Dear Dr. Thompson: I have a pug that started having skin trouble three years ago after being groomed. He has responded to oral prednisone, but now he is developing these black patches under his armpits. He is on his monthly heartworm and flea prevention. My veterinarian suggested a test for allergies, but I am not sure how well that will work. Should I be worried about the black patches?
ANSWER: You have a breed of dog that has its share of skin trouble. What you are describing sounds like secondary infections from the licking and moisture on his underside. The black pigment you are seeing is his body's response to the chronic infection and irritation. Armpits and groin are common locations to develop these lesions. Skin irritation leads to licking, which traps moisture in sensitive areas and bacteria and yeast will thrive in these conditions. A simple test will usually show these organisms under the microscope.
However, skin infections can take up to a few months to resolve, especially if they are long-standing. Many times a combination of anti-fungal shampoo if yeast is present and oral antibiotics will be needed to fully clear the infection.
If the itching definitely started after a trip to the groomer, a trial therapy to eliminate a contagious skin mite called cheyletiella may be a step to try. These mites are difficult to find on the skin and many times a response to treatment is the only way to know if he is infected. If underlying allergies are the source of the trouble, accurate identification of what he is allergic to and developing a treatment plan may be the only way to manage this long-term. However, short-term clearing the chronic infections will help you determine how itchy he is from something else or from the infections.
Dear Dr. Thompson: I have a 10-year-old overweight cat that needs some exercise to help lose weight. He has lost interest in all of his toys. How do I get him to burn some more calories?
ANSWER: You are right to be concerned because obesity can lead to some serious health problems, including diabetes, arthritis, and liver problems. Just like people, weight loss in cats requires cutting the calories you take in, coupled with increasing the amount you burn through exercise. For cats, the best method is active play.
For cat play to be rewarding, tapping into his instinctive prey behavior will be the best chance you have for long term success. Cats will engage in three types of play that mimic the main things they eat in the wild - bugs, birds, and rodents. Individual cats will have unique preferences, so it may take some trial and error. If he is motivated by food, a toy that can produce a food reward may be what you need.
I joke that there is an inverse relationship between what you spend on a cat toy and the likelihood he will play with it. Inexpensive things like milk bottle rings, empty soda bottles, and whiffle balls with treats inside that fall out are big hits with many cats. Laser pointers or feathers on a string will tap into more bird-like and insect behaviors. You will find one that is best for your boy.
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