Skin conditions in dogs and cats can have multiple causes. If your pet is itching, has dry flaky skin, odor, sores or hair loss, the cause may be fleas, other parasites such as scabies, dry skin, hormone problems, bacterial, fungal (ringworm), behavioral, allergies to food, allergies to airborne particles, autoimmune disorders, cancers and sometimes, idiopathic (unknown). The cause of skin problems cannot be determined by outward appearance alone; many different causes look the same on the skin. Laboratory tests, trial and error treatments and medical progress examinations are necessary to find the cause and appropriate treatment. In order to treat your pet’s skin problem effectively and safely, cooperation between your doctor and you is essential.

At Avra Veterinary Clinic, we try to treat the problem and not just the symptoms. We often see pets put on lifelong steroids, such as cortisone, for scratching (treating the symptom), without trying to treat the problem. Steroids are very effective and are used short-term for a variety of medical conditions. Side effects typically consist of an increase in water consumption, urination and appetite. With long-term (greater than 6 months) steroid use, there can be a greater risk of diabetes, bacterial infections including bladder and kidney infections, hair coat changes, weight gain, and joint degeneration, as well as reduced effectiveness. Steroids should not be discontinued suddenly and doing so could have potentially serious effects. Please check with your veterinarian before changing doses or discontinuing steroids. Our goal is to use the lowest effective dose of steroid possible. 


Some of the tests your doctor may recommend include:

  1. Skin scrapings to check for mites.

  2. Flea comb examination.

  3. Culture for fungus.

  4. Culture for bacteria.

  5. Blood tests for hormones.

  6. Cytology (microscopic examination of cells).

  7. Dietary trials.

  8. Skin biopsy and interpretation by a pathologist (probably the most reliable test in recurrent cases).

  9. Antibiotic trials.

  10. Blood chemistries, blood counts and urinalysis.

  11. Allergy testing.

  12. Referral to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist


Although all of these tests may not be done on the first visit, they may be recommended during later visits depending on the response to treatment. The correct treatment for your pet’s condition can be complex, but with patience and cooperation between you and your doctor, a lot can be done to solve the problem.