MSD Manual

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Professional Version

Dermatologic Problems in Animals


Karen A. Moriello

, DVM, DACVD, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2020 | Modified Oct 2022

Dermatitis is a nonspecific term usually used until the dermatologic history, clinical signs, and physical examination can more precisely define the problem. Dermatologic problems are a major category of clinical findings that can be caused by a number of skin diseases; many skin diseases look alike and are differentiated by working through diagnostic flow charts and a process of elimination.

The most common dermatologic problems include:

  • pruritus

  • alopecia

  • scaling and crusting

  • nodules or tumors

  • odor

  • otitis

  • erosions and ulcerations

  • nonhealing wounds

In some species, such as cats, there may be well-recognized reaction patterns that the older literature called "problems" but are now recognized as clinical signs. These include:

  • feline symmetrical alopecia

  • head and neck pruritus

  • ulcerative exudative eosinophilic lesions

  • miliary dermatitis

  • true granulomas

Defining the major dermatologic problem will help create a specific differential diagnosis list and aid selection of appropriate diagnostic tests. The animal’s dermatologic problem may or may not be the owner’s chief complaint. It is important to be sensitive to owners’ perceptions of problems or complaints, especially if odor or aesthetics are involved, and to address them (eg, bathing to minimize odor while the key problem is being evaluated).

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