Disorders such as pemphigus are some of the most frustrating chronic and incurable skin problems of dogs. These occur when the dog’s immune functions target his own tissues for destruction, also known as an autoimmune skin diseases.
Atopy, also called allergic inhalant dermatitis, can mimic other itchy, destructive skin disorders and may require life-long therapy to control. A newly approved use of cyclosporine has shown dramatic improvement in atopic patients.
Hereditary disorders of the skin are not curable. A wide variety of supplements and topical therapies may be palliative. The severity of inherited skin problems ranges from trivial annoyances, such as canine acne commonly seen in Doberman Pinschers, to the nearly unbearable skin and muscle destruction that occurs with dermatomyositis most often seen in Collies and Shelties.
Icthyosis, an inherited severe thickening of the skin that creates oily crusts and scales is another nasty inherited skin disorder that shows up at an early age and persists lifelong.
What You Should Do
If your dog requires repeat visits to the veterinarian for "a skin problem" and you do not have a name for what type of skin problem is present, you owe it to your dog to get a diagnosis. In short, you must be proactive and persistent in achieving an understanding of what is causing the chronic dermatitis. You may consider a visit to a dermatology specialist, too.
Remember, only after a diagnosis is made can effective measures be initiated to cure or control the problem.
A Word of Caution
"Cortisone" drugs such as prednisone, triamcinolone, dexamethasone, and long acting cortisone injections are much like a two-edge sword. Under certain conditions they can save a dog’s life. The dark side is that misuse is common.
One reason "cortisone shots" or pills are so widely used for skin disorders is that in some patients, especially when a precise diagnosis has not been established, its use can dramatically improve the patient’s comfort and appearance.
A common example of misuse occurs in the sarcoptic mite patient that is mistakenly assumed to suffer from a severe allergy. Dramatic improvement seems to occur, unfortunately it is short lived … and more cortisone is prescribed and cycles of treatment lead to a dependence on the cortisone. The patient’s treatment becomes as damaging as the original problem!
The message is this: cortisone-like medications are to be used with caution.
It always amazes me how stoic and accepting dogs are while enduring endless severe pruritus, open sores and scabs, skin infections and cancer. Their courage should inspire us to be firm in our determination to meet the challenges of chronic dermatitis.