Veterinary Dermatology in Northfield, IL

Just like people, cats and dogs can suffer from a wide range of skin issues, from allergies to atopic dermatitis. This is why dermatology is an essential specialty in the world of veterinary medicine.

Our dermatology team offers advanced, comprehensive treatment plans for pets with serious and chronic skin conditions.

Pet owners often come in expecting a cure. Unfortunately, there is no cure for many of these issues – they are lifelong issues, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and provide a great quality of life. This is why I’m here – why I focus on dermatology.”

– Dr. Matthew Levinson, Veterinary Dermatologist at BluePearl in Northfield, IL

Skin Conditions in Dogs and Cats

A veterinarian and a vet tech examine a golden retriever in the dermatology service at BluePearl in Port Washington.

Some of the common skin issues treated by veterinary dermatologists include:

Diagnosing and Treating Pet Allergies

Skin issues due to allergies are very common in cats and dogs – and just like with humans, it can be tricky to diagnose and treat. Allergies in pets are usually caused by either one or a combination of three factors: the environment, flea bites and certain ingredients in food.

Cat and Dog Flea Allergies

The most common causes of allergies in cats and dogs are flea bites. These tiny creatures can wreak big havoc on cats and dogs with allergies.

Some common signs your pet may be allergic to fleas include:

  • Skin irritations
  • Hot spots
  • Hair loss
  • Excessive licking and scratching

Food Allergies in Pets

Certain ingredients in pet food, such as beef, dairy and fish, are also known to contribute to allergies in cats and dogs. Certain dog breeds, such as boxers, dalmatians and German shepherds, are more prone to food allergies, but food allergies can affect cats and dogs of any breed.

Some common signs your dog or cat may be suffering from food allergies include:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Excessive licking and/or scratching
  • Bald spots and hot spots
  • Ear and/or skin infections
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Coughing, wheezing and sneezing

A cat scratching its ear

Since skin and coat issues can be caused by a number of different factors, making an appointment with our dermatology team may be your best bet in finding relief for “itchy and scratchy.”

Allergies often present the same symptoms as skin infections, making it difficult to distinguish between the two based on examination alone. To determine whether or not a cat or dog is experiencing skin issues due to allergies, our team can perform various diagnostic tests for other possible causes. 

Allergy Testing for Pets

After ruling out other causes, our dermatology team uses a procedure known as intradermal allergy testing to determine the allergen affecting the pet so we can develop a specific treatment plan to help manage the symptoms. This is the same test used to detect airborne allergies in humans and involves injecting tiny amounts of allergens under the skin to evaluate reactions and determine the culprit.

Our doctors can then use the allergen to formulate an oral or injectable vaccine to stimulate the immune system and desensitize the allergen. This method is known as allergen specific immunotherapy (ASIT) and is the only method currently available to help improve the immune systems of pets with allergies.

Immunotherapy for Cats and Dogs

The veterinary dermatology team at BluePearl Pet Hospital in Northfield, Illinois also offers a new, exclusive treatment for allergies in both cats and dogs called intralymphatic immunotherapy (ILIT).

Compared to immunotherapy delivered under the skin (subcutaneous immunotherapy) or tongue (sublingual immunotherapy), immunotherapy delivered directly to lymph nodes (intralymphatic immunotherapy) has been reported to be as safe and more effective in controlling environmental allergies. ILIT also reduces treatment time by requiring fewer injections than subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), providing comfort faster to pets suffering from itchiness and other allergy symptoms.

Veterinary Dermatology for Ear Issues

In the veterinary world, ear and skin issues often go hand-in-hand. About half of allergic dogs also have ear infections – and this may even be the only symptom to indicate your dog suffers from allergies.

A black dog pants while sitting in the grass.

Common signs your pet may be suffering from an ear infection or other issues include:

  • Ear scratching
  • Head tilting and/or headshaking
  • Odor in the ear(s)
  • Redness of the ear canal(s)
  • Swelling (usually on the outer portion of the ear)
  • Yellow, brown or bloody discharge
  • Lack of balance
  • Unusual movement in the eyes (back-and-forth movements)

Ear Infections and Chronic Otitis in Dogs and Cats

Dog with Veterinarian

Ear infections are quite common among both cats and dogs but are especially common in floppy-eared and hairy-eared dog breeds.

Yeast and bacteria are the most common causes of ear infections in pets and are generally due to underlying factors such as allergies, trauma and foreign objects in the canal.

Untreated ear infections can lead to chronic otitis, an extended ear infection that causes painful, itchy and smelly ears. This condition can affect the outer ear (otitis externa), the middle ear (otitis media) and the inner ear (otitis interna) in severe cases.

When left untreated, chronic otitis can result in:

  • A ruptured eardrum
  • Ear hematomas (caused by excessive head shaking and/or ear scratching)
  • Cauliflower ear
  • Permanent hearing loss

When diagnosing ear infections and/or chronic otitis, our dermatologist first examines the ears for any visual redness, swelling or discharge. We also use advanced ear imaging such as videoscopy to get a closer look at the middle ear and eardrum. A dermatologist may also take culture samples, in addition to CT imaging and biopsies in severe chronic cases.

Common ear procedures offered by our dermatology department include:

  • Advanced ear imaging
  • Deep ear flushes
  • Growth and polyp removals
  • Chronic ear infection treatments
  • Myringotomy (surgical incision into the eardrum to relieve excess pressure)

Unfortunately, the skin and ear issues in cats and dogs are often life-long, incurable issues. However, a trip to the dermatologist can provide you with valuable information and treatment options for keeping your furry friend healthy and happy.

Diagnosing and Treating Autoimmune Diseases in Cats and Dogs

vet with small white and brown patient

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. Pets can suffer from many of the same autoimmune diseases as humans, such as lupus and immune-mediated polyarthritis. One of the most common autoimmune diseases veterinary dermatologists encounter is known as Autoimmune Skin Disease (AISD). 

With this condition, the animal’s body sees its own skin as foreign, resulting in skin lesions or ulcers that first appear as red spots and rapidly form into blisters and pustules (pimples) before crusting over. Since AISD can be mistaken for other skin diseases, several tests are needed for an accurate diagnosis, including blood tests, skin cultures and biopsies. 

Treatment for AISD involves the use of different immunosuppressive medications, as well as initial and periodic blood panels throughout treatment to monitor for adverse side effects. Unfortunately, pets diagnosed with AISD must be treated for life, however, it can be controlled with only occasional flare-ups in most cases.

Diagnosing and Treating Papillomavirus in Pets

Papillomavirus, also known as the “wart” virus, is a skin condition that affects both cats and dogs. This condition causes viral papillomas (small, benign tumors) to form on the skin, usually appearing as inflamed polyps that break open and bleed. In some cases, viral papillomas can grow inward as hard, sometimes painful masses that appear flat and scaly on the surface.

To remove viral papillomas in dogs and cats, we use a procedure called cryotherapy, which involves using extremely cold temperatures (such as liquid nitrogen) to destroy or freeze off abnormal or diseased tissue.

Does My Pet Need to See a Veterinary Dermatologist?

Here are some common signs your pet may need a visit to the dermatologist:

  • Excessive paw licking
  • Head shaking
  • Itchiness of the skin and/or ears
  • Hair loss and dry skin
  • Rubbing against walls, furniture, etc.
  • Redness and/or flaking of the skin

For more on skin conditions in cats and dogs that may require a visit to a veterinary dermatologist, check out these articles in our Medical Library for Pet Owners:

One of the most important aspects of my job is the partnerships I build with my clients. Many of the dermatological issues that affect pets come with life-long symptoms, and managing these symptoms requires a team effort.”

– Matthew Levinson, DVM, DACVD, BluePearl Pet Hospital in Northfield, IL

Matthew Levinson is a doctor in our dermatology service. He is with his dog.

Dr. Levinson: Veterinary Dermatologist

Why is my dog itchy? Does my cat have an ear infection?

These are just a couple of the common questions received by Dr. Matthew Levinson Veterinary Dermatology Specialist. Serving BluePearl Pet Hospital in Northfield, IL, Dr. Levinson treats a range of skin and ear issues that fall under the realm of veterinary dermatology, from allergies and other skin issues to ear infections and disorders.

Dr. Levinson’s Mission

Dr. Levinson is on a mission to help pet owners find the best options for treating skin and ear problems in their pets. These ailments are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, which underscores the importance of the Dermatology specialty in veterinary medicine. 

Dr. Levinson believes building partnerships with his clients is the first step to providing the best treatment options for their pets, as managing life-long symptoms requires a team effort, These partnerships also give him the opportunity to educate pet owners about the various skin and ear issues that can affect their pets, while also dispelling any myths so they can successfully manage symptoms and improve their pets’ quality of life.

Dr. Levinson’s Educational Background

While studying economics and finance as an undergrad, Dr. Levinson adopted an English bulldog who happened to come with a lot of skin issues. His determination in finding a treatment to help ease his dog’s symptoms sparked his interest in veterinary medicine and the Dermatology specialty.

After completing his Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Indiana University, Dr. Levinson went on to complete his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. He then completed an internship in Small Animal Medicine & Surgery at BluePearl in Northfield, IL, followed by a residency at Animal Dermatology Clinic in Tustin, CA.

Dr. Levinson is also a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology and has published several articles.

Dr. Levinson off the Job

When not helping pet owners find the best solutions for their pets’ skin and ear issues, Dr. Levinson enjoys attending Cubs games, playing basketball and being outside with his two dogs, Willow and Romeo.