by Andrea Mykrantz, CVT
Fall is such a lovely and enjoyable season. The leaves are turning, kids are headed back to school, football is gearing up again and so are seasonal allergies. In Ohio, the late summer and early fall often marks the worst part of the season for many allergy sufferers, including our four legged counterparts. However, when the pollen counts get high and we start sneezing it’s important to note that our pets do not experience allergies in the same way that we experience them. Instead, they begin itching or licking or shaking their heads. Then, when you can’t stand it for even one more minute, you pick up the phone and call for relief. Everyone would love for us to simply dispense the itching pill or shot, a.k.a., steroids. Unfortunately, allergies generally aren’t an easy fix. Allergies are often accompanied by secondary skin or ear infections; and steroids can mask symptoms while these infections get worse. Add to that the fact that long term use of these medications can have unpleasant and even life threatening side effects. Making that first appointment and allowing the doctor to perform the necessary diagnostics to treat the causes of itching could be your answer. Furthermore, staying on a schedule of basic at home maintenance as recommended by the doctor could quite possibly save you repeated veterinary visits. Believe me; we understand that allergies are frustrating. Our goal is to make your pet as comfortable as possible, to educate your on pets allergies, and give you the tools to decrease your visits. Always remember, allergies cannot be cured, they can only be controlled.
Let’s start with a look at a typical Itchy Patient Exam. The doctor will begin by taking a brief history of your concerns while performing a thorough physical exam. Often the doctor will take samples for diagnostic testing. The doctor may choose to take a piece of clear packing tape and stick it to your pets skin in several areas and then peel it off. Our clients often chuckle at this technique because it certainly doesn’t seem like rocket science. In reality, it is one of our very best diagnostic tools for skin infections. The sticky part of the tape lifts off surface skin cells and we use a special stain and look at it on a microscope to check for bacteria and/or yeast. Bacteria and yeast normally live on the skin in small amounts and will overgrown when the skin becomes inflamed, like with allergies. Then we know what infections we???re dealing with and how best to treat. The doctor may also do a skin scraping. This is a simple procedure where we literally scrape the surface of the skin with the edge of a sterile surgical blade. For a deeper scrape, the doctor will squeeze the skin attempting to push anything out of the hair follicle that may be hiding down in there. The scrapings are placed on a slide and looked at on the microscope for skin mites, also known as mange, or bacterial infections. If the ears are involved, we will take swabs of the ear, put it on a slide, stain it with a series of special stains and examine it under the microscope. We are looking to see if your pet is suffering from a bacterial infection, a yeast infection, parasites or simple inflammation. Having this information provides the doctor with the knowledge needed to choose the appropriate medication for your pet. Using the wrong medication would be ineffective or worse, could cause permanent damage to your pets ear canal. Once all of these tests are performed, the doctor usually has enough information to put together your treatment plan. Typically your pet will go home with multiple medications, ear medication, or specific shampoos to treat not only the itch but the infection. After this initial appointment it is especially important to follow through with your recheck appointment. You may think that your pets skin looks great or at least good enough but if the infection isn’t 100% resolved, all of the problems are going to come rushing back as soon as you stop the medication. The only way to know that everything is cleared up is to recheck the skin and possibly repeat some of the tests that we performed during the first visit. Often, if you have been compliant with giving the medications and using the shampoos your pets skin and ears will be significantly improved if not 100% back to normal. The doctor will typically recommend that you finish any and all antibiotics and then continue to use any shampoos, topical treatments or ear cleansers on a maintenance schedule.
Unfortunately, if you are unable to get the medications that the doctor prescribed into your pet or if you only use the medications for a few days and stop because it looks better, you are going to be fighting a constant battle against allergic symptoms. Plus, each time you don’t finish a round of prescribed antibiotics those particular antibiotics become less effective each time you try to use them and eventually you are going to be left with fewer choices for continued treatment. The good news is we have options! Please let us know you and your pets limitations and we will do our best to work with you. We want you to be successful!
Now, if you’re following all of the doctor’s recommendations and are still struggling with allergic symptoms, we will discuss the possibility of performing more extensive diagnostics. We may consider checking endocrine levels, serum allergy testing, fungal or skin cultures or even skin biopsies. We may suggest using Atopica or even contemplate a hypoallergenic diet trial. Occasionally, we might try adding an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, but they only work in a small percentage of dogs and even then they work better as a preventative than as a treatment during a flare-up. Adding an omega-three fatty acid supplement is also a good idea in many allergic situations, to decrease inflammation and decrease the need for steroids. Finally, always be sure your pet is current on their monthly flea preventive. Even one single flea bite in a flea allergic pet can send them into a frenzy of itching and cause infection.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies or if you have questions about your pets current allergy therapies please contact our office and speak to any one of our knowledgeable staff members.