Tempus fugit. Time flies. Would you believe it is more than a year since we began this column! The “fan following” is surprising. Pet caregivers call and write to us about the column – mostly thanking us for the edification (mostly), but also questioning certain matters regarding advice provided. We very much appreciate such conversations.
Having gone through most of the preliminary messages related to companion animal care, let us today commence a discussion on actual maladies which our pets encounter throughout their lives and which, as pet owners, we must address. The foremost of these ailments could be those associated with skin problems.
Let me begin today by pronouncing that, here in the tropics, I have seldom witnessed an animal without varying degrees of skin lesions. Cats, who constantly clean and groom themselves, are less prone to develop skin sicknesses; nevertheless, they do, and we will be dealing with those specificities in later columns.
Within this context, let me make some cursory and introductory remarks.
There can be no doubt that living in an environment of physical warmth, constant sunshine, high humidity levels, and below sea level will surely contribute to the nurturing of parasites which will eventually live quite happily on and in the skin. In addition to these factors, one has to recognize the animals’ vulnerability to the relentless effect of ultraviolet light rays on the skin of dogs and cats – especially those with predominantly white coats of hair. Further, we must accept that the actual surrounding area, in which our pets live, may contribute to the skin ailments. Often, the general hygiene in the area(s), in which the pet spends most of its outdoor life, may not be optimal – even if many pet owners are convinced that they are keeping their yards clean and “bug” free. Also, let us face it: the pet’s existence, on average, is between 6 inches to just 2 feet off the ground. It is in this very locality that parasites and sundry contaminants exist and flourish. Additionally, many parasites (or their developmental forms) live on grass stalks and leaves; and as the dog’s body brushes past the stems, the parasites transfer on to the dog.
Our focus on skin care, therefore, must be directed at keeping malevolent invaders away from the skin, while simultaneously ensuring correct coat care.
Q: What is the main function of the skin?
A: In jest, I can give a schoolboy answer: “Miss, it surely is to keep the dog together”. However, as humorous as this answer may be, it is not too far off the mark. If, for whatever reason, the skin is damaged, this situation must be considered as serious. After all, the skin represents a major defence to keep germs and other foreign bodies from entering the animal’s body. Also, it helps in the production/composition of important vitamins and is a great insulator and temperature regulator.
Q: Do dogs perspire?
A: No. Dogs and cats do not possess sweat glands. (Some rudimentary glands are found in the paw pads).
Q: How often should the caregiver bathe the puppy/kitten dog/cat?
A: My instinctive response is “never”. However, that is an extreme response, and the pet owner will not adhere to and accept such advice. The caregiver will immediately answer that the dog would “smell stink”. Well, no. The dog will have the scent of a dog. It is the owner who considers the scent to be malodorous. Of course, if the animal has fallen into a dirty gutter/trench, then yes, the pet must be cleansed.
There are glands in the skin which produce essential oils. One should not be constantly washing off these oils. Combing and brushing the animal’s coat, twice a week not only stimulates blood circulation in the skin, but it allows you to bond with your pet. And you will agree that the first thing a self-respecting dog does after a bath is to rub its body into the nearby grass or soil –just to get rid of that unwanted odour inherent in the shampoo/chemical which you have just placed on its skin. In fact, I can guarantee you that if there is carrion nearby, the animal would rub itself in the carcass.
I know that some of you will argue that there are so many anti-parasitic shampoos, on the market, that proclaim what a wonderful action the contents have. Well, there are other medications which can be used with even better results. Your veterinarian can advise you about alternative prophylactic interventions which can be given orally, by injection, and/or by rubbing a bit of specific solution on one spot on the skin – monthly, and without any deleterious effects.
Since this column is about advice, allow me to suggest that you try-out my suggested routine. After a short while, your dog will have a healthy shiny coat for its entire life. Cats clean themselves, and may probably leave your home in a huff, and may never return, if you try to give it constant baths.
Finally, in passing allow me to state – with a clear conscience and after years of research and empirical observation – “nutritional” supplements are truly not necessary in improving and maintaining your pet’s health and coat sheen. I also know how much you love your pet and how vulnerable/susceptible you are to the bombardment of advertisements on pet-product. Just believe the independent researchers who have concluded that advocating added supplements to an already balanced diet are, at best, highly questionable, if not false and misleading.
Q: Is profuse hair shedding normal?
A: My first reaction to that question is that the caregiver need not worry too much unless hairless patches are emerging. Then I begin my “lecture” on possible reasons for hair/coat shedding emerging.
(i) Dogs and cats do shed their coats perennially. During some periods more.
(ii) Female dogs and cats tend to shed hair after their heat, period during pregnancy, during and after nursing. Clearly there is a hormonal influence taking place.
(iii) Many dogs (especially long-haired dogs, e.g., the new favorite Husky breed and German Shepherds) have two layers of hair on their bodies – an inner coat with soft/wooly hair, and an outer coat with hard, long protective hair. The inner coat does not shed evenly, and as a result the entire skin looks dishevelled and patchy (one professor of mine spoke of a “moth-eaten appearance”, while another colleague referred to “Rasta Dreadlocks”).
(iv) Hair loss is not necessarily associated primarily with seasons or temperature changes. It seems that the light intensity is the great precipitator of hair loss. More surrounding light → more shedding (remember that we live in the tropical Caribbean).
(v) Stress factors (moving to a new home; bringing in another dog/child/relative into the family; leaving the animal for long periods; etc.) tend to precipitate hair loss.
So, you see, combing and brushing away the loose hair (daily if necessary) is much more advantageous than bathing. Also, dead hair close to the skin may result in an itch-scratch reaction, therefore ergo skin damage, ergo possible skin ailments.