Contact Dermatitis In Dogs And Cats A Skin Disease Caused By Contact With Irritants

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The items that we keep around the house and the plants that grow naturally in our yards are not always safe for our pets. Contact dermatitis is one problem that can occur if your pet makes physical contact with an irritating substance.

Contact dermatitis is a relatively rare skin disease that can occur when a dog or cat makes physical contact with a chemical or other irritating substance and has a negative reaction. There are two types of contact dermatitis -- allergic and irritant -- and while they are technically two different diseases, the symptoms and treatments are so similar that they are often grouped together. Read on to learn what you need to know about both types of contact dermatitis in dogs and cats.

Causes of Contact Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats

There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. In both cases, the pet must make direct physical contact with an irritating substance in order to suffer a reaction.
Allergic dermatitis occurs when a pet becomes hypersensitive to substances in their environment. Most allergic reactions require a period of repeated physical contact and skin sensitization, so even if your pet has come into contact with certain chemicals or substances in the past without issue, an allergy could develop, and it may seem like it came out of nowhere. However on average, skin sensitization can take anywhere from six months to two years to develop.
Common chemicals and substances that cause allergic contact dermatitis include: topical antibiotics, flea collars/flea powders, certain metals (such as nickel), grasses and pollens, soaps/shampoos, carpet deodorizers, insecticides, dyes, and materials such as rubber, wool, leather, and plastic.
Irritant contact dermatitis, on the other hand, does not require a period of sensitization. A reaction will occur the first time that your pet makes contact with an extremely irritating substance, and any other animal that comes into contact with the substance may have a skin reaction as well.
Common chemicals and substances that cause irritant contact dermatitis include: poison ivy sap, road salt (for melting ice), detergents, soaps, solvents, acids and alkalis, and petroleum byproducts (such as fertilizers, perfumes, and petroleum jelly).

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats

Contact dermatitis generally appears on areas of the body that are not well protected by hair, such as the feet, nose, lips, chin, stifles (โ€œkneesโ€), hocks (backs of โ€œkneesโ€), and underside of the body.
The primary symptom of both types of contact dermatitis is a skin rash characterized by itchy red bumps and inflammation. There may be weepy, blister-like lesions, hives, crusting, thickening, scaling, and hair loss. The pet will most likely scratch, bite, and lick the skin excessively, which may lead to a secondary bacterial infection.
In irritant contact dermatitis, you may also see ulcers.

Diagnosing Contact Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats

If you suspect that your pet is suffering from contact dermatitis, contact your veterinarian. Your petโ€™s medical history as well as current symptoms will usually be enough to diagnose the skin disease.
The tricky part is isolating the irritating substance. This is usually accomplished through either exclusion trials or a patch test. In an exclusion trial, the pet is placed in a neutral environment and potentially irritating substances are introduced one by one. In a patch test, the suspected allergen is rubbed or bandaged onto the petโ€™s skin. Then, the area of skin is monitored for several days.

Treatment for Contact Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats

There is no cure for contact dermatitis. The best way to treat and prevent the disease is to prevent exposure to the irritating substance. This may mean removing a plant from your garden, changing detergents, or keeping certain chemicals locked away.
In the short term, your veterinarian may prescribe topical or oral corticosteroids or antihistamines to control itching and reduce inflammation. Certain shampoos and sprays can also relieve itching and other symptoms such as Veterinary Clinical Care antifungal shampoo. And if the skin is infected, your veterinarian may prescribe an oral or topical solutions such as Animax ointment specially formulated for dogs..
In the long term, you may want to consider switching to a hypoallergenic pet shampoo, a hypoallergenic detergent to wash pet bedding, glass or stainless steel food and water bowls, and toys that do not contain rubber.

Diets to Help Cat and Dog Dermatitis

Is your dog or catโ€™s skin itchy and irritated and you donโ€™t know the cause? It could be that food allergies are the cause of these changes.

For cats and dogs, diet and nutrition can play a role in the cause andthe treatment of food-allergy-related dermatitis--a chronic disease, also known as cutaneous adverse food reaction, that results in skin inflammation. Additionally, if your pet has not yet developed dermatitis, serving your loved one a nutritious, balanced diet can be an important part of prevention.

Signs of Food Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats

Dermatitis may affect dogs anywhere on their bodies, particularly on their faces, ears, and feet. Cats typically scratch their heads and necks. In addition to dermatitis, cats and dogs may experience diarrhea and vomiting as a result of their food allergies; dogs may also experience difficulty breathing in rare cases. If you spot any of these issues, set up a veterinarian appointment right away.

Causes of Food Allergy Dermatitis

Food allergy dermatitis is often caused by a protein source--more commonly chicken and other poultry, beef, soy, dairy, or eggs, but also lamb and fish. Other culprits may include preservatives, fillers, colorings, and carbs, such as potato, wheat, corn, and rice. The exposure to the food substance is typically through consumption, but may also be indirectly, via inhalation or skin contact. Malnutrition can also be a cause of dermatitis in pets.

The disease may strike at any age, though typically symptoms are not found in pets under one year old, and symptoms will persist until the cause of the allergy is eliminated from the petโ€™s diet.

Note that because it can take a very long time, sometimes over a year or more, for a food item to cause problems, the issues your pet is experiencing may not be the result of a recent dietary change.

Steps to Treatment

Step 1: Elimination Diet

Because the symptoms of each type of dermatitis are similar, it can be difficult to identify and treat the underlying cause. To diagnose food allergy dermatitis, your vet will help you implement an 8- to 12-week elimination diet: substituting what your pet has been eating with a homemade or commercial diet that consists of one source of protein and one source of carbs--both of which your pet should not have ever consumed. You will also need to cut out treats.

Step 2: Choosing Uncommon Food Sources

Finding a food your pet has never tried is a good way to halt symptoms. Some less-frequently used protein sources, like bison or deer, may be recommended by your veterinarian. If your feline forages and hunts (i.e., rabbits or rodents), finding food sources that your cat has never been exposed to may pose a bit more of a challenge as your petโ€™s previous food encounters will have been more varied.

Step 3: Finding the Cause and Moving Forward

If your petโ€™s symptoms improve, then your veterinarian may recommend that the old diet be reinstated. This is so you can definitively diagnose the cause of the dermatitis. For example, if your petโ€™s food was changed in May and your dog improved by July, it may be hard to tell if it was food or blooming apple blossoms that led to the problem. For this reason, reinstating the old food will let you pinpoint the cause of the dermatitis.

On the other hand, if things are going well on the new diet, many pet parents decide not to try this. They would rather simply find out next spring whether it was the apple blossoms or the food that causes the allergies, and continue to use the food thatโ€™s working in the meantime. If the allergies donโ€™t return, your pet will be on a usable diet, and you wonโ€™t have had to switch diets again.

If you opt to reinstate the old food, and your pet does have food allergy dermatitis, signs of irritation will likely return within hours or days. From there, your vet will help you determine what to feed your cat or dog to avoid further skin issues.

Other Treatments for Dermatitis

Weekly baths, allergy medications, or a prescription or hypoallergenic diet may also be recommended as a part of your petโ€™s treatment plan.

Other Causes of Dermatitis

Be aware that dermatitis can also be the result of non-food-related allergens, including:

  • Fleas, flies, ticks, mites, lice, maggots
  • Puppy acne
  • Tumors or masses
  • Mange
  • Exposure to extreme weather conditions
  • Other diseases
  • Hypersensitivity to environmental irritants

Talk to your vet to be sure you both understand whatโ€™s causing the dermatitis, so you can move forward with the best treatment plan.

More on Skin Health

The Top 8 Causes Of Dog Skin Allergies
5 Treatments For Cat Dry Skin
The Causes Of Dog And Cat Dandruff

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