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!
Did you know that the 4th of July weekend is the #1 weekend for lost pets taken to shelters in Springfield, MO and nationwide? Does your dog or cat have a noise phobia and become fearful, anxious, or stressed to loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, etc? Are you making their anxiety worse or better? Here are some tips to try and create a more “Fear Free” holiday for everyone to enjoy:
- Remove your fearful pet from the environment if possible. It may be less stressful to take your pet to a friend or family member’s house that is away from the fireworks and noise. If that is not possible, check with your veterinarian or boarding facility to see if they have room to lodge your pet for the night or weekend.
- Create a sound-proof room or safe haven for your pets. Keep your pet in the interior most room in the home with no doors or windows to the exterior of the home. Basements make a great retreat as they are usually darker, well-insulated, and lack exterior doors or windows preventing a possible escape attempt which could lead to injury. If your pet is crate-trained, then place them in the crate with their favorite toy or blanket for reassurance. Then cover the crate with a thick towel or blanket to darken the environment and to also help buffer loud noises. Your pet will hopefully feel safe in this comfortable environment.
- Provide a musical distraction using sound therapy. Playing the radio or keeping the TV on can help muffle the sounds to outside fears and stressors. http://throughadogsear.com/ is a website that has an assortment of calming music for a variety of anxieties such as fireworks, thunderstorms, car rides, etc.
- Swaddle their fear away. Similar to swaddling infants, a thunder shirt ( www.thundershirt.com ) applies a gentle, constant pressure to help relieve stress and anxiety. It is a drug-free way to safely, effectively, and inexpensively calm your pet.
- Nutraceuticals to calm the fear away. Products that contain L-Theanine, L-tryptophan, and/or melatonin have been shown to provide a calming effect to pets. It’s better to start these products 1-2 weeks beforehand as these sometimes take time in order to reach therapeutic levels.
- Aromatherapy. Lavender and Chamomile can provide a calming effect when diffused into the room, but it is important to remember to never apply any essential oils topically to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian as some can be toxic to your pet. Feliway (www.feliway.com) and Adaptil (www.adaptil.com) are pheromones used to naturally reduce stress and anxiety in your pet and can be used for a variety of stressors. They are available in diffusers, sprays, and collars and have worked wonders for many of our patients with mild anxieties. These work best when paired with behavioral modification techniques and given for a longer period of time.
- Anxiolytics and other behavioral modification drugs. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it simply is not enough to help relieve fear, stress, and anxiety in our furry companions and that’s when you need to talk to your veterinarian about prescribing a medication to prevent the situation from escalating out of control. There are many short-acting medications that can be used such as Trazadone, Alprazolam, and Diazepam that can be given within a few hours of the anticipated events to safely reduce anxiety and will not have long lasting side-effects. We have used Trazadone for many of our boarding patients when they have become fearful of being away from home and it has helped tremendously with decreasing and/or eliminating stress-induced colitis resulting in bloody diarrhea. Talk to your veterinarian in advance as sometimes these medications need to be compounded in order to get cats to easily take them.
- “Ace” for your pet? Acepromazine was once commonly prescribed for thunderstorm and fireworks phobia because it is a great sedative. However, it may do little for the actual anxiety with noise phobias. In fact sometimes, it could make your pet more fearful and reactive to the situation. This medication is no longer recommended as a first-line therapy for anxiety and noise phobias. However when behavior modifications, nutraceuticals, and anxiolytic medications fail then it may be time to use this tranquilizer. This medication will help control vomiting as well so if your dog vomits in response to firework situations then this medication may be appropriate or another anti-emetic medication can be prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Collars, ID tags, and microchips. If all of the above fail and your pet does manage to get free and run away, make sure they have proper and up to date identification with your contact information so you can be quickly reunited. Microchips are a permanent identification that is placed under the animal’s skin so in the event if the pet’s collar or ID tag fall off or are not on your pet when they escape they can still be properly identified and returned safely home.
We hope this helps you and your pets to enjoy a safe and Happy 4th of July!
If you have any additional questions or concerns regarding your pet’s health or behavior, don’t hesitate to ask us. We are here to help!
Information for this blog post was gathered from the following websites: http://drmartybecker.com, http://throughadogsear.co/, www.thundershirt.com, www.feliway.com, www.adaptil.com, and the Fear Free certification program offered through www.Vetfolio.com.
When national surveys are done, pharmacists continually rank high when it comes to trust, honesty and ethics. Whether it’s your pharmacy professional at the locally owned corner store or the one at the corporate big box store, this profession consistently out ranks doctors, engineers and even the clergy! Like veterinarians, pharmacists are viewed as compassionate and caring by the general public.
However, increasing numbers of news reports detailing mistakes made by human pharmacies dispensing pet medications has both professions concerned. In some cases, there was no noticeable effect and the pets were fine, but serious illnesses, severe complications and even deaths have occurred. How widespread is this issue?
Thankfully, in the vast majority of prescriptions sent to pharmacists from veterinarians, the dosage and medication is delivered as expected and the pet gets exactly what is needed. It’s only when drugs are changed, generics substituted or dosing altered that problems occur.
In a recent survey completed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), more than 1/3 of the veterinarians surveyed reported incidents of pharmacists from either retail or online pharmacies changing the prescription. In a highly publicized case from Los Angeles, an 8 year old Labrador was euthanized after the drug store altered the dose of a veterinarian’s prescription, changing the “cubic centimeters” (or “cc”) to teaspoons. This pet ended up receiving almost 4 times the amount of medication needed which compounded his other, already serious health issues.
In the Oregon survey, veterinarians also reported that insulin brands were changed, dosages for anti-seizure medications were altered and antibiotics substituted for chemotherapy drugs. Other news reports have shown that pet owners were told to give human pain relievers, such as Tylenol® or Ibuprofen®, to their pets. This seemingly harmless advice can lead to serious liver damage in dogs or even death in cats.
Executive Director of the OVMA, Mr. Glenn Kolb said that ““Together, veterinarians and pharmacists work hand in hand to meet the needs of the client and the best interests of the patient. The bad news is the rare occurrence when a pharmacy steps out of its scope of practice by making determinations and adjustments.”
Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken notice. In a 2012 Consumer Update, the FDA mentions how veterinarians and pharmacists are taught different systems of medication dosing abbreviations, leading to confusion. In addition, transcription errors and product selection mistakes can lead to the wrong drug or the incorrect amount being given to your pet.
Both professions and the FDA are taking these reports very seriously. Carmen Catizone of the National Association Boards of Pharmacy says that pet owners “”primary concern should always be whether or not the pharmacist is knowledgeable in the area of veterinary medications” and cautions that price should be a secondary consideration when looking for pet or human drugs.
In the FDA alert, consumers are urged to ask questions of both the pharmacist and the veterinarian if your pet’s prescription is filled at an online or retail pharmacy. Glenn Kolb takes it one step further and flatly states that “veterinarians need to raise awareness among pet owners by telling them, “If a pharmacist suggests changing to a different drug or different dosage, please contact me right away.’”
Be familiar with your pet’s regular medications and take time to review any written prescription. If what you receive doesn’t match your expectations, do not give the drug and contact your veterinarian.
Veterinary experts also recommend that pet owners shopping for the best price on pet medications have an open conversation with their primary veterinarian. In many cases, the veterinary hospital will have the right medication available at a price that matches or is close to the online costs once you figure shipping and convenience. Plus, you get the added peace of mind that your veterinary team understands your pet’s unique needs.
Just like in human medicine, prescription errors happen with our pets too. The important thing to remember is that both your veterinarian and your local pharmacist are interested in what’s best for your four legged friend.
According to PetsAndParasites.com, a website devoted to tracking the occurrence of parasites in our pets, the prevalence of deadly heartworms continues to cause problems. More than 1% of dogs tested will be positive for heartworms in the US every year. That’s almost a million pets suffering from a preventable disease! Rates are even higher for parasites like roundworms, whipworms and hookworms!
Thankfully, we have had safe and effective parasite treatment and preventive products available for many years. So, why are we still seeing so many cases? There are many theories.
Despite the claims of Internet sites who say rising resistance among heartworms or massive failure of preventives is to blame, the reality is probably a little closer to home. Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a past president of the American Heartworm Society is quoted as saying that human error or forgetfulness is probably the biggest reason for pets developing heartworm disease. His comments are echoed by research in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana that reviewed cases of presumed heartworm preventive failure and found that owner compliance was actually much lower than originally reported.
But, an uncertainty among pet owners about which product to use (market confusion), as well as economic factors, are fueling at least some of the issue. Generic heartworm preventives can now be found in many human pharmacies and online pet pharmacies are offering six to ten different medications to the public. It’s frankly hard for a pet owner to choose.
Experts from the American Heartworm Society recommend giving heartworm preventive year round. Just be sure you are using a prescription product that contains one of these known compounds; ivermectin, milbemycin oxime, selamectin or moxidectin. Then your pet needs to receive a dose once monthly, every month, all year long.
Some of these medications are also effective against intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. A few of these preventives are also now using compounds to treat tapeworms in addition to the other parasites. It’s even possible to get heartworm preventive that also includes means to help control fleas!!
Part of consumer confusion is whether to buy the least expensive product or the one that covers every possible parasite. Veterinarians do understand how this can be such a confounding problem.
In fact, certain parasites are less common in some areas of the country and your pet’s risk factors vary quite a bit. These risk factors also include exposure to parasites through trips to dog parks, hiking or camping, interstate travel or even the presence of other animals in the household.
Veterinarians follow these trends every year. They couple this information with their understanding of the different life cycles, knowledge of your pet’s specific medical conditions, the reputation of the drug manufacturers and your region of the country. They are ideally equipped to help you more fully understand exactly which product provides the best parasite protection for your pet and your family.
Also it is so important for you not to fall for advice in online forums that recommend odd-ball alternative methods of protecting your pets against any parasite, but especially heartworm disease. Many of these simply fuel speculation about diminishing effectiveness of heartworm preventives and they are not well researched. These sites often misinterpret data or are actively promoting products that have not gone through proper testing and safety research.
This is an area of pet care where we have made great advances, but bad advice and a confusing market have created unnecessary risks and vulnerabilities. Trust your pet’s healthcare advice to your family veterinarian and team. Trusted products from Deerfield Veterinary Hospital can be found at our hospital. Our pharmacy is price competitive with most online and local big box retailers. Call the hospital today to setup your account with Deerfield.
According to veterinary experts, each year hundreds of thousands of our canine and feline friends are exposed to dangerous poisons in the very place where they should be safe. From corrosive cleaning agents to supposedly healthy snacks, our homes can harbor a wide variety of potentially hazardous materials.
The Animal Poison Control Center of the ASPCA handles almost 200,000 calls every year from worried pet owners. Additionally, the Pet Poison Helpline reports their call center handles another 100,000 reports of animal poisonings annually. So, what are the problematic substances in our homes?
Both of these organizations show the number one reason for calls is human medications. From Tylenol, Advil and other over-the-counter products to prescription antidepressants, pain medications and heart pills, drugs meant for people find their way into our pets far too often. In some cases, sneaky pets will gobble up tablets dropped by their owners, but in many instances, these drugs are purposefully given to dogs or cats in a well meaning but wrong attempt to treat some illness or pain.
Human medications can and do cause serious problems for our pets. Their different metabolism and small sizes often means that a common drug like acetaminophen can be deadly. A single 500 mg Tylenol can actually kill a cat!
Next up on the list are products designed to help our pets, like popular flea medications and other insecticides. In general, the topical drops are very safe, but when used incorrectly, the consequences can be severe. Our feline friends are especially susceptible to the mis-use of these products and more than half of the calls to poison hotlines involve cats exposed to insecticides. Organophosphate products designed to protect plants from marauding insects are often involved in poisonings of both dogs and cats.
We have all heard that feeding “people food” to our pets can be problematic and the number of calls to both poison centers confirms it. Chocolate can cause serious heart arrhythmias, garlic and onion ingestion can lead to red blood cell abnormalities and the artificial sweetener, Xylitol®, has been implicated in liver failure and death in dogs. Even supposedly healthy foods aren’t necessarily safe. Macadamia nuts cause dogs to become weak and unable to walk and grapes and raisins will create kidney failure in some dogs. Unfortunately, the exact reason why this happens is not known.
Beyond these very common items, household cleansers, automotive products, rodenticides, dietary supplements and even veterinary drugs also have a strong potential for problems.
Pet owners can protect their four legged friends by following a few common sense rules.
First, we are accustomed to “baby-proofing” our homes, why not consider “pet-proofing” it as well? Make sure that any potentially dangerous chemical is safely secured behind closed or even locked doors. Antifreeze, kitchen and bath cleansers and drain products need to be kept out of a pet’s reach and spills should be cleaned up immediately.
Next, any medication, human or veterinary, should be kept in a medicine cabinet or area where a pet will not have access. If you are worried about dropping pills, take your medicine in the bathroom with your pets locked on the outside!
Never give your pets any medication unless ordered by your pet’s veterinarian. As mentioned above, the wrong dosage or even a seemingly safe human drug can be deadly to your pet. Always check with your veterinarian, not the Internet, whenever you have questions about medications your pet is receiving.
Finally, take action if you suspect your dog or cat has ingested something harmful. Calling your veterinarian or an accredited veterinary organization should be the first step. Both the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Pet Poison Helpline have call centers open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These specialists can help you decide if your pet needs immediate veterinary attention or if it’s okay to wait. Each group charges a small fee, but isn’t that a tiny price to pay for peace of mind and your pet’s well-being?