Diagnostic Approach to Skin Disease – Animal Hospital in McKinney

mckinney animal hospitalOur last article discussed causes for skin disorders in pets, illustrating the fact that symptoms such as scratching and biting of the skin, head shaking, scooting of rear end, and licking at feet have a range of underlying disorders.  This is complicated by the fact that multiple factors are often involved, so accurate diagnosis becomes more difficult.

The best results are obtained when pet owner and veterinarian combine their efforts toward successful therapy.  Some cases can be solved with a simple history and physical exam.  Flea infestation and probable flea allergy dermatitis often fall into this category.  However, when diagnosis is less clear-cut, owners need to understand that testing must be done to rule out possible causes; therapies will be prescribed in accordance with those test results.  Some therapies are more effective in some patients than others, and trial periods are sometimes instituted to determine therapy effectiveness.

It is important that owners give feedback on the degree of relief that is provided by treatments, so that adjustments can be made in dosages or alternative medications can be prescribed.  This may entail several visits to our animal hospital in McKinney for examination and re-assessment, with the understanding that both parties are striving to reach the most effective treatments possible for the pet.  At the beginning of a visit to our animal hospital in McKinney, the owner provides an accurate history of the pet’s problem, including information such as:

  • age of the pet at onset
  • progression of symptoms
  • body areas involved
  • exposure to other animals
  • degree of itch
  • odor of skin
  • symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, or loose stools
  • possible symptoms of disease (obesity, increased thirst, weight loss, lethargy, etc.)

The veterinarian will then perform a thorough physical exam to categorize skin ailments and detect other disease processes that may exist. It is not uncommon for a pet’s skin ailments to be the result of an underlying disease such as hypothyroidism in dogs, hyperthyroidism in cats, Cushing’s syndrome, lupus, autoimmune diseases, obesity, diabetes mellitus, pancreatic insufficiency, intestinal malabsorption syndromes and renal disease–all of which are common complicating factors that bear directly on skin disorders.  Effective management of the skin problem depends on first resolving the primary disease process.

If we haven’t made a diagnosis, other testing can be done as indicated at our animal hospital in MicKinney.  A list of possible procedures includes:

  • close examination for external parasites
  • stool sample analysis–detects intestinal parasites that can exacerbate the immune system reactions
  • detection of flea dirt–dark granules turn red after moistening with water (Figure 1)
  • skin scrape analysis–obtains upper skin cell layers for microscopic examination to detect mites (see article 1 from last week)
  • woods lamp examination–special light detects fungal organisms
  • impression smear cytology–a glass slide is pressed against affected area of skin, stain is applied and then examined under a microscope to detect abnormal skin cells, blood cells, and organisms such as Malassezia
  • Dermatologic Test Medium (DTM) to culture skin debris for fungi
  • culture samples of lesions–many skin disorders involve bacterial infection; culturing divulges bacteria involved and susceptibilities to various antibiotics
  • skin biopsy–a skin sample is obtained for examination by pathologist (skin biopsy is especially valuable in suspected cases of skin tumors and autoimmune diseases)
  • food elimination trial–used in suspected cases of food allergy dermatitis; specialized foods eliminate offensive proteins from the diet
  • serologic allergy testing–determines which allergens in pet’s environment are responsible for hypersensitivities;  testing is followed by injections of special sera to decrease the patient’s reaction to those substances (this test is an extremely valuable tool with chronic allergies)
  • CBC and blood chemistries, thyroid testing, ACTH stimulation, etc.–blood analyses performed to discover underlying causes of skin disease.

Therapies can be as varied as the causes of skin disease.  Based on all information gleaned from tests, examinations and the pet’s history, our animal hospital in McKinney will perform treatments aimed to address underlying diseases and various direct causes of a patient’s symptoms.  Next week we’ll discuss some of these treatments that can give our pets so much relief from itching.

Contact us for more information about our McKinney Animal Clinic at (469) 507-2433.  Like us on Facebook, or sign up for our monthly newsletter, to keep up with news and events at Stonebridge Animal Hospital.

animal hospital mckinney McKinney TX
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
5913 Virginia Parkway, Ste 100
McKinney, TX 75071
(469) 507-2433




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