Authored by Dr Vincent Defalque
Many surveys have shown that dermatology cases (ie. ear infections, skin allergies and pyodermas) are the most common presenting complaints seen in small animal practice. As a result, the specialty of veterinary dermatology has boomed in the last 30 years. The development of new diagnostic and therapeutic tools has greatly improved our ability to manage many common skin problems. Let me give you three examples.
The first example is a handy diagnostic tool called a video-otoscope. This equipment is becoming more common in veterinary practice and enables veterinarians to thoroughly assess and treat chronic and difficult ear infections in pets. Video-otoscopy is performed using an otoscope, camera, light source and monitor. The ear canal and the ear drum are brightly illuminated and magnified, enabling us to clearly visualize these parts of the ear. With a special attachment, suction and saline can be used to completely clean the ear in a patient that is anesthetized. Foreign objects, debris and parasites can be removed from the ear using tiny grasping forceps. Certain surgical procedures such as ear biopsies or myringotomies (sampling of the middle ear through a small incision in the eardrum) can also be performed.
The second and third examples relate to therapeutic innovations in the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis, the most common canine allergic skin diseases due to a hypersensitivity (an exuberant allergic reaction) to environmental allergens. The traditional treatment has been to prescribe steroids to mask the symptoms of itching. This lead to the adage “as long as you can used steroids, you can be a veterinary dermatologist”. Nowadays, it has never been further from the truth. In reality, veterinary dermatologists specialize in how to avoid or decrease the use of these drugs because of their potential deleterious long-term side effects. Allergy testing allows the owners to try avoidance (limiting exposure to the allergen) and consider immunotherapy. Also known as allergy shots and hyposensitization, immunotherapy, is the injection of a prepared allergen extract. These injections, given by the owner, reduce the allergy symptoms. Somewhere between 60 and 75 per cent have excellent results.
Lastly, a new drug called cyclosporine has shown to be extremely effective in treating atopic dermatitis and its long-term use is considered safe.