Gators, snakes ... and inhalant allergies.
The environmental features of the Lowcountry that veterinarian Dr. Ben Parker warns new-to-the-area clients about.
“I have a spiel when I talk to people about (atopic dermatitis)” — a chronic skin condition caused by seasonal environmental allergens, such as pollen — “that it typically peaks in March or April, when the pine pollen comes out,” Parker, of Bluffton’s Coastal Veterinary Clinic, said Tuesday. “But there’s pine pollen already because of this warm weather.”
Pollen season has arrived early, and with it itchy dogs in Beaufort County veterinarians’ offices.
There’s no cure for the itch; you can only manage it. And some experts say it’s getting worse.
Here are four things to know about environmental skin allergies.
1. The signs
Is your dog chewing his paws, rubbing his face and keeping you up at night?
These are signs of allergic reactions.
Is he pawing at his eyes? Shaking his head? Have you noticed red, stinky ears?
These could be signs of secondary infections stemming from allergies.
“If you’ve noticed two to three days of itching, and the itching is interfering with your daily routine, then it’s time for veterinary intervention,” said Dr. Richard Bink of Bluffton’s Buckwalter Veterinary Clinic. “If you take a walk and your dog stops every couple of steps to lick or scratch, for example.”
Bink said that “every third patient” he’s currently seeing is dealing with seasonal allergies. Normally, he doesn’t see numbers like that until around St. Patrick’s Day or later.
2. ‘Poster child’ breeds
“Westies are probably the poster child for inhalant skin allergies,” Parker said of West Highland white terriers.
Terrier breeds in general seem to be more prone to environmental allergies, he said, along with Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, beagles and spaniels.
“To be honest with you, a lot of the mongrels and mixed breeds at the shelters have very little of this problem, so it’s kind of a pure-breed dog problem,” Parker said.
“So if you want a dog that’s not going to be visiting the vet every year and (costing you) $100 a month on skin problems, you get a mixed-breed dog,” he said. “And they have a lot less skin problems, along with everything else.”
3. Treatment options
Benadryl can be a good over-the-counter medication to start with, though Parker and Bink say it’s often ineffective. They also advise consulting with a veterinarian on dosage amount since your dog’s weight will dictate the recommended dose.
Bathing your dog once a week will wash off the pollen and can abate the itching, they said.
Cleaning your dog’s ears once a week can help prevent secondary infections. Ear cleaning solutions are sold at pet stores and veterinarians’ offices, and Parker said you can also make your own at home — two parts rubbing alcohol, one part white vinegar.
Supplements with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help canines with dry, brittle coats.
At the vet’s office, blood tests might diagnose allergies, though Parker worries about their accuracy. Intradermal skin testing is a better approach, he said, where the side of the dog is shaved and different parts of the animal’s skin are exposed to different allergens to gauge allergic reactions.
Some vets prescribe Prednisone, he said, though side effects can include excessive drinking and urinating, and “ravenous appetite.” Apoquel has been about 80 percent effective in Parker’s experience, and it has fewer side effects, he said.
Another treatment option is a vaccine tailored to your dog’s allergies.
4. A chronic condition ... that can sneak up on you
“You have to look at it as a management of a chronic disease,” Parker said. “There is no cure.”
Sometimes seasonal allergies can become year-round problems, he said, calling South Carolina a “hotbed” for allergies because of its vegetation — pine trees, palm trees and grasses, among others.
Dogs typically don’t start to show signs of allergies until they’re at least a year old, he said.
And dogs that have recently moved south from the Northeast or Midwest might not immediately be itchy — but give them a year, Parker says.
“I see more and more of this every year — it seems to almost be an epidemic,” Parker said.
“But I think with global warming, it being almost 80 degrees in February, it’s certainly making that season longer and earlier.”
Parrots, cats ... and fleas
While dogs might suffer most from seasonal allergies, other pets feel the effects, too.
Including parrots, according to Dr. Marikay Campbell of Port Royal Veterinary Hospital.
And cats, which, according to Campbell, typically lick off their fur and break out in small scabs instead of chewing on their paws and scratching, like dogs.
Campbell also said fleas have been bad this winter.
About a quarter of her dog patients on Tuesday were “allergy suspects,” she said.