Dear Dr. Walt: Our 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier has environmental allergies, spring and summer. Any helpful hints to stop her from scratching around her mouth and feet? She's driving us crazy!
Allergy season is upon us and can afflict our pets as well and is referred to in veterinary ling as 'atopy'. While allergies to the same allergens that affect people are common in pets, the manner with which they manifest themselves is quite different. Whereas in people, symptoms of upper respiratory tract irritation is common (runny/itchy eyes, sneezing, asthma), in dogs and cats, reaction to allergens expresses itself as itchy skin - a term called 'pruritus'. This itchiness is at times so intense, that the animal can damage its skin resulting in local sores (commonly called hot spots) or skin infections. So, what can we do to overcome this ailment, should it affect our pet?
First and foremost is trying to identify the cause. If the cause is something that can be removed from the animal's environment (e.g., a product used on their fur, a room deodorizer, etc.), then that would be the definitive treatment. This is rare and, as noted in the question above, most allergens are environmental and hence, not easily eradicated. However, by identifying the allergen through allergy testing, the use of allergy serum (administered by your veterinarian through injection becomes) a helpful remedy for some allergens and by identifying the allergen, you can reduce exposure to some degree. The former is no different than 'allergy shots' that people get and are most successful when initiated prior to allergy season and continued throughout the year (although at a reduced frequency in the allergy off-season).
Skin testing seems to provide the most reliable results and is often available through a veterinary dermatologist - a veterinarian who, through additional schooling, has become specialized in dealing with diseases of the skin in animals. Discuss this with your veterinarian and ask for a referral if this is a route you wish to explore.
However, there are other options to try and mitigate the severity of the allergy symptoms. Consider:
• Reducing exposure to other skin irritants and possible allergens. An animal can often compensate for a single allergen but become clinical when this is compounded by multiple irritants. Two common examples include fleas and exposure to cigarette smoke. So, make sure you are using a flea preventative and 'butt out' if a smoker.
• Antihistamines, while not as effective as in people, may provide some relief; however, the doses used are quite different than with people. Discuss this option with your veterinarian and if an antihistamine is to be used, he/she will provide you with advice as to the appropriate product and dose.
Page 1 of 2 -- For more great allergy relief tips, see page 2!
• For local areas of irritation, topical creams may be soothing. Again, ask your veterinarian. Also, sometimes local areas can become infected and may benefit from either topical or oral antibiotics.
• Some animals do well when oil-based products high in Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acids are used to supplement their diet. Again, discuss this with your veterinarian.
• At times when the skin is really irritated, a cool bath using a colloidal oatmeal rinse (e.g., Aveeno) may be comforting.
• For some dogs, the pruritus is so severe that a stronger medication (e.g., prednisone) is required during peak allergy season to control the symptoms. Again, this should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Hope this helps!
Poison advisory - ASPCA warns about the potential health hazards of cocoa bean mulch for dog owners
With spring comes yard work that includes tending to our gardens. Cocoa bean mulch has become a commonly used product in landscaping, principally in gardens to choke out weeds and retain ground moisture. However, cocoa bean mulch is a by-product of chocolate production, and like chocolate, contains methylxanthines, the same ingredient that can has been implicated in chocolate toxicity in dog. Common symptoms include vomiting and muscle tremors. Many dogs enjoy the taste and readily consume the cocoa bean mulch. Therefore, caution or avoidance should be used for dogs that are commonly left in the yard unsupervised or have indiscriminate eating habits.
Page 2 of 2 -- On page 1, learn how to help a dog suffering from seasonal allergies.
About Dr. Walt Ingwersen
Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.
Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. -- Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.