Veterinary dermatology is a specialty focusing on the research, diagnosis and treatment of animal skin, nail, hair, hoof, ear, and mouth disorders. Skin diseases can range from allergies to cancer. Some conditions are comparable to those found in humans, while others may be found in only one type of animals. Skin disease can also be a symptom of an underlying internal disease. Thus, veterinary dermatologists study comparative medicine, internal medicine, immunology, and allergy in addition to dermatology.

To become a veterinary dermatologist, a licensed veterinarian must complete two to three years of residency in the specialty. Those who complete residency and licensing requirements, in addition to passing a qualifying examination, become board certified as Diplomates by the American College of Veterinary Dermatologists. Continuing education is required to maintain board certification, so Diplomates remain up to date on the latest research and improvements.

Hundreds of skin diseases exist in dogs and cats alone, and many have similar symptoms. Veterinarians may refer an animal to a veterinary dermatologist if diagnosis requires specialized equipment or more expertise. They may also refer an animal for treatments and advanced care that may not be available in a general veterinary office.

Pet owners can also seek out the expertise of a veterinary dermatologist, either by requesting a referral from their regular veterinarian or visiting a specialist who does not require referrals.

You may want to seek a veterinary dermatologist if your animal experiences any of the following:

  • Skin issues that don’t heal after repeated visits to the vet
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Bad odor from skin and/or ears
  • Hair loss, scabs, or dandruff
  • Red skin or rashes
  • Brittle or lost nails
  • Skin ulcers or sudden skin changes
  • Chronic diagnoses that might benefit from management by a specialist (e.g. alopecia)
  • Recent diagnosis that may require a second opinion

Do not be afraid to seek the expertise of a specialist. Problems are usually more easily treated when detected early. You do not have to wait until a pet shows severe symptoms!

When seeking treatment, the veterinary dermatologist will request the animal’s medical records from the veterinarian. They may perform a number of diagnostic tests. This could include taking skin samples to check for infections or parasites, culturing bacterial and fungal infections, or performing an allergy workup. Many skin conditions are chronic, so the veterinary dermatologist may discuss an ongoing treatment plan once the animal is diagnosed.