Category: Skin / Dermatology

Why Wounds Shouldn’t Wait

The warmer weather has finally arrived.  Dogs and cats are out playing.  Outdoor cats are once again patrolling their territory.  Sometimes that playtime or territorial behavior can end up in somebody getting  a cat or dog bite wound or other type of injury caused by their exploration.  You know what else is back?  Bugs….specifically flies, mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks – but more on this later.

Superficial wounds would classify as scrapes, scratches, abrasions, and bruising.  In many of these cases, they can be addressed at home by basic first aid cleaning.  Yet, if it doesn’t seem to be going well, you should get your pet in to be checked by their veterinarian.  It’s the nasty bite wounds and lacerations that I’m mostly worried about.

dog bite wound

A wound that waited too long

In medicine, we have what is called the “golden period” when discussing wounds.  This is the optimal time period in which we have to clean and repair a wound.  Over the course of history, the length of time has varied between 6-24 hours.  Generally, after this time, wound repair becomes more complicated as the edges have generally dried up or become necrotic.  This is the real reason it’s a bad idea to wait or try to treat these larger or deeper wounds at home.  The longer it takes for a wound to be addressed leads to increased pain, risk of infection, time to heal, and increased costs.

dog bite wound

Drain placement for a pocketed wound

Some wounds might be simple punctures.  Yet, some of those puncture wounds also include pulling away of the skin from the underneath subcutaneous layers.  This creates a pocketing effect where inflammatory fluid can accumulate.  If the hole closes up too quickly and the wound hasn’t been adequately flushed, this is how abscesses are created and drain will need to be placed during a surgical procedure.  The time it may not go exactly this way is bite wounds on the legs which causes a diffuse, painful inflammation around the muscles and nerves – this is one of the most common reasons I see outdoor cats limping.

From Univ. of Florida Entomology Dept

Remember those bugs?  Flies are the worst ones when it comes to wounds as they have no decency!  Some flies may lay eggs in a pet’s wound and when that happens what amounts to an alien horde is going to beam down next.  Once the eggs hatch, you get maggots.  Ick!  While they prevent the wound from healing, they can also lead to further infection and pain.  Maggots need to be cleaned out, in one piece, and the dead tissue needs to be removed followed by additional treatments.  Breaking or crushing maggots could lead to the release of substances that can cause shock, an anaphylactic reaction, or even death.

As you can see, wounds can be a serious matter and in some cases just “waiting to see how they turn out” could lead to further problems.  At a minimum, get it checked out and don’t delay.  Early intervention can prevent bigger problems in the long run!

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect those of any current or former employers.

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Scratching the Surface of Skin Disease

Scratching the Surface of Skin Disease

Previously, we discussed the top 5 visit reasons that pets get seen at their veterinarians.  Well, we didn’t talk about skin issues but a top 6 list doesn’t sound as cool and the integumentary system has so many facets, it deserves a post of it’s own.  When I was in Florida, I would call it a dermatologist’s dream job because of the number of skin problems.  So why are we veterinarians seeing your cat or dog for skin problems?

hair loss on the head

hair loss on the head

By far, allergies are the most common causes for skin issues in dogs & cats.  Allergy issues themselves are a humongous area of possibilities so we’ll summarize it here.  The three main causes of allergies are environmental, food, and fleas.  When it comes to the environment, it could be year round or seasonal.  The offending allergen could be as common as grass, weeds, house dust mites, or in one rare case I remember – human dander.  Yeah, this dog was allergic to his people!  Sometimes these can be managed by keeping pets away from the cause, through the use of antihistamines or other medications, or in some cases the use of hyposensitization injections.

chewing on the foot

chewing on the foot

The number one thing I hear when I bring up food allergies is always “but he/she has been eating the same food for years!”  Yes, that may be so but over time, your pet has become sensitized to something in the food that is making then scratch, lose hair, or develop skin sores.  Most often, it is the protein source – not grains – and the best way to establish this diagnosis is to do a hypoallergenic food trial.  Typically, the gold standard is going to be a veterinary prescribed diet that is hydrolyzed protein meaning it has been cut down molecularly so the body doesn’t recognize it.  The other option is a novel protein diet, meaning a protein the patient hasn’t eaten before and this could be a certain type of fish, venison, or even kangaroo meat.  The most important aspect is that your pet does not get ANYTHING else to eat for 8-12 weeks, including treats unless suggested by your veterinarian.colored flea

The evil flea…causes of so many problems.  They are the easiest thing to rule out in terms of skin problems and usually the least costly to fix.  During warmer months (though at any time of the year), you should keep your pets on a flea control medication from your veterinarian.  Trust me when I say over the counter meds don’t work and may cause more problems, as noted by a recent CBC Marketplace report.  Newer to Canada are chewable flea control products (NexGard & Bravecto) which can help pets who don’t tolerate or whose family doesn’t want to use topical spot-on products.

Severe skin changes from yeast infection

Severe skin changes from yeast infection

Aside from everything above, we can see superficial rashes or skin infections (pyoderma) which can be treated with medicated shampoos or in some cases oral antibiotics.  Sometimes when these infections are not treated promptly and the pet scratches too much at the area, it can develop into a hot spot – a large inflamed moist infected area which can be painful.  In younger pets, mange mites can be a common finding and can manifest as either scabs around the head (primarily scabies in cats) or small areas of hair loss in multiple places (typically demodex in dogs).  To clear up some confusion, ringworm is not actually a worm but a fungus that can cause crusty skin and hair loss and is also contagious to people.

Redness and crusting in a painful ear

Redness and crusting in a painful ear

Ear problems are often grouped in with skin problems.  Most ear problems can be traced to a mixed infection of yeast & bacteria but your veterinary team can do an ear swab to help decipher the cause.  Ear mites are also notorious especially in young animals and can be spread to all the pets in the house.  If too much head shaking goes on, then a swelling of the ear flap can occur – this is a hematoma and can be mildly uncomfortable.  Previously, surgery was always recommended to fix these after addressing the underlying problem but lately I’ve had good success with draining them.  When it comes to ears, only use a labeled pet ear cleaner and preferably one that also acts as a drying agent.  This means no mineral oil, no peroxide, no alcohol, no water….just an ear cleaner that is labeled for pets.

Tumor on the head

Tumor on the head

These are just the basics of many common skin problems that can be seen in pets; believe me, we could spend a few weeks talking about all of them.  There are also immune system conditions such as lupus and we can also see some specific breed related conditions.  Most skin problems will present with similar signs – itching, hair loss, body odor, and redness.  We haven’t mentioned skin lumps but my colleague Dr. Sue Ettinger has launched a campaign called “See Something, Do Something” and the basic premise is that if you see a lump present for longer than a month and it’s the size of a pea or larger, get it checked out.  As a last note, I want to add that you should never give any medications without first consulting your veterinarian.  Now what are you waiting for?  Go check out your pet’s coat & skin and maybe it’s time for that bath.

Disclaimer:  All blog posts are my own writing and or opinion and do not reflect those of my current or former employers.

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