How We Diagnose Skin Disease


When you notice something is happening to your pet's skin and hair we will carry out a thorough examination and use one or more of these methods to help diagnose the specific cause of skin disease. Parasites, particularly the flea, are responsible for the majority of irritating skin conditions. You may never see it but a single flea can lead to inflammation, scratching and licking, scaling, bleeding and crusting, erosions, ulcerations, lumps and hair loss.

Diagnostic Methods

Response To Treatment

Most often, we will examine your pet, make a diagnosis and then dispense a treatment, for example parasite control or antibiotics. A complete response is not only a cure. It is also diagnostic. The condition is what we thought it was.

Skin Scrapings

Under the microscope we look for specific causes of itchiness such as scabies or demodex mites.

Skin Smears

Using simple cellotape applied firmly to itchy areas then peeled off the skin, we examine the smear microscopically for Malassezia yeast, Cheyletiella mites, bacteria or inflammatory cells.

Fungal Or Bacterial Culture

A sterile swab of an affected area may be taken for bacterial culture and sensitivity. Hair or debris may be plucked or removed for a fungal culture to see if ringworm is present.

Ultraviolet Examination

Under ultraviolet light (Wood's lamp) in a dark room, hairs infected with the most common type of ringworm (Microsporum canis) fluoresce.

Skin Biopsy

A skin biopsy reveals what is happening to skin cells. This is a particularly useful diagnostic aid, especially for difficult to diagnose skin conditions. A biopsy is usually taken with a small tool called a biopsy punch.

Intradermal Skin Testing

To help diagnose specific causes of allergic itchiness (atopy), small amounts of potential irritants, such as pollens, dust mite, human dander and flea saliva are injected into the skin. The sites are monitored for inflammation and itchiness.

Elisa Testing

To avoid the inconvenience of testing a dog itself, these tests for allergy take place in test tubes. The reliability of these tests has improved, increasing the possibility of our making an accurate diagnosis of the causes of allergic itchiness.

Patch Testing

We patch test to diagnose contact hypersensitivity. Suspected causes of hypersensitivity are applied under a patch to the skin.

Blood Tests

Hormonal imbalances cause a variety of skin changes. Blood tests monitor hormone levels. Autoimmune conditions are diagnosed by immunologic blood tests.

Diet Change

Food, and specifically the protein in food can cause itchy skin disease. An "exclusion diet", feeding a unique protein and unique carbohydrate that a dog or cat has never had before, for at least four to six weeks, can be diagnostic of food allergy if itchiness diminishes.

Environment Change

Itchy skin allergy can be triggered by human dander, house dust mites, even contact with freshly cut grass. We may suggest an environment change (if it is practical) to help with an accurate diagnosis. (Moving to Spain can be dramatically beneficial for some pets!)

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