Are Pet Allergies Causing Your Dog To Constantly Scratch And Chew Themselves?
Fall in the Ozarks brings less humidity, cooler weather, colored leaves, and unfortunately ragweed. Fall means hay fever symptoms in people and allergic dermatitis in our pets. Unlike humans, most pets show signs of allergies through their skin. So, what are pet allergies? An allergy is a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity to an allergen. Most allergens are proteins. The allergen protein may be of insect, plant or animal origin. Some allergens are inhaled, some allergens are ingested and some allergens cause contact irritation. No matter the route of exposure, the end result is an itchy dog if your pet suffers from allergies. The itching is caused by an overactive immune system reaction. This can sometimes happen with the first allergen exposure but often it requires multiple exposures to the offending allergen. An antibody in the blood called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) binds to the allergen protein. This allergen-IgE complex then attaches to a Mast Cell. When attached to an allergen complex, Mast Cells break up and release potent inflammatory compounds such as histamine. This starts the inflammatory cascade and the allergic reaction. This allergic reaction can happen anywhere on the skin of your dog. The medical term for this is allergic dermatitis or atopy.
There are numerous substances that can act as allergens. Flea saliva, tick saliva, tree pollens (cedar, oak, ash), flower pollens, grasses and weed pollens (ragweed), as well as molds, mildew, and house dust mites are the most common allergy offenders. Some plant and animal proteins found in foods can cause allergies as well as some food additives. The most common cause of allergies in our pets is fleas and the least common cause of allergies is food. Up to 80% of our pets with allergic dermatitis are very allergic to fleas so flea control is absolutely essential in the allergic pet.
SIGNS OF ALLERGIC DERMATITIS:
The most common sign of allergies is itching of the skin –either in one area or generalized over the body. Itchy signs can include chewing and licking of the feet, rubbing or pawing at the face or eyes, rubbing the head or ears along the carpet or sofa, rubbing the belly or rear on the floor, and redness of the skin in the affected areas. Many pets will lick their armpits, thighs, belly or abdomen. Scratching at the ears or ear flicking and head shaking is also indicative of allergies. The constant scratching and licking can result in a secondary bacterial skin infection. Other signs of allergies may also include reoccurring ear infections, full anal glands and anal gland infections.
BREEDS PREDISPOSITION :
Many dog breeds are predisposed to allergies. Terrier breeds as a group are the most commonly affected dogs that we see in our practice. Schnauzers, Westies, Scottish, Cairn, Welsh, Fox, Boston and Jack Russell Terriers are just a few that can be afflicted with allergies. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, and Shepherds are also commonly affected breeds. Most pets will start showing allergy signs between one and three years of age. Initially, many allergies will occur seasonally when the allergen is at its peak. But each year, the allergy season starts a little earlier and lasts a little longer and the allergies worsen. Eventually, with time, allergic dermatitis can become year-round. Allergens such as house dust mites, molds and mildew are present any season and pets sensitive to these will suffer year-round.
Happy Puppy Dog Free From Symptoms of Pet Allergies
The best way to treat allergies is to individualize the treatment to your pet and to treat that patient with the lowest dose or frequency of medication possible because allergies are a life long problem. Eventually, your pet may need medication daily to control its allergies so starting with lower dose therapy initially will be of benefit. Keep in mind that some animals will respond better to different aspects of the therapy than others and some therapies may not work at all. Also remember that allergies are controlled and not cured. Seven possible allergy treatments include frequent bathing, antihistamine therapy, fatty acid supplementation, anti-inflammatory therapy, cyclosporine therapy, desensitization therapy, and/or food allergy trial. And as mentioned earlier, flea and tick control is essential in the allergic patient.
Keep in mind that each allergy patient is different and each treatment will be individualized to that pet. Some therapies will work better than others for different pets. Above all, remember that allergies are controlled at best. Allergies are not cured. Close communication with your veterinarian is essential in keeping your allergy pet as comfortable as possible.
Frequent bathing helps physically remove irritants that are on the surface of your pet’s skin. Bathing also helps control and removes infection causing bacteria from the skin. Some pets need be bathed weekly. It is very important to use a high-quality, hypoallergenic or medicated shampoo that will not dry out or irritate your pet’s skin when used regularly. Be sure to thoroughly rinse your pet after its bath. Your veterinarian will recommend the best shampoo and the best bathing schedule for your pet. Consider having your long-haired pet’s coat shaved during allergy season to assist you in bathing.
Antihistamines work the same in our pets as they do in us. By decreasing the release of inflammatory mediators, antihistamines help alleviate the symptoms of allergies. As is the case with people, different antihistamines will affect our pets in different ways. Some pets will become sleepy, others may become excitable, and some may show a decrease in appetite. Despite these few side effects, antihistamines are relatively safe to use on a daily basis and are most effective when given prior to and regularly through the allergy season. The biggest benefit to using these medications is that it allows us to avoid using steroids or allows us to use a lower dose of steroids.
Fatty acids are compounds in the body that are used as building blocks to form compounds such as histamine and prostaglandins. Histamines are compounds that can cause inflammation and allergies. Supplementing the diet with a non-body source of fatty acids may actually help decrease the amount of inflammatory mediators produced by the body because the oral fatty acid gets metabolized into different, less potent inflammatory mediators. Fatty acid supplements work in about 30 % of our patients. It is believed that some antihistamines and fatty acids work synergistically to achieve an even greater effect. Fatty acids also help moisturize and improve the condition of the hair coat which is important in our allergy patients.
Steroids are used when the above therapies are not effective or the allergies are so severe that the patient needs relief. Steroids are often used to help a patient survive through allergy season until allergy testing and desensitization therapy can be initiated. Steroids basically turn off the over-reactive immune system. Steroids do have side effects some of which can be serious. The most common side effects are increased thirst and urination, increased appetite and weight gain. Steroids also predispose pets to infections, especially bladder infections. Steroids can also interfere with your pet’s own hormonal regulation. There are short acting and long acting steroids. The severity of side effects is directly related to the potency of the steroid used. There are two basic forms of steroids. There is an injectable form and a pill form. The injectable form can last in your pet’s system for 2 to 3 months. The tablet form usually lasts for about a day. It is safer for your pet to be on the oral tablets at a graduated, tapered dose. The injectable form is used when your pet’s allergies are so severe that immediate relief is needed. Steroid treatment is a serious therapy that requires close attention by your veterinarian.
ALLERGY TESTING & DESENSITIZATION THERAPY:
This is the gold standard for a patient with allergic dermatitis. Your pet may either be skin tested or have blood drawn for an allergy test. The skin test involves injecting diluted allergens into your pet’s skin and looking for a flare skin reaction. The blood test is done in a specialized laboratory. The test looks for blood levels of IgE in response to antigens. Most allergy testing is done in the winter when your pet is no longer receiving medications. Once it is determined what your pet is allergic to, an allergen-specific immune serum can be compounded. This serum will have low levels of antigen that your pet will be exposed to by injections over a period of time – in effect desensitizing your pet to the allergens. The exact mechanism of action of immunotherapy is still unknown in the dog but it is postulated that immunotherapy decreases the levels of IgE antibodies and increases the levels of IgG antibodies along with altering T-helper cell response. Overall, desensitization improves allergy symptoms in about 50% of patients and the results can be very gratifying.
Cyclosporine is a chemotherapy drug. It has been altered and formulated into a low dose oral tablet called Atopica. Atopica is a potent immunosuppressor of T- helper cells and inhibits interleukin -2 which is an inflammatory mediator. These two actions help turn off the over reactive immune system response and provide relief for the allergy pet. Atopica does not suppress cell- mediated immune responses and therefore overall doesn’t adversely affect the pet’s ability to fight infections. It is only approved for use it dogs.
Is the newest generation anti-inflammatory medication used to control itching associated with allergic dermatitis? We have now treated over 80 patients at Deerfield in the past year with this new medication and have seen very positive results. Apoquel targets the pet’s immune system. It specifically addresses that part of the immune system that is involved in the itch and inflammatory response. Unlike
DON’T FORGET ABOUT FLEAS:
No amount of allergy treatment in the world will relieve your pet’s itching if your pet has fleas. As stated earlier, 80% of our pets with allergies are also allergic to fleas. It may take only one or two flea bites to cause an allergic reaction in your pet. One flea is one flea too many for a pet with allergies. Flea control is essential for an allergy patient.
We know it can be stressful to see your pet suffer. Feel free to contact us for further help and advise regarding your pet.
Got Questions? Just Ask. We’re here to help! More
Excalibur, a beloved family dog, was euthanized on Weds, Oct 8th in Madrid, Spain. He was sedated beforehand as many pets are prior to euthanasia. Following the procedure, his body was sealed in a biosecurity device and transferred to a disposal facility for incineration. Excalibur was incinerated because he belonged to Theresa Romero – a Spanish nursing assistant infected with Ebola. Madrid’s regional government obtained a court order to destroy the dog as a necessary precaution in containing the Ebola virus. This action has raised discussion within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and within the animal loving community worldwide. What do we know?
As it stands now, exposure to the Ebola virus in the U.S. is extremely low. The likelihood of a canine patient of Deerfield Veterinary Hospital being exposed to Ebola virus is highly unlikely. There are no known animal cases of Ebola in the U.S. In order for a canine to contract Ebola, the dog would have to make direct contact with bodily secretions of a human symptomatic with Ebola. While this could more easily happen in those stricken areas of West Africa, it is doubtful to occur elsewhere.
A large serologic study of dogs was conducted during the 2001-2002 Ebola outbreak in Gabon, Africa. Although the dogs in the study lived closely with humans and were deemed pets by villagers, the dogs were not treated as pets as we know it in the U.S. These dogs were not fed regularly and had to scavenge for their food. The dogs ate small dead animals and internal organs of wild animals hunted and slaughtered by the African villagers. Some dogs were observed to have eaten fresh remains of Ebola virus-infected dead animals brought back to the villages. Some dogs licked vomit from Ebola virus-infected patients. Obviously, this situations would not occur in the U.S. or in much of the world. At the conclusion of the study, 25% of the dogs in the affected area in Gabon were found to have antibodies against the Ebola virus. However, none of the dogs had circulating Ebola viral antigens or Ebola viral DNA in their serum samples. None of the dogs showed clinical signs or died of Ebola Viral Disease during the study. The study only concluded that the animals had been exposed to the disease. 1
Obviously what occurred with dogs in the Gabon, Africa study and what is happening now in West Africa are extremely different situations than what could occur in a household in Springfield Missouri. The CDC recommends that if a pet is in the home of an Ebola patient, veterinarians in a collaborative effort with public health officials should carefully determine the pet’s risk of exposure to bodily fluids of the Ebola patient. Appropriate measures and necessary precautions should be taken based on the risk assessment. A coordinated effort by the AVMA has begun compiling and disseminating information for United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified veterinarians including Dr. Denise Roche, Dr. Laura Hilton, Dr. Craig Bendickson and Dr. Ned Caldwell. Deerfield Veterinary Hospital is committed to providing pertinent information of how pets will be treated and cared for during infectious disease outbreaks.
A key point to remember is that there is currently no evidence that infected dogs can shed the Ebola virus. Again the study conducted in Gabon did not find any viral antigens in the dog blood samples. The study only detected antibodies in the dog’s serum samples. While questions do remain and deficits in our knowledge are apparent, there is limited concern about dogs naturally transmitting the Ebola virus at this time.
If you have any questions about infectious disease prevention, we would love to meet your pet and recommend the option that’s right for his or her needs: Get in touch with a Deerfield Veterinary Hospital staff member.
1. “Ebola Virus Antibody Prevalence in Dogs and Human Risk” Loïs Allela, Olivier Bourry, Régis Pouillot, André Délicat, Philippe Yaba, Brice Kumulungui, More
Pierre Rouquet, Jean-Paul Gonzalez, and Eric M. Leroy. Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 11, No. 3, March 2005.
As we head deeper into fall and the temperature starts to chill a bit, it’s easy to worry less about our pets suffering through flea infestations. After all, fleas and other blood-thirsty parasites don’t thrive in the freezing cold, right? That’s true for the most part, but it only paints part of the picture. Many great pet owners who love and provide dedicated care for their dogs and cats simply don’t realize the risk of fleas doesn’t fade with the summer heat. In fact, a quick Google search for winter flea protection prompts far too many results pointing to the common misconception that fleas won’t attack pets during the fall and winter. It’s time to review the facts, so we can help put that myth out to pasture.
The Fall Flea Surge
As a trusted veterinarian in Springfield, MO, where it gets awfully hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the dead of winter, I field all kinds of questions about why our patient families would need to treat their pets for fleas all year round. The answer is that the cooler temperatures and increased precipitation September tends to bring leads to the fall flea surge—as Dr. Michael Dryden, widely trusted Professor of Veterinary Parasitology at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Manhattan, has deemed it.1 In fact, Dr. Dryden has found that wild animals carry 70 percent more fleas in the fall than in the summer! How did he discover that? He and his team actually sedated wild animals and then counted their fleas. One poor opossum played the unwilling host to over 1,000 fleas at the time of the research.1
It’s time to fight the fall flea surge.
The increased flea population during cooler months makes sense when one considers that thicker winter coats hide fleas when wildlife attempts to groom the pests away.2 Fleas find warm places to survive as long as possible, and there’s no host quite as a warm and cozy as a furry animal—including any dog or cat who enjoys free run of the house. When fleas attack pets and then make their way inside, they quickly make themselves at home. Fleas nest and lay 40 to 50 eggs every day, wherever they please. Carpets, clothing, and beds make it particularly easy for fleas to thrive throughout the winter.
Compounding the issue, fleas adapt to extreme cold with varying degrees of success during the different stages of life. For example, both adult fleas and flea eggs struggle when temperatures remain at 37°F or below, and they die if it remains that cold for more than 10 days. Flea pupae, on the other hand, are bundled up in a protective layer that can keep them alive in the frigid weather throughout the winter and beyond—for up to a full year.
The Winnable Fight Against Fleas
Unlike wildlife that can only rely on grooming to control fleas, your pets have an advocate to help protect them from fleas throughout the year. Whatever the season, a monthly flea preventive is critical to stopping flea infestations, and fall is the absolute worst time of year to cut back on flea control. If we erroneously let fleas off the hook during the cooler weather, those pesky parasites have a far better chance to invade our homes and happily overwinter with our pets.
The proven need for year-round flea control applies to pets of all ages. You already know the importance of scheduling preventive kitten shots and puppy vaccinations, but many people don’t realize even young animals can safely receive flea control medicines. At Deerfield Veterinary Hospital, we urge pet owners to begin a monthly preventive plan during the very first visit for their new kitten or puppy. That lets us protect the pet right from the start and gives our caring staff the opportunity to show new pet owners how to properly administer the medicine.
The year-round approach is equally important for elderly dog care and senior cat care. Although our older pals generally don’t go outside as often, that doesn’t mean they are at less risk of contracting fleas. As older pets slow down, they become easier targets for fleas and other parasites. Older cats typically aren’t as fastidious of groomers, so your elderly cat may not keep up that beautiful coat as well as when she was younger. Thankfully, we can prevent the discomfort and pain fleas cause for older pets. That’s even more crucial when considering any chronic underlying issues your beloved pet may be enduring.
Our Preferred Flea Control Methods
Thanks to the many powerful breakthroughs in parasite prevention in recent years, dealing with fleas and flea bite allergies is something our pets no longer need to do—at any age.
It is, of course, always important to consider the unique needs and living situation for individual pet patients before making a final choice of flea control medicines. So stop by Deerfield Veterinary Hospital or visit your local veterinarian to learn which option is best for your pet. While you’re there, ask about a few of the flea control methods I find to be particularly reliable and effective:
- Topical Flea Prevention for Dogs: Frontline and Revolution are great choices.
- Oral Flea Prevention for Dogs: Nexgard and Trifexis are known to work well.
- Topical Flea Prevention for Cats: Revolution is a reliable option.
- Oral Flea Prevention for Cats: Currently, there are no approved oral options for cats.
If you have any questions about flea prevention, we would love to meet your pet and recommend the option that’s right for his or her needs: Get in touch with a Deerfield Veterinary Hospital staff member.
- “No Foolin’ Fall Is Prime Flea Season.” Dale, Steve. Oct. 18, 2011. “Steve Dale’s Pet World” on the ChicagoNow website. Accessed Sept. 15, 2014 at chicagonow.com/steve-dales-pet-world/2011/10/no-foolin-fall-is-prime-flea-season/.
- “Why Fleas Surge in the Fall.” Dr. Bramlage, DVM. The Revival Animal Health website. Accessed Sept. 15, 2014 at revivalanimal.com/articles/Why-Fleas-Surge-in-Fall.html.
Our clients regularly ask us great questions regarding their pets. This was question Dr. Denise answered via email in August of 2011 regarding the use of a generic carprofen (Rimadyl).
Can you get me a prescription for the generic of Rimadyl? Spot currently takes Putney Carprofen Caplets, 75mg twice a day. Our current bottle has 180 caplets in it, non-chewable.
I can go on petmeds.com if you cannot order it but need the prescription from you, correct?
Yes we can certainly write you a prescription to order the Carprofen caplets. My question is, are you using the caplets because they are less expensive or because Spot would not take the chewable Rimadyl tablets?
The reason I ask is that we competitively price our Rimadyl chewables in line with the generic carprofen tablets so that our clients have the ease of giving the chewable tablets rather than trying to hide the caplet in something every day.
If Spot would eat the chewable, you could use the Rimadyl 100 mg chewables and give 1 tablet in the morning and 1/2 tablet in the evening (which is equivalent to 75mg twice daily) The Rimadyl chewable tablet is scored so it is easy to split. The Rimadyl can be given only once a day (Rimadyl was tested with once daily dosing). However with a pet the age of Spot, I usually divide the dose up to get really good 24 hour coverage. If you went to the bigger size and gave 1 1/2 tablets total for the day rather than two of the 75 mg tablets a day you would end up saving money since you would be using less tablets each day. I’ve included cost comparisons below for you to look at – our hospital versus Pet Meds.
Pet Meds Carprofen caplet 75mg #180count $178.44 ($1.00/tablet) 2 tablets a day = $2.00 a day $60/month
Pet Meds Rimadyl chewable 75mg #180count $215.19 Deerfield Rimadyl chewable 75mg #180count $194.00
Pet Meds Carprofen caplet 100mg #180count $188.94 ($1.05/tablet)
Pet Meds Rimadyl chewable 100mg #180count $236.19
Deerfield Rimadyl chewable 100mg #180count $199.99 ($1.11/tablet) 1 1/2 tablets a day = $1.67 a day $50.10/month
So you could go to the Rimadyl chewables, give 1 1/2 tablets a day and spend $10 less a month than the generics you are using twice daily. Now obviously if Spot won’t take the chewables then all bets are off and we will stick with the caplets. One last note, if we do go with the chewables be sure to keep them out of reach- some dogs have been known to “counter surf” to get to the bottle of chewables because they taste so good. Unfortunately, that becomes a medical emergency.
Dr. Denise More