Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pet Health Tip #13- Ringworm

I have had several people over the years ask me if ringworm is really caused by worms.  The answer is no.  Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection.  Only a few diseases can be spread from one species of animal to another or from animals to people (zoonotic).  Ringworm is one of the diseases that can be contagious between species.  Cats and dogs can give ringworm to each other, and both of them can give it to people.

In humans, ringworm causes a lesion on the skin that is usually circular and very itchy (pruritic).  In dogs, it causes patchy hair loss (alopecia) that can occur anywhere on the body.  The skin in the area of the alopecia is usually flaky. Unlike humans, dogs are usually not pruritic.

Cats are the tricky ones.  Some cats will have patchy hair loss.  Usually, the hair loss is localized around the mouth, eyes, and on the ears.  However, there are cats who are asymptomatic, which means they have the fungus on their fur, but don't have any lesions.  These cats are still contagious!  So, if you suddenly come down with a ringworm lesion and you recently had contact with a cat, the cat was probably the source, even if it appeared healthy.

The fungus that causes ringworm can also survive very well in the environment, including the dirt.  The fungal spores can also travel through the air and hide in places, like air conditioning ducts, for long periods.  It is extremely difficult to get rid of ringworm once it has entered an environment.  The fungus is very susceptible to household cleaners.  So, it is pretty easy to kill it on cleanable surfaces.  The problem areas are the places we don't usually clean or are difficult to clean, such as furniture or air ducts.

If your pet is diagnosed with ringworm, limit the areas he has access to and keep him isolated from other pets and children.  Ringworm is a treatable disease, but as I said, it is difficult to eliminate it from your environment once it’s there.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pet Health Tip #12- Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Several great flea control products are on the market.  However, flea allergy dermatitis is still a major problem for dog and cat owners.  Three common factors contributing to that are: 1- Failure to properly apply flea control products.  2- Extreme sensitivity to fleabites.  3- Failure to treat indoor pets.

First, let's talk about the failure to properly apply flea control products.  Often owners don't understand when and how to apply the topical flea control products.  A good rule of thumb is to remember to wait at least two days after a bath before applying the product and to wait at least two days after applying the product before giving a bath.  The products use the oil glands associated with the hair follicles for absorption into the skin.  Most shampoos strip these glands of their oil. Therefore, waiting a few days after the bath will allow the oil glands to replenish.  By the same token, it takes a few days after applying the product before it is completely absorbed into the skin. Therefore, the product needs time to absorb before allowing your pet to get wet.  This two-day rule also applies to swimming.  If your dog is a frequent swimmer, then I suggest using an oral flea control product and avoiding the topical products altogether.

Another application error is failure to apply the product directly to the skin.  To apply properly, part the hair, put the end of the tube against the skin, and then squeeze out the liquid.  Don't touch it!  I have had several clients who have told me they "rubbed it in."  Don't!  That only takes the product off your pet and onto you.  Also, with cats, it is important to apply it to a part of the head they can't reach with their tongues.  Cats are notorious for bathing the products off.

Another possible reason for your pet’s flea allergy dermatitis is that some dogs and cat are extremely sensitive to fleabites.  Some animals are so allergic that one fleabite can cause them to itch for an entire week!  Therefore, you may never see the flea that is causing the allergy.  It is essential to limit the amount of time these animals spend outside in order to limit their possible exposure to fleas.  Also, it is especially important to keep them on a flea control product all year round.

Finally, a common mistake I see pet owners make is to only treat their outdoor pets and not the pets that live indoors.  I see this most often with owners who have indoor cats and indoor/outdoor dogs.  They treat the dogs for fleas, but not the cats. The problem with that is the fleas will hitch a ride on the indoor/outdoor pet.  Once they get inside, they will jump off the animal that has been treated and onto the one that hasn’t.

Diagnosis of flea allergy dermatitis is pretty straightforward.  Typically, a distinct pattern of hair loss and redness of the skin appears on the animal’s rump.  The pets are usually very pruritic (itchy) and will bit and scratch at the base of the tail.  If your dog is showing these symptoms, then it is almost certainly fleas.  Look very carefully, and you may spot one.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pet Heatlh Tip #11- Hot Spots

"Hot spots" are localized bacterial skin infections usually caused by Staphylococcus spp. Typically, the skin becomes inflamed and the bacteria that are normally found on the skin invade and cause an infection.  You will notice an area of matted fur or a lesion that is oozing pus.  The skin will be very red and inflamed. Often the lesion appears very suddenly and progresses quickly.

There are 3 common causes of the initial inflammation of the skin:

1) Moist skin- The skin becomes moist due to a bath, swim, or heat.  If the dog has dense fur, then this area doesn't dry properly and the moist skin becomes inflamed allowing the bacterial invasion.

2) Fleas- The skin becomes inflamed from either the flea bites or the dog scratching.

3) Ear infections- Often times a hot spot will develop under the ear due to either the dog digging at his ear or from the discharge coming out of the ear.

The main treatment for “hot spots” is to allow the skin to dry.  First, shave the fur from around the lesion.  Once the fur is removed, then the air can circulated over the skin and dry it out.  The next step is to thoroughly clean the area.  Most of the time the dog will also need oral antibiotics in order to heal the infection.

"Hot spots" can spread very rapidly.  They are extremely painful and can cause nasty looking lesions.  It is important that you get the "hot spot" treated as soon as you notice it.