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Ask a Vet: Protect your pets from skin invaders
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My son is 7 years old. He loves science and is very curious about the world.

But even more than that, he loves gross things. To his mother’s dismay, this is a dominant trait along the paternal lineage.

One of his favorite gross science experiments is to pour a soft drink into a glass, so it has a large foamy head at the top. Then, quickly, rub your nose (the outside!) with your finger, then touch the finger to the foam.

If you do it right, the foam begins to immediately disintegrate at the area you just touched, almost like you put some invisible acid on it. But why?

That’s where the science comes in.

Your skin is covered in things designed to protect you from the outside world. This list of defense mechanisms includes enzymes that break down protein. Parasites and infectious organisms contain protein, so hopefully these enzymes help kill off invaders before they get into your body.

The soft drink’s foam is a suspended matrix of proteins and escaping gas. Applying the enzymes can break down the protein scaffolding, allowing all the gas to escape instead of being temporarily trapped. Thus, the foam appears to be eaten away. Cool, right?

Well, your cat and dog have similar skin defense mechanisms. Be it enzymes, oils or the pH of the skin, the same survival technique is in place. Many of those mechanisms work in significantly different ways than they do in humans. This means a product intended to help human skin may, in fact, damage cat skin.

Human shampoos work to establish a different pH than is healthy for pet skin. Repeated use can predispose pets to skin infection by making the area more hospitable to bacteria.

Even if you name your dog Gravy Boat, don’t use dishwashing liquid on him. It will dry out the skin, strip away the oil and smell wonderful. And if you’re lucky, nothing more. But if you keep using it, you’re asking for trouble.

And please, don’t try the science experiment by touching your dog’s nose first.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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