A thick glossy coat is an outward sign of a healthy well cared for pet. We all want our pets to look their best, to achieve this good skin and hair is essential. The condition of your pet's coat can be a beacon signalling many different types of health problems. Some of these health problems will be directly affecting the skin, such as fleas, others will be a sign of internal disease, such as hormonal imbalance.
Feeling, observing and smelling your dog or cat will give you all the information you need to identify any problems they are having with their coat. Following these steps could help you identify some serious health concerns early.
Regular grooming and stroking of your pet will help you to notice the condition of their coat and if there are any changes. Look for evidence of parasites such as flea dirt, fleas or mites. Feel your pet's skin to find lumps and bumps that may not be obvious under their hair. Stroking your pet may help you to find patches of spiky broken hairs caused from chewing an area that is itchy or painful.
Pay attention to areas of thinning hair, the pattern of hair loss can give a lot of information about the type of disease that may be causing it.
The overall appearance of your dog or cat can be a non-specific sign of disease, such as internal parasites causing a dull and dry coat.
Watching your pet's behaviour will also give you clues to potential problems, are they excessively scratching or biting a particular area? This can be a sign of itchy skin. They may use textured surfaces to scratch themselves, such as rubbing their back on the carpet, or dragging their bottom along the grass. Some scratching and rubbing is normal but if you notice an increase in frequency then it is time to bring your pet to the vet.
Cats may increase the amount of time they spend grooming when they are itchy, the only sign you may observe is increased numbers of hairballs.
Most cases of ear disease will cause head shaking, rubbing and scratching. You may also notice your pet avoiding being stroked on their head if their ear is painful.
Smell is a good indicator of certain types of infection, particularly yeast infections of the ears or skin. Yeast infections are particularly common in dogs with overhanging ears like Cocker Spaniels, or deep skin folds and wrinkles like Shar Peis.
When you bring your pet to the vet they will be considering a long list of potential health conditions that affect the skin, including: Parasites, Bacteria and Fungal Infections, Allergies, Autoimmune Diseases, Tumours and Hormone Imbalances etc.
- To help narrow down the cause of your pet's problem the vet will look at the breed, sex, and age of your pet.
- They will ask you questions about what you have observed; is your pet itchy, have you noticed hair loss, if so, where? Does this problem occur at a particular time of year?
- The vet will ask questions about the general health of your pet, how they are eating and drinking, have you observed any vomiting and diarrhoea, weight loss etc. This is important as some skin conditions can be a symptom of internal disease.
- A full physical examination will be followed by a closer look at the skin, looking for evidence of parasites, taking samples such as hair plucks, skin scrapes or biopsies. Some of these samples can be looked at in the veterinary practice, others will need to be sent to a laboratory.
- If an internal disease is suspected then blood samples may be required.
The most common reason a pet will have a skin complaint is parasites, so expect your vet to ask detailed questions about the parasite control you use on your pet and their environment.
If a pet with itchy skin is not treated promptly they can cause damage to an area of skin which then becomes infected with bacteria. These 'hot spots' are a common complication of skin allergies and untreated parasites, recovery often requires long periods of antibiotics and topical treatment.
To keep your pet's coat looking its best they should be fed a good quality balanced diet, groomed as often as required for their breed and coat type and have regular parasite control applied. Any concerns about their skin should be treated promptly by your vet.
Here at Protect My Pet we want to help you to help your pet look and feel their best.
Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.