Itchy Dogs and Cats Can Be Helped

This article for SPOT Magazine’s November 2010 issue was about skin conditions in dogs and cats. It’s funny to me that the article was published with my name as “Vanessa Salvia Trailer.” I spent some time living in a trailer as a kid, but I never thought that I would be identified by that.


The skin doc is IN

Vanessa Salvia

Dr. Jon Plant was one of those kids who always wanted to be a veterinarian. While many say that as kids, in time, most switch to other interests. Not Dr. Plant. “I stuck with it all through high school and college, and I didn’t give up on it,” he says. Plant graduated from veterinary school at Oregon State University in 1988, but as his career evolved over the years, he found himself in consulting and academia.

Until last year that is, when he opened his own clinic after realizing that directly helping patients was what he really wanted to do.

Plant grew up outside of Eugene, with grandparents who owned a Gresham-area farm. “My grandfather raised cattle,” says the doctor. “I was always around animals.”

Plant took undergraduate classes at Reed College. After graduating in ’88 he began a two-year residency in southern California with well-known pet dermatologists Wayne Rosenkrantz and Craig Griffin. The three men were partners and co-owners of Animal Dermatology Specialty Clinic in Marina del Rey for 15 years.

In 2005, Plant moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where he was among the first clinical faculty to join the newly-established small animal teaching hospital at the OSU veterinary school, a post he held for three years. In ’08 he went to work with Banfield, The Pet Hospital in Portland, providing consultations and continuing education to their vets. “I missed working directly with patients and pet owners,” says Plant, “so in September 2009, I decided to start the SkinVet Clinic in Lake Oswego.”

Following veterinary school, vets can decide to specialize and enter a residency program, just like human doctors do, for additional training. “I chose dermatology,” says Plant. “I was interested because it was visual field.”

Unlike internal medicine, with skin health issues, you can actually see what’s happening with the body. A new specialty emerging in the ’80s, the doctor says, “When I entered into it there were only about 60 board-certified veterinary dermatologists in the country.”

Allergies in pets usually develop between ages two to five. In his practice Dr. Plant sees about 90 percent dogs and 10 percent cats with skin issues, many with chronic problems. “What I see runs the gamut of the same kinds of skin problems that people can get,” he says. “I think it’s underestimated by some just how much itching impacts the pet’s quality of life and their interaction with people.”

When pets are itchy or their skin smells bad, their important relationships with people are affected. The challenge lies in determining whether the itching is caused by allergic reactions to fleas or other insects, environmental allergens such as grasses and pollens, or food allergies. The most common causes in our region are dust mites and fescue grass pollen.

After an intake exam and looking at the allergenic history of the animal, Dr. Plant develops a testing or treatment plan.

An important first step is ruling out other possibilities, such as bacterial or fungal skin infections. Embarking on a controlled diet for a few months can help determine if the problem is a food allergy.

Ear problems are also a <>common. “We’re seeing dogs that have allergies first and chronic infections of the ear canal,” says the doctor. They can be caused by yeast at first and bacterial infections later.” The more chronic the infection, the more difficult to resolve. “We use fiber optic video to go into the ear canal to examine more in-depth what’s going on,” says Plant. “It’s one of the more rewarding things we do, because ear infections are frustrating and they tend to be recurrent.”

Veterinary dermatologists can perform blood or skin prick tests to identify offending substances. These, however, can give false negatives or positives, so having a record of the pet’s exposure and allergic reaction history can really help. “Allergy immunotherapy is one of several treatment options available for pets with allergies,” Plant says. “I usually teach pet owners to administer allergy shots themselves.”

If you’re a cat owner, consider yourself lucky: cats don’t experience skin problems as frequently as dogs. For dog guardians, don’t hesitate to investigate whatever might be causing your pet’s discomfort. Skin problems are common, and specialists like Dr. Plant really want to help. “It’s nice to be able to contribute to their wellbeing,” he says, “and see the rewards of making them feel better.”

Learn more at or by calling 503-352-3376.

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