Spring is not always a wonderful time for allergic pets. Pets which suffer from atopy, commonly know as allergies, have exaggerated responses to environmental pollens. Some of the most common environmental pollens in southwest Missouri are ragweed, Bermuda grass, oak, walnut, fescue, and molds. These are pollens that pets are exposed to routinely. These pollens easily float in the air from one yard to another.
In humans, the primary target organ for pollens is the respiratory system. Itching eyes, runny nose, and coughing are the common symptoms. In the dog, the respiratory system is only affected in a small way. The primary target organ is the skin with the feet, face, and ears most commonly affected.
Over 90% of the dogs will have involvement of the feet and legs. These individuals will chew, bite, or lick at their legs or feet. This activity occurs almost non-stop, especially at night. The pollens cause a reaction in the skin of the feet and legs which is painful and uncomfortable to the dog. They will lick, bite, or chew at their feet and legs trying to relieve the discomfort and pain.
The second area affected is often the face. If the dog has facial involvement, it will rub the face along the carpet or side of the couch. A large group of these dogs will have reaction in the ears that causes the canals to swell. They will rub their ears which develops repeat ear infections. For some unknown reason, there is a small percent of dogs that develop only recurring ear infections.
Anti-histamines help many people with allergies except in severe cases. Unfortunately, only in a few mild cases do anti-histamines work in the dog. Benadryl, commonly used by humans, will drug the dog but not relieve the pain and discomfort. Over the years, the drug that has been used regularly is some type of steroid. The initial response to steroids appears excellent, but as time progresses, more frequent and higher doses are needed to treat the symptoms. The side effects are many: excessive urination, excessive appetite, excessive water intake creating increased urination, and increased number of infections. Steroids were the only prescription drug available to help these patients, but the side effects were high. They led to liver disease, kidney disease, and other problems.
Previously, treating atopy patients was unrewarding for the animal and human, because only fair results to the patient were achieved and the potential to create other problems was on the horizon. My attitude has changed with the development of Apoquel and Cytopoint. Established protocols using these two agents enable management of the patient’s allergies without side effects is possible. I actually enjoy treating allergies now because resolution of the problem is achievable and they can have improved quality of life.