current cockers have only had one infection in two years among the three of them. Dandruff and itchiness are also down. I also use Epi-otic as a regular cleaner.