Skin Crusts and Scabs

Pets get cuts and scrapes just as often as people do, and their skin responds in the same way: by forming scabs to seal the wound. But sometimes you will see scabs or a bit of crust even where there wasn't an injury -- at least, not one that you could see -- and that makes it difficult to figure out why.

In dogs, scabs that appear on the belly or chest and spread to other parts of the body are often caused by a bacterial infection, says Randall S. Dugal, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Royal Palm Beach, Florida. Dogs tend to get these infections when something else has weakened their immune systems -- anything from a flea infestation to a thyroid problem, or even cancer, he says. Fleas can also lead to infections because dogs will often scratch themselves raw to get at the itch.

Cats rarely get bacterial skin infections. They do get allergies, however, which can cause crusty bumps to appear on their heads or necks or down their backs. "The majority of the time, it is a sign of flea allergies," says Dr. Dugal.

In both dogs and cats, fungal infections such as ringworm can also be the culprit, says Dr. Dugal. You can suspect ringworm when you see one or two isolated patches that are round and bare, he adds. Some cats can be asymptomatic carriers, which means that they can spread the fungus without showing any signs of having it.

Mites are harder to recognize, with one exception: A kind of mite known as walking dandruff will cause bare patches and large white flakes on the neck and back. All pets can get walking dandruff, but it is most common in puppies.

See Your Vet If...

  • Your pet is scratching a lot
  • There are white flakes or round bare patches in her coat
  • Your pet is shedding or scratching more than usual
  • He has scales, bald patches, or a rash
  • He has severe dandruff or dry skin
  • His fur is greasy or smelly even after baths
  • Your pet has broken out in hives and is having trouble breathing
  • He has a bad sunburn
  • There has been a significant change in skin color, or the skin seems loose
  • There is a lump or swelling beneath his skin
  • Your pet has a sore on the skin that won't heal
  • The skin of the lips, abdomen, or rectal area is yellow
  • There are red or purple dots or splotches on his skin

Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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