Spring Skin Hassles for Pets

Spring has sprung and so have all of the things that make our pets itch and rub and shake. Allergy season is upon us. Animals can be allergic to all of the same things that make us sneeze. But, while our organ of anaphylaxis (the organ system that is most commonly affected) is our respiratory system, dog's and cat's organ of anaphylaxis is their skin. So, when my eyes start burning and I can’t stop sneezing, I know I am going to see a lot of itchy animals.

The system affected is not the only difference. The chemicals responsible for causing the signs of allergies are also vastly different. In humans, histamines play a big part. Histamines are chemicals released when we encounter the allergen, which is the inciting agent of allergies. This why antihistamines are so effective in treating human allergies. They counter the affects of histamines.

For dogs and cats, histamines play only a minor role. It has been reported that antihistamines only work in about 10% of dogs/cats, but truly there has been no proof that they work at all on pet allergies. Benadryl has the benefit of causing the dog to be drowsy and thus causing the dog to itch less, which does have a value, but steroids have been our mainstay in treating allergies. They are inexpensive and stop the itch quickly, but they can cause the dog to drink and urinate more and are not to be used long-term.The signs of allergies in dogs and acats are due to a number of different chemicals - leukotrienes, cytokines, and kinases. Drugs can be made to block these chemicals. One such drug, Apoquel, works as quickly or quicker than steroids and without the side effect. It is changing the way we treat allergies. (The one downside is that the manufacturer wildly underestimated the demand and has been playing catch up since its rollout. It now looks to be more available, but if your vet says they don’t have any...believe him/her!)

Another great medication for pets that have chronic allergies is Atopica. Atopica is cyclosporine, which has been used in humans to stop tissue rejection in transplant patients. Atopica takes up to 3 weeks to start working but, once it kicks in, it works great. It also does not have the side effects seen with steroids.

One of the best tricks to help control skin issues in dogs is shampooing. I know it can be a pain to bathe some dogs, but if I can get my clients to bathe their dogs with chronic skin issue weekly, or every two weeks, it can make a huge difference. Make sure to talk to your vet about which shampoo to use as many of the over-the-counter shampoos have detergent and other ingredients that can make things worse.

Finally fleas and ticks are out there now. In central Ohio we have seen a huge influx of ticks this year. We also have the Black Legged Tick, which carries Lyme disease, in our area. We are all familiar with the large engorged ticks seen on our pets.

American Dog Tick

Pictured to the left is the American Dog tick or the Brown Dog Tick. These can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever but NOT Lyme disease. The problem with the Black Legged tick is its minute size. It is very hard to see, thus the nickname “moving freckles.” That is why it is so important you keep flea and tick products on your pet year round, so your pet is protected, and also so they don’t pass them to you. It is important to know that when people get bit by a Black legged Tick, they'll often develop a characteristic “target lesion” on their skin. If you see this, go to your doctor and get antibiotics. The spirochete bacteria that causes Lyme Disease is easily killed at this time. If untreated, you can experience symptoms at a later time.

But, with all the flea/tick products out there, it really should not be a concern if you keep pets protected year round. Most pets like the chewables, and there are chewable flea and tick preventatives available now. Skin care isn’t fun, but at least we can honestly say that the approach to prevention and treatment is getting much more effective!

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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