Watching the Emmys recently I was struck with just how vain people are, particularly people in the entertainment industry. It’s amazing and amusing to watch these celebs posing and preening for anyone with a camera. As a former television critic, I used to attend the twice-yearly press tours in L.A. to cover the new fall and spring seasons. I’ve actually walked a few red carpets myself (had to, there was no other way into the after-conference parties) and I’ll tell you, following these posers (hand on the left hip, ladies!), watching them up close, you get real insight into the egos and esthetics of showbiz. Some soak it up, others suck it up. Either way, looks are their currency, like it or not. I mean, God help them if they get a zit on audition day. Their lives and livelihoods revolve around their flawless faces.
Not so for cats and dogs. I’m looking down at Valentino right now, sprawled out on his back, dead to the world after a tough night on the prowl. He may share the name of a legendary Tinseltown lothario, but he couldn’t care less that he’s rockin’ not one zit but a whole chin-load of ‘em. Looks don’t matter on the animal planet (well, unless you’re a peacock). So when our four-legged friends get a blemish, whether it be lump, bump, stain or zit, we care more than they do.
Valentino has feline acne, or more technically, comedomes — blackheads, essentially. I’d never heard of this prior to caring for him and his brothers, Horatio and Pico, here in Mexico. But it’s common. So common, in fact, that there’s a whole website devoted to the condition, aptly named felineacne.org (although I can’t vouch for the veracity of the info contained therein). So, because I’m a caring, conscientious critter-sitter, I looked into the matter, and here’s what I learned.
Feline acne can occur at any age, any gender. It can be persistent or passing, minor or major. Sometimes you’d hardly notice the few black dots, the size of grains of sand; other times it’s hard to miss (and gag at) the big red oozing pustules. Sometimes cats themselves won’t notice; other times they’ll scratch like crazy, causing infection. Sometimes they’ll go bald at the site.
The cause of the condition is officially “unknown”, but studies have shown cats with oily skin are more susceptible (oils clog the pores). Other culprits could be stress, poor grooming habits, dermatitis, suppressed immune system, an existing infection or disease, or plastic food bowls, which trap bacteria. That last one makes sense because I recall my mum’s cat used to get sores around his mouth that kind of looked like herpes. A vet told her to switch to a glass bowl and, within a few days, voila. No more sores. So we’ve got V. on metal bowls for now, and we’ll see if that helps. Thankfully, his case is minor; he just looks like he’s been eating a dirt sandwich. If it was major, he’d be off to the vet to get tested to confirm the diagnosis through bacterial cultures, skin scrapings and maybe even a biopsy if it was really bad. In that case, he’d likely be put on antibiotics or a corticosteroid and we’d be washing his face twice a day with benzoyl peroxide, chlorhexidine, or a medicated shampoo, and maybe even dabbing him with tea bag compresses. In a way, I’d love to see how that would go over with this little big man . . .
Then there’s poor little Levi, my sister’s 11-year-old Maltipoo, for whom Rick pet-sat for a short time. He’s a happy little guy (Levi is) but he always looks like he’s crying rusty tears. This is another cosmetic condition I thought was rare but, again, someone’s devoted an entire site to it (tearstaincenter.com), although I suspect it’s primarily a conduit to sell products. It’s sometimes called Poodle Eye, because, well, the condition is common in poodles, which seem to be more susceptible to blocked tear ducts, but other breeds like Shih-tzu, Pekingese, Maltese and pugs are prone because they have short noses and shallow eye sockets, or hair that grows in the skin folds around their eyes. Technically, though, it’s called epiphora, and is basically caused by excessive tear production, insufficient tear drainage or both. Tears, as in humans, are a natural response to an irritant in the eye and they work to flush out whatever’s in there. But when it becomes chronic, all that moisture around the eyes can become a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. The reddish-brown staining is the result of an accumulation of a pigment called porphyrin. It seems to be more prevalent in white dogs (and cats) but darker-coloured pets are not immune; it just isn’t as obvious.
As with any medical condition, it’s a good idea to take your pooch to the vet or veterinary ophthalmologist for a confirmed diagnosis, to make sure there’s nothing floating around in the eyes, or an ingrown eyelash that’s causing the problem, or other conditions like conjunctivitis, uveitis or glaucoma, which should be appropriately treated. If it turns out it really is just Poodle Eye, there are commercial products, like Angels’ Eyes and Daisy’s, that you sprinkle on their food to lighten the dark. My sister has tried just about everything for Levi, who has had the condition most of his life, and seems to be seeing some improvement with a twice-daily wipe with contact lens solution, keeping the fur around his eyes trimmed, and a daily dose of Daisy’s. She prefers Daisy’s because, she says, it’s made from natural ingredients opposed to chemicals, and contains no wheat or dyes. Apparently she won’t see real results for about a year, however, so we’ll check back on his progress next summer.
Some pet-owners claim that it’s just as effective (and way cheaper) to wipe the area with a solution of 10% hydrogen peroxide and water (being very careful to avoid the actual eye). Others simply rub a little cornstarch on the stains (again, being careful not to get in the eye). Still others apply a tiny bit of Vaseline under the eye, which they say prevents the fur from absorbing the tears, which roll right off. Some people swear by mineral or distilled water instead of tap in the water dish, adding unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to the dog’s water, or giving a half-tablet of antacid every day. Of course, you can simply cut off the offending stains, like my sister did, but be sure never to use scissors near your pup’s eyes; use guarded clippers. Or let your groomer do the deed.
Then there are the two Thai ridgebacks we cared for, Rufus and Tai, who suffer their own special blemishes. Both of them are afflicted on and off with folliculitis, an infection on the hair on their head and back, as well as occasional skin lesions on their groin. Both their owners have tried vet-recommended prescription and commercial treatments and had marginal improvement. But when Rufus was diagnosed with stage four skin cancer, his parents, perhaps feeling they had nothing to lose, started slathering coconut oil on him, and dolloping a teaspoon in his food twice a day. Imagine their surprise — and their vet’s — when the cancer magically cleared right up. Sure, the dog may smell like a tropical cocktail, but he’s a smooth-skinned star who’s ready for his close-up!