Pet Skin Care 101
The skin is a large and dynamic organ. Your pet needs healthy skin for much the same reasons we need it: heat regulation through shivering and sweating, protection from microorganisms, and storage of things like water, fats, and vitamins. Domesticated animals, including pets, rely on their owners for a well-balanced diet as well as attention, and medications to keep them healthy.
General Skin Health
- Nutrition: Just like all parts of your pet, pet skin requires many nutrients to stay healthy. Deficiencies in any part of a pet's diet are usually first seen in the skin. Dogs and cats specifically need plenty of protein, fats and fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The majority of mid to high-end commercial pet foods contain the nutrients necessary to keep your pet's skin healthy.
- Clean Coats: Because your pet's fur is pretty much an extension of its skin, keeping your pet's coat healthy is essential to maintaining healthy skin. Things like burs, thistles, and other seeds can get stuck in your pet's fur, causing it to tangle and mat over time.
Mats are uncomfortable for your pet and they will pull and bite in an attempt to de-mat their fur; mats can also harbor fleas. To keep your pet free of mats and the undesirable critters that come with them, groom your pet at least once a week or more. If mats develop, be sure to comb them away from the skin with a steel comb before trying to cut them out. Try grabbing the hair between the mat and skin while combing the mat to keep the experience as painless as possible for your pet.
Bacterial Skin Infections
Most pet skin infections are caused by the Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria. Not to worry though: the staph bacteria that infect pets is not contagious and cannot be spread to humans. Most pet staph infections, or pyodermas, appear as itchy, yellow pustules and can redden or become crusty as an infection progresses. Hair loss of the infected area is also a common symptom. The majority of pyodermas can be treated by trimming hair surrounding the infection, washing the area with an antibiotic shampoo, and applying an antibiotic ointment until the infection clears. It may be necessary to employ some method to prevent your pet from licking or biting the infected area as it heals.
Fungal Skin Infections
Pet skin infections resulting from a fungus are usually diagnosed as ringworm. These infections are most often seen on the head and legs, but if allowed to progress can spread to other areas of the body. Unlike pyodermas, pet ringworm is contagious and can be spread to humans. Pet ringworm often appears as a circular pattern of hair loss. These infections can be treated by first trimming hair around the infection and then washing the infected area with a fungicidal shampoo. Treatment must be repeated until the infection clears, which can take as long as 2 or 3 months in some cases. Keep your pets happy and healthy by paying close attention to the health of their skin and fur. Pet skin health can best be maintained with proper diet and good grooming practices.
Photo Credit: Libby Hall Dog Photo