Skin Deep

By Laura Thill
February, 2015

Providing veterinarians with the best skin treatment solutions for dogs and cats isn’t always easy given the plethora of potential skin health issues.

In some ways, pet skin care is much the same as it has been for some years. “Multimodal therapy still exists, and diagnostics are much the same,” says Lesley Blackwood, DVM, field technical services veterinarian-Gulf Coast, Virbac Animal Health. At the same time, however, the products continue to improve and the clients continue to get smarter – two advantages veterinarians have when treating canine and feline skin conditions. “Veterinarians have more options than they once did, and pet owners today are better educated, [through] online research,” she says. “And, when it comes to managing pets’ skin disease, education is the greatest tool.”

The more pet owners know – and the more they understand why treatments are important – the more likely it is they will follow through with their pet’s treatment, Blackwood continues. For that reason, it’s especially important that they have access to accurate resources and literature. “Skin treatment and proper management of dermatology issues calls for a lifelong commitment,” she says. “Pet owners need to understand their pets’ skin conditions in order to truly understand the treatment plan and medications recommended by their veterinarian, so client education can be crucial to a successful outcome.” As such, when sales reps thoroughly understand the products they sell – and when they can offer their veterinarian customers supportive tools, such as education and literature geared toward both the hospital staff and the clients – they can help veterinarians ensure clients use the right products correctly.

Pet owners who understand the value of treating their pets’ skin conditions will more likely be compliant, says Blackwood. For many, the decision to treat their pets comes down to the cost of the product and the ease of use, she says. “Veterinarians need to help their clients understand why a particular treatment is important to their pet’s conditions, because clients who don’t recognize the value of a product won’t invest their time and money.”


At a glance

Directing veterinarians to the best solutions may be easier said than done given the wide range of dermatology issues affecting pets. However, skin disease can be broken down into some basic categories, notes Blackwood. Skin disease is usually categorized into pruritic (itchy, and often the most frustrating for pet owners to deal with) and non-pruritic disease, she explains. With regard to pruritic skin disease, the most common causes include ectoparasites and allergies. The most common allergies seen in dogs and cats include flea allergy, food allergy and seasonal/environmental allergy. Referred to as atopic dermatitis, seasonal/environmental allergies can be triggered by pollen, mold, dist mites and even human dander.

Parasitic skin disease, flea allergy and food allergy can affect pets year round, says Blackwood. And while seasonal allergies may take a greater or lesser toll on pets, depending on the time of year, “keep in mind that seasons in some parts of the country, such as Florida, can be longer, while seasons in colder climates can be much shorter,” she explains. “Essentially, it depends on the pets’ specific allergens that trigger inflammation, and the potential exposure level for the area in which they live, as to whether they are affected.” By the same token, some pets may suffer from seasonal allergies, move to another part of the country and suddenly improve, she adds.

Allergies to food, parasites and seasonal/environmental elements comprise the largest component, says Blackwood. And, secondary skin infections, such as Staph or yeast infections always have underlying causes. “Studies have shown that atopic dogs often have defective skin barriers, which leads to increased absorption of allergens and increased susceptibility to secondary infection,” she says. Most of the topical products available focus on treating secondary infection, controlling inflammation and itchiness, and improving the skin barrier, she notes. Regardless of the source of irritation, however, “the goal, always, is to make pets comfortable by reducing the itching,” she explains. “Constant licking and scratching can impact not only the pet, but the owner, who may be kept up all night.”


No place like home

Sales reps looking to provide their accounts with the best solutions to treat canine and feline skin conditions should focus on the issues that present locally, says Blackwood. True, pet owners may travel with their pets, so it’s important for veterinarians to educate their clients about potential risks they may encounter. But, addressing year-round issues at home is crucial.

“For instance, in the South and Southeast, sales reps need to focus more on flea control,” says Blackwood. “Year-round flea control is especially important in areas that don’t have cold temperatures that help reduce this issue.” Further, in the Gulf Coast states, by February, veterinarians are already gearing up for allergy season, which is very dependent on weather and geography, she says. There are unknowns from one year to the next, she adds. For instance, will there be an early or higher pollination this year? That said, some pets suffer from environmental allergies year round.

“In the North and Northeast, reps must offer skin barrier solutions (e.g., shampoos, lotions, sprays and leave-on lotions) to help protect pets in cold, dry environments,” Blackwood continues. “Moisturizing products help improve or maintain the pet’s skin barrier,” she explains. “Particularly in harsher environments, pet owners may need to use a leave-on emollient or lotion daily.” Lipids-based emollients (e.g., ceramides or free fatty acids), which help restore the natural structure of the skin, can be particularly effective, she adds.

No matter what skin treatment solutions are available, however, nor how well they work, pet owners must understand that managing their pet’s skin allergy often involves a lifelong commitment, says Blackwood. “It’s not always a matter of providing a cure, and veterinarians must manage their clients’ expectations with regard to patient outcomes.”


Probing Sales Questions:

• “What are some of the common

skin and coat issues your

practice sees?”

• “What are some of the most

challenging cases you see?”

• “What types of cases have you

seen this season? For instance,

are you seeing more flea and tick

bites? More allergies?”

• “What are you treating these

issues with? What has – and has

not – been working?”

• “If you could change something

about the products you are using,

what would that be?”

• “What new solutions are you

looking for?”

Topics: Product, Dermatology


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