Dr. Risser's Column: October 2008

Dr. Risser's Column: October 2008

Happy October to all the pets and their people out there!

We hope you are all enjoying what has been a long and beautiful fall so far, after a really pleasant summer. Here at Fall Creek Veterinary we tend to get a bit busier in October, as people prepare their dogs and cats for the winter ahead and the inevitable busy-ness of the holidays, and fight the (hopefully) last battles against fleas and ticks until spring. For a lot of you (pets and people included), this has been an incredibly intense allergy season. I can't remember a time when I've treated more dogs and cats for allergies, or that allergic animals have had such an intense reaction as we have seen this late summer/ early fall. A human allergist friend of mine says research suggests global warming may be a cause, with larger crops of pollen-producing plants its product. So put me in a small category of people who are rooting for an early hard freeze. I'm willing to sacrifice my still-abundant tomato crop at home for a bit of itching-relief for my patients.

Atopy, or atopic dermatitis is the name we give environmental allergies in dogs and cats. They are triggered by things like pollens, molds, and even housedust or housedust mites. Many are seasonal (like when ragweed is pollinating, or maple trees are budding in the spring), though some are year-round. Most animals have very itchy skin, often especially on their feet, their sides (flanks), and ears. Some will show the respiratory signs that many people do, like sneezing, itchy eyes, and even snoring. A lot of dogs, in particular, will scratch so badly that they get skin infections, and that can make them itchier still.

In many cases, we diagnose these allergies based on the symptoms they show and, often, if they have a previous history of the problem at a similar time of year. For severe sufferers, especially those that are miserable all year long, we may advise allergy testing. Traditionally, this was done by having a dermatologist give a series of injections under the top layer of the skin and looking for a reaction, a process called "intradermal skin testing." This is still a very good method. But blood testing for environmental allergens, done by a commercial laboratory that tailors the test to a specific region of the country, can be extremely effective, too. Please let us know if you have questions about these tests; many of you may have already run them on your pet, and are giving allergy injections to "hyposensitize" them to some allergens.

Food proteins, like beef, chicken, and wheat, can also cause allergies. I am, personally, not a fan of blood tests for food allergies, and usually find we have to feed a different protein source or another type of hypoallergenic diet to help these animals. They can be tricky to separate from atopy, and some animals have both. Those are challenging, but we do manage them.

Most pets just plain need some relief from the itch, and there are ways we can help that. The goal of this is to provide the most relief during the season pets are affected, while still being cautious in the approach we take to avoid side effects. Some things, like oatmeal shampoos in cool water (I am a big fan of the shampoo, Epi-soothe), offer at leat 24 hours of relief. Antihistamines, like Benadryl, can help some animals, are really safe, inexpensive, and easy to get, but often don't provide enough relief. For long-term allergies, supplementing with fatty acid, "fish oil" capsules may also help. Infections may require antibiotics or anti-yeast medication. Many animals receive so-called "cortisone" or "steroid" medications, which can be really useful, but have the risk of side-effects. I use these, but am big on using them judiciouly. A newer approach is a medication called Atopica that has less side-effects for most and may be a good option for chronic sufferers.

If your pet suffers none of this, then you've already tuned out and you can be especially thankful for your good fortune. At my house, one of the dogs began in August chewing herself like a pork loin roast and the other licked her feet until the constant sloshing drove my wife to expel her from our room. Both are better now with treatment, but I fully understand the frustration that allergies can cause the human companions of affected pets. Please don't hesitate to phone or e-mail if you have questions or thoughts about allergies in your dog or cat. I'll be busily preparing a "Welcome" sign for Jack Frost.

Do remember to get your boarding reservations for the holidays in to us early, as we always have a "full house" then. Also, grooming appointments also fill up quickly this time of year.

We want to offer our best wishes to Kim, who served as our morning receptionist from the beginning of the practice, who was married this past weekend and will be moving with new husband, Ben, to West Virginia after returning from her honeymoon. We will miss her.

Finally, I will be out of the office at the end of next week to take my next installment of courses for my bioethics degree up at Trinity in Deerfield, IL. So far, in my "free time," I have read the bulk of 2600 pages and will write a total of 10 papers. My 5-year old son was up with me at 6 AM this week to "help" compose one of them. The results were poor (I rewrote my scattered thoughts) but will love the memory of him by my side, offering running commentary, and the dogs at my feet as I slurped coffee over the laptop. It seemed to make all the appointments and surgeries I saw that day even a little more enjoyable. In my absence, a couple of friends and colleagues will be here to care for your pets, including Dr. Jodi Hubner, who many remember from her time at Log Cabin Animal Hospital. I appreciate the opportunity they are giving me to keep broadening horizons in veterinary medicine and bioethics. I'll keep you posted on what I am learning.

As always, I continue to treasure the opportunity to care for your pets. Every day offers new challenges but great joys. I get to do the best job in the world with a delightful group of pets and people, and I hope you all enjoy a long and comfortable (if somewhat allergenic) fall.