Dog Allergies

By on 17 December, 2012 in Kate and Stephen, Pets with 1 Comment

The dog, in a less itchy moment

Just over two years ago, we adopted a dog from the Montgomery Humane Society. She brought all kinds of joy and lots of companionship while providing a useful amount of good-natured provocation for our cat. A few months into our new relationship, we noticed that she was scratching her ears. A lot. She made a heart-breaking whimper each time she pawed at her soft fuzzy ear openings.

A trip over to see Dr. McLemore at Montgomery Veterinary Associates revealed that the dog had an ear infection. We got drops and washes and pills and came home. Believe it or not, it took six months to clear up that ear infection, because the dog has “abnormally small ear canals” and (more importantly) serious food allergies. It turns out that ear infections and skin scratching are allergic symptoms in dogs.

Yes, readers, we never thought we’d be the kind of dog owners who talk about their pet’s allergies. We have always seen those folks as kind of insufferable. But here we are to say that pet allergies are real and they are no fun. It’s hard to see a beloved pet wincing in pain as she scratches her ear, or mercilessly chewing her own skin. The food allergies took forever to diagnose, but we finally figured out it was chicken (we now buy highly-specialized (and expensive) salmon-based dog food over at Wet Pets). This was good news for the dog, who gets to eat rawhide bones again. We were very proud of ourselves for having solved the allergy problem.

And then, six months later, the dog started scratching. And scratching, and scratching, keeping us awake with her late-night floor percussion. Another long veterinary journey began. We tried every kind of antihistamine imaginable. Sometimes they’d work for a little while, sometimes not. Sometimes they’d kind of make the dog sleepy but not necessarily fix the allergy. We didn’t want to use steroids, particularly steroid shots, because Dr. McLemore told us (and we’d learned from having a dog with liver cancer) that dogs basically have a fixed number of those they can have before their lives are in danger. We did try oral steroids for a while, but still … nothing.

We weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. One of the great things about living in Montgomery is that we’re just 50 minutes away from one of the best small animal hospitals in the United States – over at the world-class Auburn veterinary medicine program. We got a referral from our doc and went to see them about this allergy thing. We’d been before, when our previous dog had liver cancer. It’s a great clinic, with very friendly staff. And it’s a teaching hospital, so you get to see veterinarians learning their craft. And if you’re in town you can go to The Gnu’s Room, one of Alabama’s best bookstores.

On our first visit, the dog got a skin panel and gave some blood for testing. The skin panel basically involves shaving a place on her stomach and pricking it with a bunch of little sample allergens to see what happens. Unfortunately, this was inconclusive (but the shaved part did make her look pretty punk rock). So we had to wait several weeks to get results from the blood test. On that second visit, we learned that the dog is allergic to a number of the invasive plants that live in our yard (we wrote about these last summer, and they persist despite our best efforts … which is what makes them invasive) as well as a number of plants we didn’t even know we had in the yard.

The treatment is shots. They custom mixed serum for the dog’s specific allergy issues and gave us a bag of syringes, a lesson on injection and a calendar for mapping the shot program. Basically, we start with the first vial, slowly ramping up her dose. Then we move to the next vial, still on an every other day schedule, descending to the final “maintenance” vial. After a month of every other day shots, we go to once a week. For the rest of her life. Which seems a little onerous, but isn’t really that bad if it works. Which we sure hope it does, because even though we have pet insurance, it was pretty expensive.

Honestly, we’d never really met dogs with allergies before we had this experience, and might have thought it might be mostly a symptom of owner hypochondria. But having seen firsthand how uncomfortable it made our pet, we get that canine allergies are as real as human ones and can seriously impair their (and your) enjoyment of life.

We’re not alone in learning this. If you’ve ever been into Sandra Nickel’s real estate office you’ve met O.D. (Office Dog). Sandra told us recently that for years O.D. did fine on a jerky laced with glucosamine. Then Dr. McLemore (he’s the best!) told them to beware of any pet product manufactured in China, which this meat jerky was. After that, Sandra switched to some domestically-made bites and within a very few weeks O.D. had developed a badly itching tail. Poor guy was itching and scratching to the point that he had to be treated. It seems like he had an allergy, as Sandra reports that they’ve stopped the bites and O.D. has been fine since.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

 

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  1. Always check if you vet is trained to test for animal allergies. Not all vets are. Seeing a specialist just for your animals’ allergies may cost more but your pet will be much happier if they are not fighting a skin condition.

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