Itching and Allergies in Dogs

Vet Clinics, Sheung Shui, Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, New Territories

Living with an itchy pet can be an extremely frustrating experience for you, and cause discomfort for your dog. Scratching and chewing by the pet can also result in self-trauma and open wounds. The following information is intended to provide you with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies in the small animal.

What are Allergies?

Allergy is a state of super skin sensitivity in which exposure to a normally harmless substance known as an allergen causes the body’s immune system to overreact. The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and their pets. People with allergies usually have “hay fever” (watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing) or asthma. While dogs can rarely also have respiratory allergies, more commonly they experience the effects of allergic hypersensitivities as skin problems. Though there are a variety of presentations, this can often be seen as redness, itching, hair loss , foot licking /face rubbing and recurring skin or ear infections.

What are the Major Types of Allergies in Dogs?

Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is an inherited predisposition to develop skin problems from exposure to variety of commonplace and otherwise harmless substances including the pollens of weeds, grasses and trees, as well as house dust mites and mold spores. Diagnosis of AD is made based on the results of intradermal skin testing or by blood testing. Evaluating the results of these tests helps us compile a list of allergens for a vaccine that is made to decrease the pet’s sensitivity.

Flea Allergy
Flea allergic dermatitis is relatively common skin disease in Hong Kong. For the flea allergic patient, 100% flea control is essential for the pet to remain symptom-free. But doctor, I never see fleas on my pet. You may not see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. The allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, and it only takes a few bites to induce the problem. Also, the itchy pet often scratches so much that adult fleas are removed, making them hard to find. Because flea allergy is so common, we recommend that complete flea control be instituted before proceeding with diagnostics for other allergies and that year-round flea control be maintained for all allergy patients.

Food Allergy
Some pets develop specific hypersensitivities to components of their diets. The allergen usually is a major protein or carbohydrate ingredient such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, or soy. Minor ingredients such as preservatives or dyes are also potential allergens. The diagnosis of food allergy requires that we test your pet by feeding special strict diets that contain only ingredients that he has never eaten before. This is often achieved by feeding a prescription diet for a period of 12 to 16 weeks. If the signs resolve, a challenge is performed by feeding the former diet and watching for a return of the itching. If this occurs, a diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed.

Secondary Infections

Allergies are often the underlying cause of recurring skin and/or ear infections. Bacterial and yeast infections, though secondary to the allergy, can cause an increase in your pet’s level of itching. Long-term treatment with antibiotics and anti-yeast medications is commonly required along with medicated bathing programs.

Can Allergies be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergy and it is usually a life-long problem. We seek to control allergy and improve the quality of life for both you and your pet. We will formulate the best program of management that suits all involved with your pet’s care.

Can I Have the Itching Treated Without the Expense of Diagnostic Testing?
Symptomatic drug therapy can help to reduce itching. Steroids, such as prednisone, are often employed to stop the itch. However, without addressing the underlying cause, the itching will return. Long-term use of steroids can result in many health problems. This is the reason that we encourage diagnosis of the underlying cause of the allergy and more specific or less potentially harmful treatments.

Heartworm Disease – The Silent Killer

Vet Clinic, Yuen Long, Sheun Shui, Tuen Mun

What is Heartworm disease?

Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a very common parasitic disease of dogs in Hong Kong, especially the New Territories. The worm lives in the major blood vessels in the lungs and heart.

How does my dog get infected?

The Life cycle starts with a mosquito biting an infected dog and sucking up baby heartworm (microfilaria). The baby heartworm develops in the mosquito salivary glands for a period of time before being transferred to another dog. The developing heartworm will eventually migrate to the heart and lung blood vessels where they affect the circulation and heart function. It is not uncommon for pet’s to have 30 – 40 adult worms present.

What are the symptoms?

Heartworm is dangerous because the disease is often advanced before symptoms develop. Your dog may have heartworm and appear completely normal until it is too late.
Symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, poor appetite, weight loss, exercise intolerance and sometimes an enlarged abdomen.

How is it diagnosed?

Your vet will suspect Heartworm based on the pet’s history, physical exam and symptoms. A simple blood test is used to confirm heartworm presence.

Can it be treated?

This depends on the stage of the disease. The best chance of survival is if the disease is detected before symptoms develop. In advanced cases there can be serious damage to the heart, lungs and other organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Our clinic uses a combination of drugs to treat the disease.

PREVENTION IS BEST!

The best way to keep your dog safe from Heartworm is to use one of the preventative treatments available. We suggest your puppy starts heartworm prevention from the second or third vaccination.

Choices include:

  • A monthly oral chewable (Heartgard plus)
  • Revolution – a monthly spot on product
  • Proheart – SR12 a yearly injection

Our staff will be pleased to advise you on the most suitable product for your pet’s needs.

Heatstroke

Heat Stroke in Dogs is DeadlySummer is definitely here in Hong Kong with scorching temperatures and with that the danger of heatstroke in your pets.

Heatstroke is where the body temperature remains abnormally high (> 41c) for an extended period of time – and the higher the temperature, the faster the damage to vital organs and the higher the risk of permanent damage to organs such as kidneys, liver and brain.

Signs of heatstroke include collapse, weakness, dark red gums/tongue, drooling saliva and sometimes seizures.

Dogs normally release heat from the body by both evaporation and conduction. If they have a thick hair coat then conduction is difficult.

Dogs mainly get rid of excessive body heat by panting; unlike humans they do not have sweat glands all over their body, only in their feet and these are not used for heat loss.

Dogs make use evaporative cooling just like some air conditioners. Their tongue hangs out and dilated blood vessels on the tongue surface exchange heat with the air. This process, however, does require a lot of moisture which needs to be replaced by drinking, so it is vitally important that dogs also have ample supply of fresh water on hot days.

Snub nosed dogs such a Pekinese, Shih Tzu’s, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers have additional anatomical problems (small nasal openings, narrow upper airways and wind pipe) which make these breed at an even higher risk of heatstroke. These breeds can even suffer heatstroke indoors, even at rest.

This is a preventable disease and we do have some tips to follow to reduce the risks of heatstroke.

  • Wherever possible try to avoid strenuous exercise in the full heat of the day. Try to choose a shaded path, rather than full direct sun.
  • When travelling by car, make sure it is either air-conditioned or at least fresh air flowing through the cabin.
  • NEVER leave a pet unattended in a parked car, or locked out on a small balcony in the sun.
  • Make sure there is plenty of fresh water to drink on a long walk, its also a good idea to have a spray water bottle to cool the body. Use the convenient collapsible water bowls.

If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, we suggest the following measures:

  • Get them away from the heat; find a shady, ventilated area immediately.
  • Immerse the dog into cool water if available or pour water over their body.
  • Get them to a Vet as soon as possible – time is critical, Our Victoria Veterinary clinic at Yuen Long has a 24 – hour Emergency care service.
  • At the clinic our Vets will continue the cooling process, as well as commencing Intravenous fluids and medical treatment with the hope of protecting or minimizing damage to vital organs.

Please remember prevention is always better than cure, do your best to make it safe for your pets over the enjoyable summer period.