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Modern-day advertising is chocked full of cosmetic products for treating your skin. You won’t find many such commercials pertaining to your dog, but that doesn’t mean your canine’s skin is any less important.
Skin represents your dog’s largest organ, comprising up to 15 percent of his total body weight. In addition to providing a surface on which hair or fur grows, dogs’ skin performs a myriad of functions – guarding against dehydration by minimizing fluid loss, protecting them from exposure to adverse weather, and making pooches more huggable.
As a pet owner, it’s important to appreciate the benefits skin affords your dog, yet be wary of skin conditions that can afflict your canine. Your dog’s skin provides your veterinarian with a telling glimpse into his overall health. Whereas smooth, shiny skin often indicates proper health, less healthy skin can be a troubling sign of poor nutrition or the presence of an internal disease.
Your dog’s skin performs its functions admirably; it just needs some assistance from the owner to stay healthy. Read on to develop a knowledge of dog skin that’s far more than skin-deep.
General Structure of a Dog’s Skin
A dog’s skin consists of an outer layer called the epidermis and an inner layer called the dermis. Both layers serve functions crucial for your dog’s survival.
The epidermis is the body’s environmental shield. It’s comprised of a durable layer of cells that’s continuously formed and shed from the surface.
Underneath the epidermis is the dermis, which rests on a supporting layer of fat and thin muscle. The dermis is composed of a network of connective tissue that also contains nerves, blood vessels, hair follicles, and sweat and oil glands.
Function of a Dog’s Skin
As is the case with most skin-covered animals, this organ occupies a number of vital roles for dogs. The skin and hair coat combined are the dog’s largest sensory organ, monitoring the environment and influencing body temperature.
Serving as the first line of defense, your dog’s skin prevents trauma, protects against invasion of microorganisms and chemicals, and serves as the site of Vitamin D synthesis. Skin also reduces the risk of dehydration, acting as a reservoir for fat, electrolytes, water, carbohydrates, and protein.
Skin Discharge or Odor in Dogs
Skin odor is a common manifestation of a skin infection. The most common skin infections are bacterial and yeast infections. If an infection is left untreated, involvement of deeper parts of the skin is possible.
History is very important for proper diagnosis of skin diseases. Your veterinarian will ask questions regarding the age of onset, progression of disease, and response to previous treatments. In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to establish a final diagnosis.
Treatment for bacterial skin disorders typically involves antibiotics, though medicated shampoos can also assist with treating this type of skin condition. You may have to administer oral medications to help treat the infection. Some dogs may require medications for a prolonged time as skin infections usually take time to clear.
Skin Lesion or Sore in Dogs
There are many different types of lesions that can occur in the skin of dogs. Some lesions are a manifestation of a dermatological disease while others are a manifestation of an internal disease.
A thorough physical exam and various diagnostic tests can help determine the cause of skin lesions or sores and direct a course of treatment. The underlying cause will dictate the treatment, which can range from oral medications to minor surgery.
Allergic & Parasitic Skin Diseases
Flea allergy is the most common allergic skin disease in the United States. Dogs with flea allergies tend to scratch leading to lesions on the rump, hind legs, tail, and belly. Other allergic reactions in dogs can result from food, insects, and airborne allergens.
Parasitic skin conditions can result from exposure to fleas, lice, and ear mites, among other sources. While many of these conditions can be relieved with proper medication, it’s possible for the itching to recur once the medication dosage is complete.
Skin Growth, Lump, Swelling or Mass in Dogs
Skin growths are lumps of tissue that are within the skin or can be felt under the skin. These lumps and bumps are fairly common occurrences, especially in the older dogs.
Very often the word “lump” brings the word “cancer” to mind. However, there are many other causes of lumps. A skin growth or mass may be a malignant or benign tumor, an abscess, a cyst, a hematoma (blood-filled mass), or a reaction by the skin to an allergen (hives). To be safe, all lumps should be evaluated for the possibility of malignancy.
Any new lump or bump should be evaluated right away, especially a lump that is rapidly growing, is warm or painful, is ulcerated or bleeding, is irregular in shape, or is well-attached to the tissues under the skin. A complete physical exam and diagnosis can be done by your veterinarian.
Skin Cancer in Dogs
Skin cancer encompasses a broad category of tumors that includes any uncontrolled growth of cells of the skin or associated structures such as glands, hair follicles, and supportive tissues. The skin is the most common site of cancer in the dog.
As a dog owner, you should examine your canine’s skin on a regular basis. If you note a new lump, a sore that does not appear to heal, or other changes in the skin, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
While the cause of most dog skin cancers is unknown (only a few types are known to arise from over-exposure to the sun), treatment options include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Resources for Dog Skin Conditions
It’s important to remember that this article presents just a partial list of the skin ailments that can affect your dog. For more thorough analysis of your dog’s perceived skin condition, consult your veterinarian.
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