Meet… Helen T. Powers, DVM
Dr. Powers is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology, with a practice in Northern California. With a special interest in feline dermatology, Dr. Powers says that she is inspired in her work by the two cats who share her home, Pedro and Cheetah.
Q. Based on your experience and the many cats and dogs you see in your practice, what do you think are the most common skin problems facing pets today?
A. Flea allergic dermatitis is the most common.
Q. At what point should a pet’s skin problem require a visit to the vet.
A. This obviously is highly individualized, but a good rule of thumb is when you see that your pet is clearly in discomfort — maybe scratching or licking excessively, pulling hair out, increasingly red skin. Also watch for sudden changes in behavior and mood — generalvlethargy, loss of interest in food and play, etc.
Keep in mind that the longer a problem remains untreated, the more severe it will become, the more expensive it will be to treat and the more extensive your pet’s recovery. It is important to treat skin problems as early as possible.
Q. What is flea allergy and how common is it?
A. When the flea bites your pet a small amount of saliva is injected into the skin. Dogs and cats can develop an allergy to this saliva and will react with severe itching which may last for as long as two weeks, sometimes longer.
Certain breeds are more prone to flea allergies — including golden retrievers, dalmations and terriers — however, we see flea allergies in all breeds. Cats generally have less flea allergy, helped by the fact that they tend to be more genetically diverse.
Q. Does it affect cats and dogs differently? Can similar flea control products be used on a cat and dog in the same household?
А. Flea allergic dogs, in addition to biting and scratching, may develop “hot spots” and bacterial skin infection.
Cats, however will lick or groom excessively — trying to remove fleas. Pet owners may not recognize this as a problem. So it is essential that the owner knows that a licking cat is an itchy cat. Other signs of flea allergy in cats are hair loss and small scabs around the neck and on the back.
There are some products which can be used on both dogs and cats and anything that can be used on a cat can probably be used on a dog. But the reverse is definitely not true. Extreme caution should be used when treating a dog and cat in the same household with the same products.
Q. What is the best way to keep my dog and cat free of fleas?
A. We know that early intervention is essential and that both pet and the home environment must be treated. The occasional flea collar and periodic dip or spray simply won’t do it. Pet owners need to be quite active, alert to signs of infestation and prepared to work closely with the vet on their pet’s treatment.
A flea control program must take into consideration the needs of the particular household, including type/age of animals and who else lives in the household (especially any pregnant women, babies, older people, people with respiratory ailments, etc.)
My preference is to stay away from powerful insecticides and seek out more environmentally benign products, such as some of the newer growth regulators which can be used directly on the pet. I also recommend use of a professional extermination service, like Fleabusters, which uses sodium polyborate, an inert powder that works as an insect growth regulator.
Q. What are some newer advances in flea control?
A. Flea control is definitely an evolving science. We’ve seen much progress in understanding flea biology and finding better ways of stopping the flea cycle in just the last decade — especially the development of insect growth regulators. I’m convinced we will see even more in coming years. There have been big breakthroughs in terms of healthier, environmentally sounder products. It’s getting easier and safer to control fleas, but still much remains to be done.
Q. If treating pets and the home is the answer to flea prevention, how can a pet owner and vet best work together?
A. Some pet owners will try every possible do-it-yourself remedy for the pet, consulting with neighbors, pet supply stores, other pet owners, and turn to the vet as a last resort. For the most part, this is false economy. It is far easier and cheaper to treat the condition — whether flea allergy or something else — before it becomes serious. It also helps to see your vet as a source of information — not only in terms of your pet’s immediate care, but as a way of anticipating and preventing the pet’s longer term needs.