Dog skin is almost as sensitive as human skin as both suffer from almost the same ailments. Veterinarians are consulted by dog owners for skin problems more than any other group of diseases. For this reason, veterinary dermatology has developed into a specialty. Since many skin problems have visual signs that are almost identical, it requires the skill of an experienced veterinary dermatologist to identify and cure many of the more severe skin disorders. Pet stores sell many treatments for skin problems, but most of the treatments are directed at symptoms and not at the underlying problems. If your dog is suffering from a skin disorder, you should seek professional assistance as quickly as possible. As with all diseases, the earlier a problem is identified and treated, the more likely is the cure.
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Veterinary dermatologists are currently researching a number of skin disorders that are believed to have a hereditary basis. These hereditary diseases are transmitted by both parents, who appear normal but have a recessive gene for the disease, meaning that they carry, but are not affected by, the disease. These diseases pose serious problems to breeders because in some instances there are no methods to identify carriers. Among the hereditary skin disorders, for which the mode of inheritance is known, are acrodermatitis, cutaneous asthenia, color dilution alopecia, and nodular dermatofibrosis. Some of these disorders are limited to one or two breeds, while other affect a large number of breeds. The West Highland White Terrier is most commonly affected by epidermal dysplasia. Young puppies have dark skin and are very itchy. The dark, thickened skin appears dry and greasy. Diagnosis is accomplished by skin biopsy performed by experienced dermatologists. There is no known cure, although topical and oral medications can control the discomfort. Affected dogs and their relatives should not be bred.
Westies show greater tendency toward inhalant allergies than other breeds. The usual offenders include pollen, dust and molds. Humans have hay fever, rose fever and other fevers from which they suffer during the pollination season. Many dogs suffer from the same allergies. When the pollen count is high, your dog might suffer, but don't expect him to sneeze and have a runny nose, like a human would. Dogs react to pollen allergies the same way they react to fleas, they scratch and bite themselves. Westies tend to rub their faces with their front feet, lick and bite at their front feet and develop rashes on their bellies or in the armpits. They are very susceptible to airborne pollen and house-dust allergies, so do not think that your Westie will only encounter potential allergens outdoors. Dogs, like humans, can be tested for allergens. Discuss the testing with your veterinary dermatologist.
Auto-Immune Skin Conditions
Unlike allergies that are inflammatory reactions to an outside agent, auto-immune skin conditions are commonly referred to as being allergic to yourself. Auto-immune diseases cause serious damage to the tissues. The best known auto-immune disease is lupus that affects dogs and people. The signs are variable and may affect kidneys, bones, blood and skin. It can be fatal to both dogs and humans, though it is not thought to be transmissible. It is usually successfully treated with cortisone, prednisone or similar corticosteroid, but extensive use of these drugs can have harmful side effects.