A few months ago Jess, a delightful 7 year old Chocolate Labrador, belonging to our clients Mr & Mrs Menditta, developed patches of sore, inflamed and very itchy skin on her head. Our vet, Duncan, examined her and was suspicious that it could be a type of mange, a disease of the skin caused by mites. So he performed a test known as a Skin Scrape - a quick and painless procedure using a scalpel blade to collect some skin cells which are then examined under a microscope.
The test revealed no mites. Whilst this did not completely rule out mites, as sometimes they can be hard to find, it did mean that other possible causes of Jess's skin complaint had to be considered. Other treatments were tried but these did not help and the condition began to spread further over her head and to her body and legs. Duncan was still concerned the disease might be mites, and having the experience to know the skin scrape is not foolproof, he anaesthetised Jess and took full-thickness skin biopsies which were sent to a specialist for histopathology (preparation and examination under a high-powered microscope).
There are four types of mites common in dogs in the UK, all of which can cause skin problems. Otodectes - usually found in the ears and lead to head-shaking; Cheylietella - these mites live on the fur and cause itchiness and severe dandruff; Demodex - normally passed down from a mum to her pups when they are still suckling and often symptomless but can cause severe dermatitis even months or years later; Sarcoptes - normally picked up from contact with foxes and cause eczema-like symptoms similar to scabies in people.
At the lab, the pathologists carefully examined all Jess's samples and eventually found a fragment of one mite in one sample! This was enough for Duncan and he prescribed a powerful parasiticidal lotion which Mr & Mrs Menditta owners were to apply carefully to her skin weekly for six weeks.
After only two weeks of treatment Jess had stopped scratching and her skin was looking much better. She has now had her final bath and her skin has completely recovered. This case illustrates how complex the diagnosis of animal diseases can be and how the knowledge and experience of a veterinary surgeon in general practice can combine with the expertise of laboratory specialists to reach the correct answer.
Here are some before and after treatment photos -