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Friday, March 26, 2010

skin problems

I have been researching quite a bit on skin problems in cats because of Coffee's condition. Skin problems in dogs seem less complex, though some of the ways to identify and treat are the same in both cats and dogs. I have compiled here a summary of what I have gathered on skin problems in animals.

Previously I wrote about the kinds of skin problems in cats that fall in the spectrum of allergies. I have also written about allergies in dogs for the Angels blog. In both species, treatment priority goes to flea dermatitis first because that is the most common skin problem. Flea dermatitis is a non-localised skin disorder that causes itching, fur loss, hot spots. It is caused by a reaction to flea bites, so treating the flea problem is crucial. Usually it is recommended that you use a regular de-fleaing regime for your pet so that you can not only treat the most likely cause of skin problems, you can also eliminate flea dermatitis as the cause of the itching and fur loss, should the problem not abate despite flea treatment.

Another cause for non-localised skin problems is food allergy, and this is more so for dogs than cats. Chicken has been blamed for many food allergies in dogs. In the past, lamb used to be the alternative protein source of choice for pet owners seeking low-allergen food for their dogs. Partly because a dog can become suddenly allergic to a meat source he's been on for years, many dogs are now also allergic to lamb. The current most trendy low-allergen protein choice for dog owners now is fish. For cats though, fish and seafood is considered one of the high-allergen types of protein. Chicken is relatively safe for cats, and poultry is in fact considered better for cats, especially kittens, because of its digestibility as well. If you have treated your dog for flea dermatitis and the skin problem does not recede, target food allergy next. For cats, it is usually less complicated a problem so for cat owners - cats with food allergies usually show it quite apparently upon eating the incriminating food source so this problem is relatively easy to identify in cats.

For Coffee, his skin disorder is non-localised which means that we ruled out contact allergies. Contact allergies are specifically located at parts of the pet's body which comes into contact with the environmental or indoor allergen. This could be grass, household cleaners, scented litter, fragrances, depending on which part of the pet's skin is affected. For this kind of allergy, it is also not uncommon for your pet to have teary eyes or runny noses as well. You will need to be thorough in inspecting which part of your pet's body is affected. If it is the hind legs, it could be the cat litter or toilet floor cleaner which your cat squats over. If it is the extremities - ears, forehead, paws, tail - it could be a generic household cleaner. If it is only on the paws, it is likely what you are using to clean the floor, or if outdoors, grass itself.

For cats, especially adult cats, some do tend to over-groom themselves in certain spots because of stress factors. For dogs, they do the same especially out of boredom. There may have been sudden changes in yours or your pet's lifestyle that causes fur loss due to over-grooming. If you see that your pet is constantly licking and biting itself at localised spots of its body, this could be a source of the skin problem. Boredom can be counteracted with more interaction, play and toys for your dog, and stressful situations for your cat can be mitigated as well.

Back to Coffee, whose problem we felt was scabies, known as mange. It is a rare occurrence for cats, in fact only one in ten suspected scabies cases in cats are truly due to the mites that cause mange. The only true test of mange is for a vet to do a skin scraping. However, due to Coffee's history and the fact that we had to rule out flea dermatitis as well, we used Revolution Pink on him to kill both fleas and mites, thereby eliminating both potential causes. To date, his skin has not yet been restored to full glory but it has at the very least not gotten worse, for now we reckon that his fur will eventually grow back. I have been applying a herbal antiseptic balm on his bald patches daily now, and have also been using oatmeal shampoo or conditioner for his fortnightly baths. Another kind of parasite-related skin disorders include ringworm, which usually is telltale by its circular-shape patches of fur loss (although that is not an entirely fail-safe way to diagnose the problem). Ringworm is zoonotic - contractable by humans - so we ruled it out in Coffee, slum-vet-style, because none of us got it from him, and even if we did we wouldn't really mind if it helped us identify a problem. Not the best way to diagnose the problem, so if Coffee's fur doesn't grow back in couple of weeks we will definitely have to bring him to the vet again. For now, I monitor his recovery daily when I apply his medication.

To combat fur loss, neem oil is reputedly good as a natural topical treatment especially for dogs. For cats it seems that research shows that neem tea is safer for use instead. Neem tea is quite complicated in that instead of using store-bought oil, you need to soak neem leaves in hot water overnight, strain out the leaves to make a paste to apply topically, and you can use the tea itself as a rinse as well. This is recommended because cats have more of a tendency to lick themselves in their grooming process, and if you are treating skin disorders it is likely they will end up licking a lot of it. That or you can use an e-collar to prevent your cat from self-grooming if you do choose to use neem oil and worry about ingestion. And a tip for using neem - you don't have to buy pet branded neem products, human shops sell them too in pharmacies and health stores, it is much cheaper than pet brands. I will be shopping for neem products for Coffee as soon as I can hit our nearest shopping mall, Parkway.

This article has Coffee to thank, he got me to reading so much these couple of weeks on skin problems in cats; I am also really grateful for Revolution Pink that helped prevent, eliminate and treat fleas and mites - two of the likely causes of skin problems.


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