The Dermatology Service

Information for referred clients

Skin and ear diseases are very common in animals and there are a wide range of potential causes.

Some diseases are relatively straightforward, but there are many other unusual, difficult or life-long conditions that could benefit from referral to a specialist. At the Dermatology Service we have the skill, facilities and time to investigate and manage your pet’s skin problem, ensuring that they receive first-class care to maintain their quality of life.

Skin diseases in animals

Referral to us is through your vet to ensure that we have all the relevant details. The process is similar to your GP sending you to a hospital for specialist care and attention.

Animals are referred to us for a variety of problems:

  • Pruritus (itching)
  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Nodules
  • Pustules
  • Scaling and crusting
  • Erosions and ulcers
  • Otitis (ear inflammation and infection)

What happens in the consultation?

The initial consultation lasts for an hour. We take a detailed history from you and carefully examine your pet. We then spend time discussing what sort of problem they may have, the options, cost of treatment and any further investigations that may be needed.

If you are coming to us for the first time we will probably need to admit your animal for a few hours to investigate their condition, during which time you may wish to visit our on-site cafe for some refreshments, spend time in the Dick Vet community garden or visit Edinburgh. If your pet has been before and you are coming for a re-visit appointment then generally we will perform any tests within your appointment time. It is not usually necessary for your pet to stay with us overnight.

You will receive a full set of written discharge instructions when your pet is returned to you. Full reports will be sent to your vet on the same day so they are kept fully informed on the progress your pet is making.

Our facilities and expertise

We have a dedicated dermatology room with excellent facilities. We have high quality Olympus and Leica microscopes with video capture, allowing us to closely examine samples from the skin and hair looking for evidence of parasites, infections and other diseases. We have on-site laboratory teams, ensuring that samples are processed quickly and receive expert attention. We have particular expertise in the diagnosis and care of infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA. Some skin conditions are complex and being based in a large referral hospital allows us to work with colleagues in other disciplines to provide first class and comprehensive care.

Allergy testing and immunotherapy

Allergies are a very common cause of itching and distress in dogs, cats and horses. Animals most commonly react to house dust mites, but we also test for allergies to a wide range of fibres, insects, tree, weed and grass pollens, and moulds. Skin tests are preferred, as these show a direct reaction to the allergen, but we can also use blood tests if necessary. We sedate the dogs and cats so that they will lie quietly and comfortably on a table, and then inject tiny amounts of up to 59 allergens into the skin. We read the reactions after 15 minutes and the whole test takes 30-40 minutes. Allergy testing in horses is very similar except that we perform the test standing and read the reactions at 15 minutes and 4 hours.

We can give advice on allergen avoidance. We also use the results to formulate ‘vaccines’ for allergen specific immunotherapy to desensitise your pet. We offer both traditional injectable and oral vaccines with a variety of protocols including one-day induction courses. We will discuss these with you to decide which is most appropriate for your pet. We also provide advice and back up for your vet to manage your pet in their practice.

Diagnosis and treatment of ear disease

Ear infections or otitis are a very common problem. Many cases are secondary to skin diseases, such as allergies, and it is important to look for the predisposing problem. This is particularly true in recurring or chronic cases. We have a video-endoscope to examine the ear canals and the ear drums or tympanic membranes in great detail, and we have CT and MRI facilities to assess deeper tissues and the middle ear. We then use the endoscope to flush material from the ear canals and middle ear. In collaboration with our neurology service we can offer hearing tests using Brainstem Auditory Evoked Responses (BAER). Some severe cases of chronic ear disease require surgery, which can be performed by our in house surgeons.

Laser surgery

We have access to lasers that can be used to treat a variety of lesions including polyps and other small growths, blood vessel abnormalities and some inflammatory conditions. Lasers are quick and effective, and the treated sites heal well with minimum pain and bleeding. Laser catheters can even be passed down our endoscope to treat polyps and other problems deep in the ear canal avoiding the need for extensive surgery.

Contacting the Dermatology Clinic

Good communication is important in caring for animals with long term skin diseases. We encourage owners to keep in regular contact. If we have seen your pet at the hospital, you can call (0131 650 7650) or email vet.derm@ed.ac.uk us at any point if you have any concerns or queries about their diagnosis or treatment.

We can’t take unsolicited advice calls or visits, as we can’t offer advice on cases that we haven’t seen. You can ask your vet to contact us for advice or to arrange a referral to us.

Chronic foot problems

Chronic foot problems (‘pododermatitis’ or ‘interdigital cysts’) are very common and can be very serious. There are usually multiple causes and a careful approach to identify all the potential triggers is needed. Early diagnosis and management is the key to successful management. Unfortunately, long standing cases often need intensive anti-inflammatory treatment, and laser surgery might be necessary in severe cases.  

Cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (Alabama rot) in Scotland

There have been three confirmed cases of the dog disease known as cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (CGRV or Alabama rot) in Scotland in the last 12 months. All the dogs came from different places and there is no association with any one site. There is no reason to believe that owners should avoid walking their dogs in any particular area. The number of cases is still very low but we would advise dog owners and veterinary surgeons to be aware of the condition and be vigilant.

Further information on Cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy (Alabama rot).