Here are the answers to the most common questions we are asked.
A veterinary dermatologist is an expert in animal dermatologic diseases, including skin, ears, nails, hair, itch, infections, and allergies. In addition to veterinary school, veterinary dermatologists complete a 1-year clinical internship, a 3-year dermatology residency, and an comprehensive board exam to become board-certified. Continuing education is required to maintain diplomate status in the American College of Veterinary Dermatology. This additional training, experience, and knowledge is used alongside thorough review of previous records, focused physical exam of the skin/ears, longer appointment times, frequent follow-up communications, targeted diagnostics and treatments, and collaboration with your primary vet to provide the best care.
There is almost always an underlying cause, as infections and itch are merely symptoms. These symptoms still need to be managed appropriately for resolution and comfort, but the underlying cause must be addressed to limit recurrence. A veterinary dermatologist works with you to address both short-term and long-term goals for your pet.
Not typically, but many dermatologic diseases are quality-of-life-threatening. We aim to improve the overall comfort and wellbeing of the pet. However, there are some true "dermergencies" or skin symptoms that indicate internal disease. A veterinary dermatologist is trained to help in both the acute and chronic situations.
Flea allergy is the most common allergy. Fortunately, there are many safe flea preventatives available. Food allergy is more common in very young or middle-aged pets. Currently, strict elimination diet trials are the only way to diagnose food allergies in dogs and cats. Environmental allergies tend to start in young adulthood, but they are not always seasonal depending on the allergens.
Environmental allergy testing is performed as a blood test and/or sedated skin test. It provides valuable information to formulate allergy shots or drops to actually the allergy and not just cover up the symptoms. Testing for food allergies can only be performed with a strict diet trial.
Anesthetized ear flushes can be both diagnostic (e.g., identifying an ear tumor, obtaining a middle ear culture) and therapeutic (e.g., flushing through a ruptured eardrum, removing a polyp with special equipment). We use a state-of-the-art video otoscope to look into the ear, enabling excellent visualization for the veterinarian and photos/videos for the owner.
Skin biopsies are collected using at least local anesthetic and sometimes sedation for histopathology and/or culture. Samples are sent to a board-certified dermatopathologist (veterinarians exclusively trained to interpret skin biopsies in animals) for review. Biopsies provide a wealth of information for the most challenging skin diseases.
Cryotherapy can be performed on small, typically benign, masses. For example, this procedure is commonly performed on human warts. The freezing temperature from a special device results in targeted intentional tissue damage. The mass usually dries up after a few days, leaving behind relatively normal tissue underneath. Some patients will tolerate cryotherapy awake.
Trained veterinary dermatology technicians will obtain a thorough history, comparing notes from primary vet records and clarifying info from your completed online form. The dermatologist then examines your pet and obtains any necessary non-invasive skin cytology (e.g., a hair pluck, impression slide, or tape prep). The dermatologist reviews with you these diagnostic findings, possible underlying diseases, potential treatments, any further necessary diagnostics, associated costs, and expected follow-up. Together, an individual plan is made specifically for your pet.