Skin Biopsy


Why Should I Bring my Pet to Willows for a Skin Biopsy?

Willows is one of Europe’s leading small animal referral centres. Our state-of-the-art hospital is led by internationally renowned Specialists who are committed to providing the highest standards of veterinary care.

The Dermatology service at Willows is led by Dr Richard Harvey BVSc DVD DipECVD PhD FRSB FRCVS, who has extensive experience in performing skin biopsies and selecting the most appropriate sites to biopsy in order to maximise the chances of an accurate diagnosis.


What is a Skin Biopsy?

A skin biopsy is a minor surgical procedure to remove a sample of skin affected by disease. The sample is then sent away for analysis by a pathologist, who examines the skin in cross section under a microscope and analyses the disease process occurring.

Why are Skin Biopsies Required?

As skin disease affects an organ that we can see, some diseases affecting the skin can be diagnosed quite easily with basic diagnostic tests. However, others are not so characteristic, and when the disease is affecting the deeper parts of the skin, biopsies are often required to establish a diagnosis. Very rare skin diseases or diseases presenting in a similar way to other conditions often also require biopsies in order to reach a diagnosis.


How are Skin Biopsies Taken?

Skin biopsies are often taken using biopsy punches. These instruments remove a circle of skin affected by disease, and usually range from 4mm to 8mm in diameter. It is usually only necessary to place one stitch in the hole created by the biopsy punch. Sometimes with larger skin lesions, or when skin disease causes lesions such as blistering, biopsies are performed by removing an ellipse of skin with a scalpel blade. This type of skin biopsy sometimes requires a few stitches to close. For the vast majority of cases, at least three biopsies are usually taken irrespective of the technique used. The selection of the biopsy sites is crucial to maximise the chances of obtaining the correct diagnosis, so a very detailed examination of the skin is needed prior to the procedure.

Skin biopsies can usually be performed under sedation and local anaesthesia in dogs and cats. This means that biopsies can be taken quickly with the animal returning home usually within an hour or two. When skin disease affects more sensitive areas of the body such as the face and feet, a general anaesthetic is usually required. However, the procedure to obtain the skin biopsies is still a relatively quick process, so the anaesthetic times are usually short.

Fig 1: A skin biopsy site with one stitch present


How Long Will it Take to get the Results?

The sections of skin are sent to an external laboratory, where they are processed ready for the pathologist to examine. A full report from the laboratory normally takes around five to seven days.

Fig 2: A section of skin shown in cross section following removal by biopsy


What Aftercare will be Required?

Skin biopsies represent a minor surgical procedure, so there is normally very little aftercare required. Drugs such as antibiotics and pain killers are not usually required. Depending on the sites affected and the stitch material used, it may be necessary to remove the stitches after around 10 days.

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Skin and Ear Clinic

Find out more

To assist owners whose pets have skin and ear conditions, we have put together a range of information pages to talk you through some of the more common dermatology conditions seen by our Specialist team.