There are seven signs to watch for, our expert explains.

By Nancy Mattia
September 23, 2020
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british shorthair cat scratching
Credit: chendongshan / Getty Images

When your dog or cat starts acting strangely, something could be physically wrong with them. While cats may try to hide or mask their symptoms, a dog will often give you a hint—they don't want to leave their bed all day or they fail to greet you with their usual wild enthusiasm when you arrive home. Hint or not, pet parents should consider what's causing the erratic or unusual behavior. In some instances, the culprit will be a skin problem and even an innocent-looking rash could lead to a more serious problem if left unchecked. According to the ASPCA, common skin disorders in dogs and cats include ringworm, scabies, Cushing's disease, and allergies. Here's what you need to do to get your best furry friend on the road to good health.

First, be aware of the signs.

Some of the most common signs of a skin problem, according to Dr. Lauren Pinchbeck, DVM, MS, of Northeast Veterinary Dermatology Specialists, in Chappaqua, New York, are: persistent scratching, licking, biting, chewing, rubbing, rolling; skin lesions such as bumps, rashes, or ulcers; recurrent ear infections; hair loss or changes in coat quality, color, or texture; pigment changes in the skin; lumps and bumps that are new or changing; problems with the claws or nails. If your dog or cat is experiencing any of the following symptoms, they should be checked out by a doctor.

Seek advice from your veterinarian.

If your first impulse is to call a dermatologist when you notice your pet has a skin irregularity, don't neglect consulting your veterinary practitioner first. "Your veterinarian should be the first point of contact," says Dr. Pinchbeck. "However, they may request or need the support of a veterinary dermatologist for a complex condition or certain procedures or tests that are not done in the primary care setting."

Know when to get a veterinary dermatologist involved.

 The specialist can be consulted at any point during the disease process, says Dr. Pinchbeck. "Some veterinarians refer a pet at the onset, others after traditional diagnostics and treatments have been pursued. Veterinary dermatologists collaborate with veterinarians to achieve a definitive diagnosis and formulate appropriate treatment plans." Sometimes, the primary care veterinarian executes the treatment. Often, the dermatologist assumes the role of managing the pet's problems over the long run, depending on the condition and whether the primary care veterinarian feels comfortable overseeing the long-term management.

"Since animals cannot communicate, veterinary dermatologists rely on observations made by the pet parent, clinical signs, and what the skin is showing us," says Dr. Pinchcheck. Give your vet the whole story, even if you think some details are irrelevant.

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