5 Signs It May Be Time to See a Veterinary Dermatologist

Inspecting cat for skin problems

Last night I had dinner with my area's most illustrious veterinary dermatologist, Dr. Allison Flynn, DVM. She lectures for all of the biggies, and holds court at our local veterinary meetings.

Unfortunately, she also has a pet peeve: She feels most veterinarians refer clients to her only when things have gone catastrophically awry, by which time either the animal is set to expire (yes, pets die of skin diseases every day) or said pet has been suffering needlessly for months, even years on end.

Believe it or not, veterinary skin medicine is a frustrating business — it’s complex, it’s tedious and it’s underappreciated. I mean, it’s only skin, right? What could be so critical when you compare it to a failing heart or an ailing liver? What’s a skin allergy got on chronic renal failure or diabetes?

Unfortunately, a whole lot. Not only are many skin diseases the first and sometimes only manifestation of a whole host of serious internal diseases, but a chronic skin disease can be far more threatening to a pet’s quality of life than anything else he may ever suffer. Just take my word for it — chronic skin disease sucks.

After listening intently and patiently to Dr. Flynn's heartfelt animal welfare–centric download, I felt compelled to write this post. Here are my top five tips for deciding when to seek out a veterinary dermatologist.

Your Pet Isn’t Healing

If you’ve seen your regular veterinarian for three or more visits for the same skin problem — with little to middling long-term success with alleviating the symptoms — it’s probably time to get a referral. That is, if you’ve carefully followed all the veterinary instructions regarding medications, diet, shampoos, re-checks, etc. If you’ve been “good” but the results aren’t, ask about a referral.

There Is a Sudden Change to Your Pet's Skin

If your pet has a suddenly worsening skin condition that your vet’s ministrations have only minimally resolved, don’t wait. We all hope things will just “get better” on their own. And no one wants to spend money when they don’t have to, but in cases like this you need to bite the bullet and talk to your vet about seeing a veterinary dermatologist as soon as possible.

Your Pet Has a Skin Ulcer

Lesions located at the junction between mucous membranes (like the lips) and haired skin can have a way of being bad things that might well be treated best if attacked early by an expert that deals with them all the time.

Your Pet Has a Toe Mass

Spend the money to have your vet biopsy any tumorous lesions ASAP when they involve the toes or the nail beds (the area between the haired skin of the toes and the claw itself). Be prepared to see a dermatologist or an oncologist once the results are back.

There Is an Unusual Skin Eruption

There are many common infectious, cancerous or allergic skin conditions that I don’t refer to a specialist. But if something simple doesn’t get better fast or if I am presented with something out of the ordinary, I will refer immediately. Bottom line: In my book, there’s no excuse for failing to recommend that my patients go to a higher authority when necessary.

Check out more of Dr. Patty Khuly's opinion pieces on Vetstreet.


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