Taking a closer look at skin disease. Why do cytology?

Microscope examination of samples helps direct vets to appropriate treatment for skin disease

by 
Dr Rachel Gebbie
April 20, 2018

Does your dog get itchy skin or get smelly ears? Has the vet ever stuck sellotape on your dog’s furr or taken a sample with a cotton bud to put on a microscope slide? Why do they do that? Viewing of fresh samples under the microscope is called Cytology and it is an important part of diagnosis of skin disease to get the best possible outcome for your dog.

There can be lots of reasons for dogs to get itchy skin and infected ears but the number one cause is allergies. And summer is the time that we see the largest number of problems arising for allergy sufferers. Over the warmer months there are a multitude of pollens around, warm moist conditions favour dust mites, dogs swim and get their ears wet and bacteria and yeasts on the skin surface proliferate in the warmth.

Itchy dogs lick and scratch at their skin, causing trauma to the skin surface and allowing bugs to get in and multiply. When a vet is presented with an itchy dog treatment often involves controlling the primary itch, but also treating any secondary infections that have been brewing away. 

Samples taken from the skin and ears and examined under the microscope help vets to determine what kind of bugs are growing which allows manipulation of treatment to combat a primarily bacterial or yeast overgrowth. Discharge from the skin or ears is rolled over a slide, stained and dried. Or a small piece of sellotape is pressed to a piece of skin to pick up anything on the skin surface and then this is stained and examined. When the vet looks at the slides they are looking for bacteria, yeasts, parasites and inflammatory cells.

Check out these pictures from some infected ears seen at our clinic over the summer:

Bacteria infection

Mixed bacteria and yeast infection

And a yeast overgrowth is diagnosed with sellotape samples from a dog's feet:

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