While underappreciated or even unrecognized as an organ, skin has amazing
properties. For starters, it’s the largest organ of the body. Both tough and
pliable, skin has many functions, including regulating body temperature, helping
to prevent dehydration and protecting against injury and disease. Without skin,
our pets couldn’t have hair, and everything that was on the inside would be
exposed, making snuggle sessions a little on the icky side!
Canine and feline skin shares many similarities with human skin, but there
are significant differences. They do have three layers of their skin, with the
same nerves and blood vessels running throughout. Even though the pigmented skin
in dogs contains melanin, dogs do not have the ability to tan like humans do.
Also, they have apocrine glands (similar to human sweat glands), however, dogs
do not sweat like we do. Instead, dogs have eccrine glands in their paws, which
secrete a watery substance like sweat, although this typically only occurs when
they are nervous and under stress. Now you know how it is that they can
sometimes leave little damp paw prints when exiting the veterinary office!
As the body’s first line of defense to environmental factors, the skin is
subjected to all sorts of insults and injuries. Critters of all stripes, from
fleas to ticks to parasites (like mange mites) bite and damage the skin.
Additionally, skin is under repeated assault by foreign objects, nibbling teeth,
scratching claws and constant licking, all of which can weaken and impair the
skin’s protective barrier. Skin can also be affected from the inside out by
infections, hormonal imbalances, allergies and immune disorders.
Young pets are particularly suspectible to skin problems because their skin
is more sensitive and their immune systems are not fully developed. Kittens, for
example, are prone to ringworm (fungal) infections and puppies are predisposed
to demodectic mange. If your puppy or kitten develops a rash, loses hair, or has
bumps or warts, consult with your veterinarian to determine if treatment is
The bottom line is, healthy skin is a vital part of pet health, and its
condition is a reflection of a pet’s overall well-being. Vulnerable to attacks
on all sides, it’s very important that pet parents regularly monitor their pet’s
skin health. Skin normally does its job well as the body’s protector, but
sometimes even skin needs an extra boost. In this episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah
reviews some common causes of skin and coat problems in dogs and cats, and
reveals some safe and natural home remedies that promote overall skin health.