August is canine itchy skin awareness month! Many fungal, bacterial, and parasitic diseases can be diagnosed in the veterinary clinic by your general practitioner. Other diseases, however, require microscopic evaluation of skin tissue to diagnose what is wrong with your pet’s or production animal’s skin. That’s where the veterinary pathologist comes into play. To determine the underlying condition, anatomic pathologists at the VDL attempt to interpret the skin changes observed microscopically with the clinical history provided by the submitting clinical veterinarian.
Because the clinical history is vital in determining a list of potential diagnoses (or differentials), your veterinarian may ask if there has been previous skin or ear problems and if the problem is pruritic (is it itchy?). If indicated, your veterinarian will take a surgical biopsy of the lesion and send into one of our pathologists for review.
The following information provided by the referring veterinarian helps the pathologist correlate what is seen in the microscope with the clinical history:
- Description of the lesion
- Color, shape, size, number
- Alopecia (hair loss) or pigment changes
- Any crusts, scars, ulcers, erosions, vesicles, pustules
- Distribution of the lesion
- Asymmetrical or symmetrical
- Face, pinnae, neck
- Legs, paws, pawpads, claws
- Trunk, tail
- Mucocutaneous involvement (where the mucosa transitions to the skin such as lips, nostrils, conjunctiva, urethra, vagina, anus)
The pathologist will then provide the clinical veterinarian with a list of differentials to help guide proper treatment of your companion, show, or production animal. Itchy skin can be frustrating for all involved and an open dialogue between you, your clinical veterinarian, and the veterinary pathologist is important to providing the best care and treatment possible.
Heidi Pecoraro, DVM, PhD, DCAVP
For more information on the roles veterinary clinicians and pathologists play in diagnosing skin diseases, see Campbell and Sauber. Getting the Most from Dermatopathology. Veterinary Clinics Small Animal Practice 2007;37:393-402.