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Beauty Is Only Skin Deep – Recognizing Problems on Your Dog’s Skin
Your dog’s skin is very similar to human skin. The skin is the largest organ and the first line of defense against harmful bacteria. Your dog’s skin will serve as a visible warning to the dog owner when your dog may be affected by a parasite allergy that could lead to serious health problems.
There are two types of parasite allergens. Both external and internal parasites can lead to more serious health problems for your dog. We will focus on External parasites.
It is important to keep a grooming diary for your dog. As with many skin problems, the changes in your dog’s skin and hair can be so gradual that by the time you notice the changes, your dog’s problem may be out of control. Your grooming journal will serve a dual purpose.
First, it will provide a schedule of routine and habit to follow that will help keep your dog healthy. And secondly, it will detail any changes observed during the grooming process through documentation, e.g. I noticed a little redness in the ears while cleaning today. Proper use of this care log will remind you to check for any progression of symptoms.
External parasites they are pests that not only affect animals but also humans. These pests will generally make your dog unhappy. The first signs that your dog may have an external parasite are vigorous head shaking, persistent scratching of the ears and other body parts, jerking from a relaxed state to “chase” a nagging itch that just can’t seem to relieve. The different types of external parasites are fleas, ticks, lice and mites.
Fleas they are visible to the naked eye and relatively easy to detect and treat. Fleas will be attracted to moist warm areas and can usually be found on your dog’s belly or groin area. Please understand that the sight of one flea means there are probably hundreds present. The flea not only feeds on your dog but also on a human host. Once the female flea feeds on the host’s blood, it lays eggs that fall off your dog and onto furniture, bedding or carpet. Eggs hatch into larvae, grow into nymphs, mature into cocoons, then emerge into adult fleas and the process begins again. There are many great products that will complete this cycle. Topical chemical treatments to be given on a monthly or quarterly schedule. These treatments are effective and will break the flea life cycle to get rid of the problem.
If you prefer a holistic, pesticide-free treatment, your first line of defense is to have a healthy dog. All parasites tend to feed on the weak, so a healthy dog will not be as attractive as the host. Feeding your dog small amounts of garlic, apple cider vinegar, or brewer’s yeast will also make your dog less attractive to fleas. These holistic approaches may stop the initial attack. However, at the first sign of fleas you should protect the entire house from infestation. An easy way to tell if you have a real problem is to comb your dog on a white towel, especially useful if your dog is dark colored or has dark skin and look for flea “dirt” or droppings that will show up as brown spots. If you add water to the brown spots and they turn red, then you have a real flea problem. While fleas are the most common external pest, they should not be considered a nuisance but harmless. Fleas can carry many infectious diseases such as bubonic plague, Brazilian fever and typhus to name a few.
Ticks they are much easier to detect and get rid of fleas, but they are much more dangerous for both you and your dog. Ticks burrow their heads through the skin and pour into the blood of their hosts. A tick will normally be found on your dog’s ears, head or neck because they hide in tall grassy areas and attach themselves to your dog while he sniffs for possible “trifle” spots. Once fully engorged, the tick will drop off the host, lay eggs and die. This is why people may not see them as a threat. The reality is that ticks are a major vector of infectious diseases. These diseases cannot be transmitted to your pet until the tick has been feeding for several hours, so discovery and removal must be prompt. Some of the infectious diseases carried by ticks are:
Babezosis which can be fatal. This illness may be asymptomatic (no obvious symptoms) or may include symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle pain, fatigue, and sweating.
Ehrlichiosis which manifests itself with early symptoms of fever, malaise, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, rash, cough and joint pain. In severe cases, it leads to prolonged fever, swelling of the brain and spinal cord, uncontrolled bleeding, coma, respiratory distress, and even death.
Lyme disease which has received much publicity since its outbreak in the 1970s. Symptoms usually (but not always) begin with a circular rash and can progress to fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle and joint pain . If left untreated, it can cause shooting pains, loss of muscle tone in the face, arthritis, swollen joints, meningitis and other neurological problems.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which are the most serious diseases transmitted through a tick bite. Initial symptoms are fever, rash, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. It loves the number of white blood cells and reduces the amount of sodium in the blood. It can affect the kidneys, lungs, nervous system or gastrointestinal system.
Great care is needed in removing ticks. First, you need to protect yourself with latex gloves. Using forceps, get as close to the dog’s skin as possible and try to remove it by pulling straight out making sure you don’t leave the dog’s head or legs behind. Next, place the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it, then wash the affected area of your dog’s skin thoroughly. Continue to monitor the bite area for signs of infection or rash. Be sure to clean your tweezers with soap and water, then rub with alcohol.
Lice is an uncommon external parasite found in domestic dogs. Lice can mostly be found on young, sick, kenneled dogs or dogs rescued from puppy mills, impoverished and neglected backgrounds.
There are two types of lice. Biting lice that feed on skin and sucking lice that feed on blood. Lice are too small to see with the naked eye, but just like the lice that plague humans, their eggs (or nits) attach to a hair near the base and appear white similar to dandruff. If a magnifying glass is used, you can see the eggs. Lice are also known to carry disease.
Most flea shampoos are effective at killing lice. You should also treat any other animals that may have come in contact with the lice as well as yourself. Bag and dispose of all bedding and treat any areas that may be infested with lice with an insecticidal spray as well as grooming tools.
Mites they are tiny arthropods that are also parasitic on other animals. There are several varieties of mites that affect dogs. Two of these are scabies mites.
The sarcoptic mange mite burrows into the skin usually around the eyes and ears. They are extremely irritating and cause severe scratching, crusting, sores on the body and subsequent hair loss. There is also usually a strong odor detected by the infected dog. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs and can cause mange to develop.
Dimodidis scabies mites adhere to hair follicles. Ringworm is often hereditary and is much less severe. It can cause sores caused by secondary infection.
Both of these mites can be killed with specialized shampoos available from your vet. As with lice, it is best to bag and dispose of all bedding. Groom other animals that may be infected and clean grooming supplies.
The Cheyletiella mite it has also been called “walking dandruff” because it is visible to the naked eye. As suggested, they look like dandruff flakes with legs. The cheyletiella mite has a long life cycle, so treatments must be repeated many times. They can also be killed with a veterinary shampoo. As with the others, they are contagious to other dogs and bedding should be replaced.
The harvest mite it is barely visible to the naked eye. They are usually found on the feet and between the toes. The harvest mite is red in color and causes the dog to lick and nibble at its paws in an attempt to soothe the irritation. As mentioned earlier, a veterinary shampoo will solve this infestation.
Ear mites it can barely be seen with the naked eye. They are quite small but they are white. The infection they cause results in a yellow, brown or mahogany colored ear discharge. This contamination will cause an unpleasant odor. Signs of an ear mite infection are head shaking or scratching of one or both ears, screaming when touched around the ears, and inflammation of the ear flaps. Antibiotic drops are required to treat ear mites.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting itchy typing about all these external parasites! I use my grooming log consistently and am very confident that my own dog is parasite free. My next article will explore Internal parasites.
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