Have you ever brought your cat home from the veterinary clinic and found your other cats hissing at them or worse yet, attacking them? Unfortunately, this is a common response when one member of a cat family comes home wearing scents from the hospital. The cats who stayed home pick up the smell of antiseptics, other animals or the veterinarian who vaccinated them! Some react as if their feline sibling is now an enemy – and one who smells like the Vet! The strange scents override all other forms of recognition.
If this situation occurs with your cats, I have an easy way to treat it. Spray all the cats in your household with the same perfume. The strong scent overwhelms their sense of smell and makes it more difficult, if not impossible for the cats to pick up any traces of the hospital visit. Cats usually run to a hiding spot to deal with the offending perfume. They emerge with a freshly groomed coat and new attitude. The feline family is back to normal and that ever so offensive smell of the vet is gone.
There are numerous products including shampoos, rinses, sprays, lotions, creams and leave-on conditioners designed to help dogs with allergies. These topicals contain anti-inflammatory ingredients (steroids, antihistamines, colloidal oatmeal, fatty acids, capsaicin and aloe vera) to make the patient more comfortable. In my experience, the response to each is highly individualistic. I see the best response in patients who have localized disease and owner’s that are able to treat regularly.
With so many products to chose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. I usually begin with a hypoallergenic shampoo followed by a soothing conditioner with residual action. This combination seems to work well as long as the dog does not suffer from other infections or infestations. Massage the shampoo into the skin and then let it soak according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. To keep the dog from licking the shampoo off or rolling in the dirt, I tell people to lather the dog up and then go for a short walk.
Rinsing is a very important part of the procedure. Since cold water decreases inflammation, I recommend a 10 minute rinse with cool water. Rinse, rinse and rinse again. Pay special attention to the underarms, groin, under the tail and chest. Shampoo and debris collects in these areas.
Next comes the conditioner. Since I prefer leave-on products, I instruct people to gently towel off the dog. Pat dry as rubbing will inflame the skin. Apply the conditioner as directed. Massage a little extra into the more inflamed areas. If the dog can tolerate it, I prefer to let them air dry with the conditioner in place. If not, please use the cool setting on the blow dryer to avoid aggravating the skin.
For those emergency situations when your pet is keeping you up all night licking or scratching one spot, I dispense Dermacool. This spray contains a topical anesthetic called lidocaine that deadens the itch after a few minutes. The solution is acidic which inhibits growth of yeast and bacteria and contains colloidal oatmeal to decrease inflammation. This product was a life-saver with Susie, my golden retriever. When she started to lick, I sprayed the area and kept it from becoming a bigger problem.
Fatty acids come in two varieties, omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 fatty acids are contained in vegetable oils. They are generally used to correct defects in the lipid barrier of skin damaged by allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and flaxseed, are best known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Since most dogs with allergies can benefit from both, I usually choose a product that combines omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The only exception is with dog’s whose main problem is dry skin and scaling (dandruff). In those animals I will use strictly omega-6 fatty acids.
Before you start your dog on fatty acids, talk to your veterinarian. I don’t use fatty acids in dogs who have a history of pancreatitis or in breeds that are prone to pancreatitis. Also, be careful with fatty acids in dogs with digestive problems as diarrhea may result. Some dogs require therapy for two months before any improvement is observed.
One last tip, never used expired fatty acids. Look at the bottle before you buy. Store according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Always smell the product, especially omega-6 fish oil, before you administer it. If it smells bad, don’t give it. Fish oil, especially, become rancid with improper handling.
Congratulations to Dara Rybalov, winner of the cover design cover contest. Although I liked the artwork and creativity of all the entries, I felt Dara’s design best captured the spirit of the book. I can’t wait to share it with you! Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life will be published in April.
From a young age, Dara displayed an avid interest in books and art, so it was only natural that she combine the two in cover design. She enjoys using her creativity to visually portray the messages contained within each book. Dara’s creative process in enhanced by her two Siamese cats, Ming and LeMei who insist she take regular breaks from designing to play fetch.
I want to thank all the artists for the interest, energy and ability your brought to this project. Your creativity is truly inspiring!
Keanu and Mauka
It has been awhile since I updated everyone on these two precious boys. We adopted them six months ago and have they ever grown. They also stole my heart . . . . In retrospect I am pleased they have had each other to play with and learn the ways of the world. They are genuinely best friends. Our older cats Tigre and Kalani are still coming to terms with the youngsters. But, our dog Buddy remains as enthusiastic about them as ever. For their part, the kittens purr at the sight of Buddy. In fact, they purr all the time. They are a great blessing to us. I hope this Valentine’s Day you experience unconditional love in your life, these kittens certainly share that gift with us.
Antihistamines are a class of drug that decrease inflammation by inhibiting histamine release. There are many drugs in this class including diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine (Atarax), chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton) and cetirizine (Zyrtec). The most common side effect is sedation, dogs sleep more than normal. This effect usually improves after a few days of therapy. In rare individuals, the opposite reaction occurs with dogs trembling, salivating, panting and showing other signs of excitation, although this is far more common in cats.
The problem with antihistamines is that not all dogs respond to them. Most will improve somewhat, but not completely. A few show no response at all. I used diphenhydramine on my own dog Susie. It worked well for two years and then she stopped responding. I switched to chlorpheniramine until it stopped working, then switched back to diphenhydramine. I recommend trying a specific antihistamine for 7 days before switching to another. I also like to combine antihistamines with other treatments to give the dog more relief such as omega 3 fatty acids, shampoo and creme rinse. For emergency situations, when your dog is keeping you up all night scratching and licking their abdomen, I have owners spray Dermacool on the area. This product contains lidocaine which is a topical anesthetic. After a few minutes, the spray numbs the area allowing the dog and their owner to go back to sleep.
I find that antihistamines are more effective when given early, before the allergic reaction gets too strong. I teach owners how to spot allergies in the early stages. In many dogs, the ears are one of the easiest places to spot the onset of allergies. Faint red streaks occur on the inside of the ear flap. It often takes only a few days of therapy to control a dog whose condition is caught at this stage. Early detection also prevents the inflammation from transforming into a full blown ear infection.
Regardless of whether your dog suffers from allergies or not, I recommend that all pet owners keep an antihistamine on hand just in case your pet is stung by a bee or another insect. This can be a life-threatening condition. Before a crisis unfolds, call your veterinarian to get the proper type and dose of antihistamine to use in an emergency situation. Early treatment is the key to successful treatment of allergies.
Cyclosporine is an immunossupresant drug that is commonly used in allergic dogs. Although the exact mechanism of action is not understood, it appears to decrease allergy symptoms by dampening the cell-mediated immune response. The trade name for the veterinary version of the drug is Atopica. I usually start therapy with a daily dose for 30 days and then taper off to the least amount possible that will also keep the dog comfortable. Clients are instructed to give the drug at least one hour prior to or two hours after a meal for best effect.
In my experience, the most common side affects of cyclosporine are related to the gastrointestinal system; vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia. It may also cause excessive growth of the gums (gingival hyperplasia) as well as warts (papillomatosis). Regular dental care is needed to address these issues. The drug is not recommended in patients who have suffered with malignant cancer and is used with caution in animals with a history of liver or kidney problems.
The biggest hurdle to this therapy is cost. The drug is expensive to use, especially in large or giant breed dogs. Depending on the patient, cyclosporine may be given with another drug, ketoconazole, that is commonly used to treat fungal infections. Ketoconazole increases the duration of action by inhibiting the breakdown of cyclosporine allowing the dose to be cut by a third or so in most cases.
If your pet is on cyclosporine, do not give any other medications without first speaking to your veterinarian. Cyclosporine cross- reacts with many drugs. It may also take weeks to months to see improvement in your pet’s allergies on this drug. A typical dog will show moderate improvement in 30 days and then plateau over the next 2 to 4 months. If a dog’s symptoms have not improved at all after 6 weeks of therapy, I generally switch to another form of therapy because not all dogs will respond to cyclosporine.
Some in the profession believe cyclosporine is a safer alternative than utilizing steroids. I believe the jury is still out. I know of no study which provides a conclusive answer to the long-term effects of cyclosporine use versus steroids. So, if your animal is on this treatment, stay close to your veterinarian as time unfolds to insure your pet stays healthy.
The best treatment for an allergic dog is to identify the cause and remove it from the environment. I remember testing one Golden retriever and learning he was allergic to wool. The owner got rid of the wool carpeting and wool blanket on his bed and he was cured. Unfortunately, not all allergens can be removed. For these cases, I recommend Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (ASIT). Although it is costly, this treatment has the fewest long-term side effects for the dog.
A small amount of the offending allergens are made into a vaccine that is injected into the dog. The concentration of these allergens starts out low and builds as the dog becomes less and less sensitive to them. About seventy-five percent of the dogs treated will improve.
When I place a dog on ASIT, I send the owners home with the following directions:
1) Follow the injection schedule carefully. Do not alter it without talking to your veterinarian. A sudden change might undo everything.
2) After giving the injection, observe your dog for three hours. In rare cases, dogs may suffer allergic reactions that need emergency treatment. I had one patient that got hives everytime the concentration was increased.
3) Keep the vials refrigerated. If they are left out, the allergen might decompose and/or bacteria might colonize the vial.
4) Be patient! It may take up to one year before any positive effects are seen. During this time, the pet might still require other therapies to keep them comfortable.