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home : the villager : the villager February 6, 2016

2/26/2013 8:07:00 AM
Itching and scratching … maybe it’s not fleas!

The season is changing and with it the greenery surrounding both ourselves and our animal friends.

This year with the late rain and snow, accompanied by winds we are seeing many cases of itchy and scratchy pets. Some of these pets may present with what appears to be an ear infection, rash or hair loss but really is a sign of something lurking beneath the surface.

Many people think that ear infections are due to ear mites. Usually ear mites only occur in recently adopted pets from breeders or shelters where many live in close proximity.

If we do see a longtime housecat with ear mites my first question is always…’have there been any new additions to the family?’. The answer many times is yes.

Ear mites are parasites that love to live in the ear canal and on the skin of dogs, cats, ferrets, and other mammals. There has to be a direct communication with an infected animal to one that wasn’t infected for transmission.

Unlike lice, which can live in the bedding purchased for caged small mammals, ear mites have a tough time on their own and can’t live without a host for any amount of time.

Determining the cause of ear infections is important. If we don’t know the cause, we can’t prescribe the correct treatment. Many times the ear infection itself is a sign of something else going on with the pet.

For example dogs can show food or pollen allergies with inflamed painful ear canals and maybe redness in the armpit area. Cats too can have ear inflammation and sometimes chin inflammation with allergies.

Treating the symptoms in these cases is not going to address the underlying problem. Also true is that as many of us know, ear infections are painful! Sometimes treatment is aimed at first decreasing the pain before actually flushing or medicating the ear canal itself.

So what about food allergies? Actually this is a great topic and one that was addressed at length at North American Veterinary Conference this year. Animals have what is called an allergic threshold. What this means is that let’s say your dog is allergic to all kinds of grasses, Juniper, Arizona Cypress, Cottonwood, wool, cat hair, lamb, beef and rice. If it’s the time of year where the grasses are dormant, and the pollen on the Junipers isn’t blowing in the wind, they may be happily eating lamb and rice dog food next to their favorite kitty without a problem. Now we move to spring where everything is growing and pollinating and suddenly Duke is scratching at his ears. Most would think, well heck, can’t be the food, he’s been eating that all year without a problem. The reason he could eat it was because he was below the allergic threshold, or showing clinical signs. This is one of the reasons that allergy testing, once allergies have been diagnosed, is so helpful. If we know ALL the things that Duke is allergic to we can avoid allergens, remove allergens(hopefully not the kitty!) and help him stay below that threshold. In some cases desensitization like humans use can be very helpful to get the allergic part of the immune system to not react to the allergens.

Interestingly enough there was a recent study of many brands of OTC food that were touted as hypoallergenic and yet they had contamination with soy or other proteins. What this means for you as a pet owner is don’t despair of finding a hypoallergenic diet after one or two trials. Speaking of food trials, these are difficult to do. The pet must be fed the hypoallergenic diet ONLY for 8 weeks. This means no treats, scraps, cat food, grass, Kleenex etc. for the whole of the food trial. Even one snack that wasn’t on the list means we have to start over. I understand why this can be so hard to do in a multi-pet household, especially with birds that throw some of their food on the floor for the dogs.

Back to the matter at hand; does your pet have allergies? Allergies are a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning everything that is contagious, parasitic, systemic or irritant has been ruled out then allergies are left. Once we are clear on allergies, then the hard part is determining to what the pet is allergic. Luckily for us we now have allergy testing that doesn’t require shaving the pet and doing skin testing. We have what’s called a RAST test that shows the body’s response to 54 or more different allergens in dogs, cats and horses. Once we have the list we can make informed decisions as to what to eliminate or add to the treatment regime.

Sound complicated? It can be! It can also be rewarding in the long run, especially for the younger pets that are looking ahead to a life filled with skin, ear and eye infections secondarily to allergies.

If your pet is one that is constantly itching with no evidence of fleas. If your pet has gastrointestinal problems every time you change the foods minutely. If your cat has runny eyes and nose every spring. If your horse shakes its head and won’t let you put a bridle behind its ears…..You may just have an allergic companion that’s trying to let you know they need help!

Questions about allergies? Please give us a call at Bell Rock Veterinary Clinic 928-284-2840

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