Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Face of Fall Allergies

Poor Holly - she is miserable. Every year in late August, Hol starts to scratch. There is some plant(s) blooming now that she is allergic to, and when dogs have inhalant allergies (atopy) they don't react the same as we do. People sneeze, have runny eyes, sinus headaches, sometimes sore throats - it's all in our heads. Dogs itch. The most common areas to be affected are feet and faces. Holly uses her back foot to scratch her body (a lot) but this year, her face is more severely affected than ever before. I don't know if this is because of our dry weather (rain helps wash the pollen out of the air,) because of the high weeds I have let grow (which puts the pollen right in her face as she runs through the yard,) or if it is just because allergies tend to worsen each year.

Whatever the cause, she is a wreck. She scratches constantly. She always stops when I tell her to, but goes right back to it when I walk away. She has the hair off from around her eyes and the bridge of her nose, and little scabs all over her head from rubbing her face. My poor baby!

I started her on antihistamines and extra fatty acids about mid-August, before the signs appeared, knowing what was coming. Omega 3 fatty acids (the "fish oils") are anti-inflammatory in their own right, and when you add them to antihistamines, there is a synergistic effect. (Which means that the two together are stronger than each one alone. I like to explain it by saying "1 + 1 = 3") But, that was not enough. I add in a touch of prednisone when I can, which helps, but Hol is very sensitive to the side effects of steroids (the cortisones, not anabolic steroids. She doesn't want weight-lifter arms.) She drinks a ton and can't control her urine if she gets too much pred. So, I can only use it on days when I'm off and I can take her out frequently. I have some topical sprays, but can't use them on her face - too close to her eyes.

I have just added a new allergy medication to her protocol, and it is too early to tell if it will help. Atopica is a veterinary-labeled form of cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant agent used for organ transplant patients. The goal is to decrease the reactivity of her immune system, thereby making her less itchy. I'm hoping I will see some improvement soon; I'll let you know.

Those of you whose dogs are
itchy this time of year, there are medications and treatments available to help them. See your vet before you lose any more sleep listening to the "thump, thump, thump" and jingling tags of an allergic dog, scratching at night.


possumlady said...

Hi Katdoc, I've read your insightful comments from Julie Z's blog for a while now. I have a cat, Sweet Pea, that is going crazy with the scratching and biting all over his body. This also started the end of August here in the DC area. He is an indoor only cat and is on flea prevention but this seems to be an all over itch (legs, tail, back, around his neck, etc). He is extremely hard to pill but I was wondering if children's benadryl along with some fatty oil pills would also help? The other cats are scratching more often but nothing like Sweet Pea! I know I should probably bring him to his vet but wanted to see if any at home remedies might do the trick. Thanks!

Oh, I also have a cat (Butterball) that always had swollen lips (I know the condition is called something but I can't remember). My vet prescribed Atopica (although he said it is not really approved for cats), and it worked! He was on a low dose for two months over a year ago and his lips are still normal.

Anonymous said...

Our dogs don't have allergies (thank goodness), but one of them has frequent ear problems. Our veterinarian recommended adding olive oil to their diets and it seems to have helped control the problem. Would fish oils be better?

KatDoc said...

When Susan and Julie convinced me to start a blog, I knew I would want to write about pet health and veterinary medicine. I also knew I would get questions like this. I have to be very careful about crossing the line between providing general information and practicing veterinary medicine. That's when I created my rules for managing my on-line advice column.

Rule #1 for a Virtual Vet: Don't diagnose or prescribe. Possumlady, I can't see your cat, and I don't know why he is itching. Fleas and atopy are common causes for itching in the fall, but not the only possibilities. Without knowing your cat's weight, previous health history, and diagnosis, it would be wrong of me to suggest any treatment or give any drug doses. My best advice? Call your vet. They may be able to help you over the phone or they may prefer to examine your cat, but either way, I don't recommend trying any OTC meds on your own or using an on-line site for advice. Your own vet is your best source of information.

Rule #2 is never to contradict another veterinarian. I don't know Anon's dogs in person, and while I have never used olive oil as a dietary supplement in dogs with chronic ear disease, if your vet recommended it and it is working, far be it from me to suggest you make a change. You might like to talk to your vet at your next regularly scheduled visit about the differences between olive oil and Omega 3 fatty acids, but don't alter what you are doing based on my experiences.

I am happy to discuss diseases and medications in a general fashion, but I am not able to provide specific information on individual cases. Medicine is as much art as it is science, and we don't use a standard "cookbook" when we make our decisions. Every case is different and needs to be handled in person by a veterinarian familiar with that pet, owner, and environment.

"Primum non nocerum." "First, do no harm." It's an oath I took, and I can't violate it. I hope you understand.


Susan Gets Native said...

You could erase "Holly" and put in "Nellie" and the story would stay the same. Our poor pups.
Thump, thump, thump, whine, thump, jingle, jingle.....

Kathy said...

Poor Holly. I hope the medications will help her feel better soon!

Sara said...

Hi Katdoc,
I'm so pleased to find that you have a blog, I've enjoyed your comments on Julie Z's blog and now look forward to visiting here also.
It is so cool that you were able to meet KEN KAUFMAN ! I would also post his picture twice.

littleorangeguy said...


I don't know if the weather in southwestern Ohio has been as hot and dry as it has in southern Ontario -- but if it has, poor Holly's worse-than-usual problem may be due to a vicious crop of ragweed. It thrives in hot dry weather, and we have an abnormal abundance of it this year. As a result, the usual stream of late summer allergies in Toronto has been a flood. This I learned from my family physician as she plied me with nasonex.

I can't help solve Holly's misery but at least maybe I can offer an explanation.

-The other Sara

KGMom said...

Katdoc--first, I completely respect your professionalism. It is a mark of a true person of integrity.
Second, of all the faults my dog might have, she does not suffer from allergies. I am thankful for small favors. Of course this is not to say she is perfect--she isn't, but we love her!

KatDoc said...

Thanks, Sara #1, for visiting. We do Toxicology quizzes on Tuesdays (for fun, no prizes,) stop back for that. Other nonsense includes birding, pets, and fun things in Ohio. Hope to see more of you.

Sara #2 (LOG): Yes, your weather sounds like ours - hot and dry. I don't know what the particular plant is that is affecting Holly, but I know I have a bunch of ragweed in bloom right now, so that is a strong possibility. As of yesterday, I'm being affected as well, and I never have allergy problems. My eyes are so red, puffy, and itchy I can't wear my contact. Ugh!

holly said...

Oh..poor, poor Holly! I can empathize with her SO much.

Hugs from the other Holly - who is also sniffling and sneezing her way through the fall..

possumlady said...

You know, just as I hit the "publish comments" I thought to myself, you know, you probably put her on the spot and being a vet she certainly can't give advice over a blog. So SORRY! We did get a got long soaking rain last night and Sweet Pea has really calmed down his scratching so I think ragweed must be the culprit.