Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Allergy Season

"I think my dog has allergies," she said. "You mean because he chews his paws constantly, always has ear infections, rubs his face on the rug, and now he's scratching like crazy?" I responded. "I told you a long time ago that his foot licking and ear infections were probably related to allergies, and this is just about the worst time of the year for most allergic dogs in this part of the country."

Buddy is a designer dog, a Schnoodle. Remember, one of the reasons people buy designer dogs is because they are supposedly healthier than purebred. Hahahaha. You ought to ask about Buddy's vet bills. To be fair, he was not purchased for that reason, but because he was small, cute and needed a home. But, he is pretty miserable right now.

We discussed some of the home remedies she could use to make Buddy more comfortable. Bathing him with a hypo-allergenic shampoo, using an oatmeal-based cream rinse, cold water rinses to cool his skin, and the use of antihistamines. Seasonal allergies in dogs are the canine version of hay fever. While humans have histamine receptors in the mucus membranes, causing running noses, watery eyes, post nasal drip and the like, it's the skin that is affected in dogs, and they get itchy. Really itchy. Some dogs like some people have year around allergies, but many of them (like Buddy) are much worse in the summer due to pollens, molds, mildews, and other "outdoor" problems. Buddy is worst when he is up north at the trailer in the woods. There are many other possibilities, like new carpeting, fabric softener, rug cleaners, dog shampoo, you name it, someone is allergic to it. Dogs too. One of the big problems for dogs as it is for people is house dust mites. (Remind me to shake the rugs and vacuum tonight!).

Antihistamines can be quite effective for dogs, and most Dalmatian owners carry Benadryl when they travel. If a dog pops hives, starts to scratch, or gets stung by a bee, quick use of an antihistamine can make him more comfortable. An allergic reaction that disturbs the skin surface can also leave a dog vulnerable to a staph infection. The staph is always there, it just causes problems when the skin surface is damaged from allergies or itching. A pyoderma caused by a staph infection normally needs to be treated with an antibiotic, so it's much better to prevent the problem in the first place!

Dogs can also have food allergies, but food allergies cause only 5% to 8% of the allergy problems we see in dogs. It's more likely that a dog would have a food intolerance and develop gas, loose stools or vomiting. My Josie does have a food allergy though and can not tolerate beef. Any kind of beef product, including a nice beef bone will make her incredibly itchy for several days. Beef is the only food that affects her that way.

Josie also has mild inhalant allergies, and in late May, and again in mid-August she will develop bumps on her forehead - remember, the histamine receptors on on the skin. She does not wheeze, cough, sneeze or get watery eyes like she would if she were a human. If I am proactive and have her on antihistamines at the time, nothing happens. If I am careless, she will pop hives and if they are not resolved quickly she will develop small hard dry pustules - Dalmatian Crud. A staph infection that "normally" responds to Cephalexin.

Some dogs get very itchy from inhalant allergies, like poor Buddy the Schnoodle. The Beagle I had as a kid was that way, and would scratch frantically in August. I've never owned a Dal who did that, other than Josie's response to beef. Dals seem more likely to pop hives and later develop the little staph bumps on the top of their heads and/or down their backs. I suppose Dals in flea-infested parts of the country are more likely to have the all-over itching, as many dogs quickly become sensitized to (allergic to) flea saliva.

While Benadryl is the most commonly used antihistamine for dogs, not all dogs respond the same way, and it may take some experimenting to find the right antihistamine. The others generally used are Hydroxizine (available by prescription from a vet) and Chlor-Trimeton (the generic chlorpheniramine maleate is much cheaper). Antihistamines can be sedating, which is not always a bad thing!