By Alfred J. Plechner, D.V.M.
I think the most frustrating thing that the pet owner often faces with dog skin problems is that they are told by their veterinarian that dog skin problems come from a flea allergy mainly. Often the client tells the veterinarian that their dog does not have fleas but are quickly reminded that “you may not see the flea, but it did bite your dog and cause this skin problem”. The pet owner does everything in their power to rid their dog, yard and home from fleas including weekly or biweekly bathing however their dog’s skin problem still remains.
If you are not sure if your dog has fleas, see if it is easy to scrap off small specks of dirt, if present on your dog’s skin. By placing a few of these specks on a piece of white paper and applying a drop of water to each speck, if the speck does not change then the speck is merely dirt, however if the speck turns red, that is flea feces and your dog has fleas even if you cannot see them. Often applied anti-flea agents are used monthly which I have found to be highly detrimental to the dog and often do not work and the dog‘s skin problem still exists. At this time, monthly oral anti-flea agents seem to be much safer and much more efficient for the reduction of fleas but may not solve the dog’s skin problems if fleas are not the culprit.
What then is causing your dog skin problems? Often when the dog bites its feet, scratches its ears and also the skin of the abdomen, the pet owner is told the dog’s skin problem comes from an allergy to the grass which is usually not true. Sometimes the grass is fertilized and can cause a contact skin problem but once bathed the irritation usually disappears. The reason that the dog skin problem occurs in these areas is because it just happens that mast cells that contain histamine are concentrated in the skin of the face, ears, feet and the skin covering the abdomen. Once these cells release their histamine, inflammation will occur in these areas. If one area for example, like one paw seems redder than the other paws, it may indicate a larger concentration of mast cells in that paw as opposed to the other paws and therefore allow for more histamine release and more inflammation in that paw to occur. This can happen also with one ear as opposed to the other ear etc.
If grass and fleas are not doing this then what is? This effect may be caused by a food allergy which should be easily corrected by going to a limited antigen diet consisting of one protein and one carbohydrate like white potatoes. Definitely avoid sweet potatoes as opposed to white potatoes because sweet potatoes are higher in estrogen that promotes further inflammation and histamine release. Accompanying a dog’s skin problem with a food allergy, you may see very small areas of raised hair all over the back and sides of your dog if your dog has short hair and you can even see these raised areas. These raised areas are caused by the presence of hives which come from a food allergy which will cause the overlying hair to rise up in a small bump.
What might be other dog skin problems? We as pet owners see “hot spots” which are merely areas of allergic itchiness that the pet scratches into a hairless moist area of inflamed skin. This is usually allergy induced but can also occur from an insect bite. Often facial and chin pustules can be part of a dog’s skin problem. This also can come from an allergy which reduces the resistances of the skin in that area and allows for the resident staphylococcus bacteria to grow out of control. This is easily remedied by your veterinarian but it is important not to let young children handle the dog until this skin problem has been healed because young children can transfer the staph bacteria to themselves and develop the pustules on their own face which is referred to as impetigo.
Often an antibiotic will kill off most of the staph bacteria and take care of the dog’s skin problem for awhile, but as the resident bacteria begin to grow again, the allergy and or allergic pustules again begin to reappear. What your dog is experiencing is an increase in the allergen in the wall of the staph bacteria that is called a mucopolysaccharide and when the antibiotic has killed off most of the staph bacteria, that allergen is markedly reduced and the clinical signs of allergy disappear until the bacterial growth reoccurs due to this loss of resistance in the skin of the dog.
Any suspicious dog skin problem can be cultured for specific bacteria and fungi, scraped for parasites or biopsied for more specific information about an auto immune or tumor like growth occurring in the skin of the dog. If identifying the effects of the dog skin problem cure the problem, great, however if the procedures done on the skin shed no light on the diagnosis and further tests are indicated, beware! Possibly a 2nd opinion is in order.
Often blood tests for food allergies are suggested or intra dermal testing with desensitization might also be suggested. Please realize both these tests are quite expensive to have done and the outcome is usually less favorable and only identifies the effects and not the cause of why these dog skin problems occur. There is a very simple blood test that will identify why these dog skin problems are occurring. Most dog skin problems seem to come from a hormone antibody imbalance referred to as Plechner’s Syndrome. Once the hormone imbalances are controlled and the immune system is allowed again to protect the body, the dog’s skin problems which are the effects, disappear because their cause has been identified and corrected.