Spring is in the Air

Spring cleaning, spring planting, spring pruning, spring allergies;

Bees, butterflies, campfires, marshmallows, smores, spring allergies;

Fragrant flowers, soft spring rain, fresh mowed grass, spring allergies!

Spring is here and with it comes planting seeds, blooming flowers, buzzing insects…and seasonal allergies. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergy and asthma, conditions caused by an inappropriate over-response of the immune system to a substance called an allergen that triggers a cascade of harmful cellular and chemical events. Pets as well as humans suffer from seasonal allergies, and allergic reactions in dogs can be immediate or delayed, local to specific tissues, such as the paws or eyelids, or systematic where the entire body is affected. Most allergic substances, or allergens, are inhaled, but some are ingested, and animals tend to experience skin disorders rather than sneezing and watery eyes, and once exposed, they usually become extremely itchy. Typical signs of an allergy are licking the feet, rubbing the face, and frequent scratching. Skin or ear infections caused by allergies can be quite painful.

If your dog starts to lick or scratch excessively, he probably has allergies. Fleabites are the number one cause of allergy in dogs, so a consistent, safe, pest management program is important. When skin allergies are caused by environmental allergens, dogs typically scratch, bite, chew, or rub their face, neck, armpits, groin, rectal area, bottom of the tail, the bend of the joints, and between the toes. Inhaling dust or pollens produces the canine version of hay fever. Continuous scratching can lead to hair loss, dandruff, darkened or thickened skin, and greasiness. Hot spots may develop due to irritation from constant chewing or scratching, which can result in infection, and in severe cases, additional eye and nose allergies, or secondary bacterial or yeast infections develop

It is important to determine the source of an allergic reaction in your dog before any realistic treatment can be established, and since individual dogs respond differently, it may take some time for your veterinarian to find the solution that is most effective for your pet. Once the allergen is identified, the best solution is to remove it from his environment, but this is sometimes not practical. Airborne antigens, including pollen and dust, cannot be entirely avoided, so minimizing exposure is the goal. Avoid running through weeds and wooded areas. Wash your dog’s bedding regularly. Professional cleaning of the air ducts and filters in your home can make a big difference for both dogs and people.

Good nutrition is the cornerstone to treating any chronic illness, so improving the quality of your dog’s diet can help because, even if your dog doesn’t have a food allergy, a lot of the immune system is in the digestive tract. Cut out all the commercial treats and add an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, which can bolster the immune system and manage issues from the inside out.

Many topical treatments, including shampoos, rinses, gels, and lotions are available to soothe irritated skin, calm itchiness, and reduce inflammation, and antihistamines are sometimes recommended. However, because the symptoms of inflammation are produced from the inside out, shampoos, sprays and ointments can provide only temporary relief, and although they are beneficial to use during a flare up, long-term treatment should focus on balancing your pet’s immune system. A simple method of identifying a dog’s immune response to literally hundreds of environmental substances is to have your veterinarian submit a blood sample to a veterinary laboratory that specializes in measuring the amount of immune proteins already present in the dog’s bloodstream, which will determine appropriate treatment.

Steroids such as prednisone, cortisone, or other “allergy shot”, work remarkably fast, but they actually turn the immune system off, and do not address the root issue of why your pet’s immune system is over-reacting in the first place. Steroids can have a negative effect on your pet’s liver, adrenal glands, and kidneys, and suppressing the natural immune system with steroids also allows for opportunistic yeast and bacteria to grow on your pet’s skin, thus increasing the chances that antibiotics will be prescribed. Steroids are recommended only as a last resort.

Unfortunately, allergies cannot be cured, they don’t disappear, and usually become worse as your dog ages, but don’t despair! Work with your veterinarian to develop an individualized, appropriate treatment protocol to manage your dog’s allergies. It’s worth a little extra effort to keep him healthy and comfortable.


Prevent Those Tiny Critters from Causing Harm

Sixteenth century poet John Donne once said, “The flea, though he may kill none, he does all the harm he can.” Parasites are definitely unwelcome guests at any time of year, whether they are microscopic bacteria or blood-engorged ticks the size of a pea, and these pests are more than nuisances…many carry diseases that can impair or even threaten your dog’s life. It is estimated that Americans spend more than a billion dollars a year in an attempt to get rid of parasites from their pets and homes, and when these jumping, biting pests appear in the spring, most pet caregivers rush out to buy preventative treatment in an effort to curb “the harm they can do.” However, as temperatures drop, many seem to feel that they can stop worrying about flea and tick infestations. The truth is that fleas can be more prevalent in October and November than at any other time of year. Throughout the summer, flea populations have increased and are peaking in the fall, and as the weather cools down, the pesky critters instinctively seek out warm bodies and other warm places to feed and exist and lay eggs. Fleas can lay dormant for long periods in the larva and pupa stages until environmental conditions rouse them, and unless flea preventatives are used well into the winter. Problems such as flea bite dermatitis and possibly tapeworms may develop.

Ticks have also been abundant all summer, and they are still alive and well, even though cooler weather has arrived. Ticks are tough, and can hibernate and survive very cold weather, and although they probably won’t invade your home like fleas do, they can bring diseases into the house by clinging to your clothing or your pets. Ticks have become synonymous with Lyme disease, but most ticks do not carry this disease, and even if they are infected, they only begin transmitting disease if they are allowed to remain attached and feed for sustained periods of time, so it is important to examine your dog every day to locate and immediately remove any ticks. Work through his coat with a fine-toothed comb, and use your hands to feel all over for any suspicious bumps and creepy crawlers. When ticks are engorged with blood, they are visibly swollen and purplish, but unfed ticks will resemble tiny brown scabs, and are easy to miss. There are effective products to deal with both ticks and fleas, but DO NOT buy over-the-counter products which may be toxic to your pet. Always check with your veterinarian before using any parasite prevention product! Other parasites that drain a dog’s vitality can be quickly identified by a fecal sample. Fecal samples should be taken in to your vet regularly, so if a bug is found, it can be treated and eliminated. It is easier to expend a little extra time, energy, and money to prevent parasites from causing major harm.

Mosquitoes have been terrorizing both humans and canines this fall, and mosquitoes are the culprits in transmitting potentially lethal heartworm. Unlike fleas and ticks that live on your dog, mosquitoes just drop by for a quick meal, and then are gone, but they have the potential to transmit life-threatening diseases such as heartworm which can be fatal to an animal. We encourage responsible pet caregivers to be diligent in the consistent use of VET APPROVED flea, tick and heartworm prevention products.

Everyone is afflicted by “the fleas” of life”—you know, colds, bills, broken bones, and little nuisances of one sort or another. Let’s strive to eliminate all the fleas—from our dogs, and from our lives.

—William Styron