Q: Our bulldog Spanky is always itchy. We’ve tried two different vets and at least 10 different remedies, including flea medications every three weeks and an indoor-only lifestyle, but Spanky is still so itchy all over that he keeps us up at night. We changed his food (we were very diligent about using only the prescription diet the vet recommended) and it helped stop his ear infections, but he still scratches nonstop. The only thing that helps is when we give him steroids, but I know that’s bad for him. Please help.
A: Given that Spanky is a bulldog, it’s no surprise he’s suffering from allergic skin disease. When dogs are as severely affected as Spanky is, we worry that he may be sensitive to a variety of allergens, including foods (called food allergy dermatitis), fleas (called flea allergy dermatitis) and stuff they either inhale or otherwise come into contact with (called atopy).
Atopy (also referred to as “atopic dermatitis”) is a common canine condition in which allergens present in the environment cause an allergic reaction in the skin. If the pet’s immune system overreacts to these proteins, leading to an allergy, the result is almost always an inflammation of the skin that leads to itchiness and, ultimately, to infection (which makes them even more itchy).
Common allergens include pollen (from grasses, trees and weeds), mold spores, house dust/house dust mite proteins, insect proteins and other proteins that may also come from human skin, cat skin or natural fibers. Which means indoor pets are by no means exempt.
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Luckily, there’s now plenty we can do for pets like Spanky. Our first order of business is to improve his quality of life by treating infections (usually with antibiotics and/or topical treatments) and eliminating itchiness, which is now readily achieved without the use of damaging steroids.
A very safe new oral drug, called Apoquel, can be administered twice daily to quickly and effectively relieve his itching. Ask your vet about ordering thi.! Also now conditionally available through veterinary dermatologists (and some general practice veterinarians) is another highly effective injectable drug that lasts the whole month.
Ultimately, however, the goal of treatment is to eliminate his dependency on any drug by reducing his allergic response. Allergy testing and customized long-term therapy through allergy vaccines (injectable or oral) is a highly recommended approach.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.