What’s Behind Your Pet’s Itch? 5 Spot Checks To Assess Skin Health

August 17, 2022

The 3rd annual Empathy for Itch Campaign, a joint initiative between the Canadian Academy of Veterinary Dermatology, CEVA Animal Health, Zoetis and Royal Canin, has launched, with the goal of educating and encouraging pet owners to be proactive about their pet’s skin health. New this year is the launch of a Pet Check list to empower pet owners to perform regular checks on their pets at home. Since skin issues in pets may not always be easy to detect, at home checks are a great first step in preventative care. We asked Dr. Juanita Glencross-Winslow, scientific communications specialist at Royal Canin Canada, to tell us more. —Noa Nichol

Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

I’m a veterinarian with 27 years of experience in small animal medicine. I have worked in private practice, academia and, for the past five years, with Royal Canin.

It’s time for the 3rd annual Empathy for Itch Campaign; please tell us what this initiative is all about?

The focus is to bring awareness of and information about skin health in our cats and dogs. The best way to help our pets is to recognize what normal skin and itching looks like to empower pet owners to recognize when things may be transitioning to “abnormal skin” for which they should seek the support of the veterinary team.

Why is skin health so important in pets?

Skin is the largest organ of the body and it is the pet’s protection from the outside world. Skin can also be one of the first organs to indicate that your pet may have a medical problem to be addressed. For example, some food and environmental allergies first present as itchy, reddened skin. This is very uncomfortable for our pets and we need to find the inciting problem for their itch so that we can manage it medically and help to keep these pets comfortable and live their best life.

In terms of our pets’ skin health, what are some top/most common concerns/issues?

Unfortunately, the skin can only react in a limited number of ways. This is redness, heat, swelling, itch and pain, as a result many medical problems related to the skin can look exactly the same and so knowing what is normal is important and then when things change, a systematic and methodical approach by your veterinary team will elucidate the underlying problem. The most common problems that we see are parasites like fleas or mange, infections like bacteria or yeast, and finally allergies are the most common underlying reasons for the skin changes. As veterinarians, we actually hope for the first two as these are curable, but allergies generally become a case of management rather than a cure. There are veterinary dermatology specialists who have completed an additional four years of training who can help a pet owner to manage allergies over the pet’s lifetime to keep the pets comfortable and happy.

Further, what should we look for to ensure our pets’ skin remains healthy (we hear there is a new assessment tool available?), and what are some of your top maintenance tips?

The top maintenance tips would be to get into the habit of looking at our pet’s skin every single day. You can do this by doing it at the same time that you do another daily pet maintenance task like when you feed them or take them out for a walk. Just look to see if there is any change in level of itching, any redness, hair colour changes, lumps/bumps, flaky skin or broken hairs. These changes can be some of the earliest evidence that your pet’s skin might need some added support or a check up. The earlier that skin or haircoat changes are noted, then the easier it is to get things under control again. The best team is the pet owner and their veterinarian to keep our pets living their best life.

What should we do if we think there is a problem?

Don’t wait until your pet is a hot, smelly mess before working with your veterinary team to start the methodical approach to skin disease. The earlier that you can treat the treatable and get a diagnosis, the better able you are to either cure or manage your pet’s skin disease and make them more comfortable for life. You can also find some great information and images to help pet owners know what is normal and what is not on the Empathy For Itch website.


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