The cooler months of the year usually bring with them a lower incidence of skin problems in dogs and cats. Two skin conditions seem quite common at the moment and both seem related to the length of time pets are spending inside in a heated atmosphere.
Cats suffer from a condition called miliary eczema. In its acute form, the cat suddenly starts rubbing itself or licking areas on its rump or along its midline until the affected area becomes quite raw.
In the less acute form, small eruptions occur on the surface of the skin. These produce a small amount of exudate which mats the fur. These eruptions can occur anywhere on the body but are more often confined to the back and neck areas.
The cat’s fur usually appears quite dry and it sheds more hair than is usual at this time of year. The skin tends to be dry and scaly, which is particularly noticeable.
Fleas play an important part in exacerbating this condition. The presence of only a few fleas can produce an allergic reaction, which probably accounts for most of the acute forms of the condition.
The actual cause of miliary eczema in cats is not known. Some veterinarians consider that it is simply an allergic response to the bite of the cat flea. I think this is doubtful, as the condition is often seen in cats that are absolutely free of fleas. Certainly, fleas complicate the condition and it is impossible to control until fleas are completely eradicated.
In recent years considerable success has been achieved in treating miliary eczema with the use of progesterone hormones, both in the male and female. Small doses are given twice weekly after an initial daily dose over four or five days. In the acute stages of the condition, anti-inflammatory drugs are used to control the intense itching.
Dogs suffer a skin condition in the winter which seems to differ from the eczemas seen in the summer months. In the hot weather, the affected areas are at the base of the tail, the rump and along the back.
The areas affected most commonly in this winter form are on the stomach, the chest wall and the insides of the front and hind legs. The skin, in general, is dry and the dog scratches frequently, particularly after exercise or after sitting in front of a fire or heater.
A purely personal theory to explain the distribution of these lesions in the winter is that in cold weather the dog spends a great deal of its time curled up on a rug or blanket.
The skin on its undersurface is kept warm and not ventilated and is subject to friction by rubbing against other skin areas or the bedding. The skin becomes inflamed and itchy and the dog starts to lick and scratch the area, thereby worsening the damage to the external skin layers and encouraging the secondary infection from skin bacteria.
Fleas also can thrive in these warm conditions and may even breed in the bedding and rugs. Regular washing and airing of the bedding are important in winter and every effort should be made to control the fleas on the dog. As washing is difficult in winter, a modern flea collar may be the most practical method of flea-control.
Try to dissuade the dog from spending too much time in a very hot atmosphere. If the dog sleeps inside make sure that it is away from direct sources of heat. Regular exercise is important. Dogs grow a much better coat and are healthier if they are kept out of doors for most of the day.