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Licking "summer itch." (pruritis in dogs) (column)

A client once called me at midnight because his dog was scratching. I trudged to the clinic to discover we indeed had an emergency.

As soon as I opened the door I heard the thumping of tail against floor, the scratching of nails against hair and the gnawing of teeth against skin. The poor dog, a large, long-haired setter, was in misery, and his bleary-eyed owner was in not much better shape.

Such intense pruritus, or itching, in dogs may be caused by numerous skin diseases, from sarcoptic mange to food allergies, but the midnight scratcher was suffering from a common summer ailment called seasonal allergic dermatitis, or summer itch.

Some dogs, like humans, are allergic to the pollens shed by grasses, trees, weeds and flowers. The reaction may be immediate, usually from inhalation of allergenic pollen, or delayed, occurring up to 72 hours after the allergen has come in contact with the dog's skin.

Intense itching and inflammation (especially around the face), chewing at the feet and slight discharge from the nose and the eyes are telltale signs of allergic dermatitis. Scratching and licking by the dog may cause hair loss and "hot spots" of irritated, inflamed and weeping skin.

Contact dermatitis, on the other hand, can be seen at contact points such as the feet and thin-haired areas of the chest and between the legs.

Perhaps the most common cause of summer itch is fleas. Fleas become active with warm weather, and though a normal reaction to their bites is irritation, an especially sensitive animal may suffer a violent allergic reaction. Fleabite allergy is characterized by chewing and scratching around the tail, the rump and the underline, or lower part of an animal's body between the front and rear legs. Black flecks of "flea dirt" (excrement) around the tail head of the dog are usually sufficient evidence to diagnose fleabite allergy, although some dogs develop such sensitivity to flea saliva that one or two fleas can cause an intense reaction. These one or two fleas can be difficult to locate on a black dog.

The diagnosis of allergy to other summer allergens may be difficult at best. Many times the diagnosis must be based on history, clinical signs, response to specific treatment and negative test results for mites or fungi.

Your veterinarian may recommend an intradermal skin test. In this procedure, hair is clipped from the abdomen or chest; small amounts of specific agents such as Bermuda grass or ragweed are injected into the skin and reactions noted. A negative skin test does not always mean the dog is free of allergies. It may be allergic to an allergen not tested, or its response to the test may be altered by drugs used to treat the symptoms. Removal of the offending allergy agent is the best treatment, but often impossible.

Antihistamines may help relieve symptoms of immediate hypersensitivity allergy. Occasionally, if intradermal tests reveal an allergy to a specific agent, hyposensitization, by injecting increasing amounts of the allergen, may lead to a cure. This is long-term therapy, and it's important to adhere to the injection schedule.

In certain cases, corticosteroids are the only medication that will relieve the allergic signs and allow the patient to function. Corticosteroids may be administered by injection, by oral medication and by topical creams, ointments or sprays. However, long-term therapy with corticosteroids should be avoided unless all other forms of therapy are ineffective.

Often, diagnosis of the offending allergic agent is impossible, and the control of clinical signs and the comfort of the patient becomes our treatment objective for "summer itch."

Sedation and corticosteroid therapy provided relief for the midnight scratcher. However, his allergic condition recurred each summer.

The best remedy is eradication of the fleas from both the dog and its surroundings. Simultaneously attack all areas (house, yard, pet). Severe flea infestation may warrant employing a professional exterminator to treat the house and yard while your veterinarian concentrates on the fleas on your dog.

Questions for the Vet Dear Dr. White:

We have a dog--three-year-old half Labrador. He was a very smart puppy that quickly learned to shake his head yes or no when asked to eat, play, etc.

Now the vets (three, in fact) claim he has epilepsy. My question is: Is there a cure for the disease in animals? I know there isn't in humans. He is taking Dilantin--250 mg, two tablets each 12 hours. He has had two bad spells when his body stiffened and his tongue hung. I've had several dogs but never one with this type of ailment. K. McCurry Wataga, Illinois Dear K. McCurry:

You are describing the clinical signs of epilepsy. Unfortunately, there is no cure.

Dilantin is one of the drugs recommended for treatment of this condition in dogs. Dosage should be adjusted to the minimum amount needed to control the convulsions. Therefore, you should work with your veterinarian to determine the individual dosage needed by your dog. Occasionally, it is necessary to switch to other drugs or a combination of drugs. H.E.W. Dear Dr. White:

I recently had quite a scare with my four-year-old cat "Pudgy." The veterinarian I rushed him to told me his bladder was about to burst. Evidently the dry cat food I was feeding Pudgy caused grit to form in his urinary tract and blocked the passage. Luckily he didn't require surgery and was released after a seven-day hospital stay. Unfortunately, for the rest of his life he must take "Curecal," an acidic food additive, to prevent the formations of more stones. I was also warned against dry cat food altogether, and to use only canned cat food with an ash content of less than 2.5 percent.

My worry is: will Pudgy be more prone to this condition now, even though I am being careful? Mindy L. Scranton, Pennsylvania Dear Mindy:

The condition that you describe is termed feline urologic syndrome (FUS). Cats are susceptible to FUS because they have long intervals between urinations and highly concentrated urine.

Your veterinarian has good suggestions for preventing recurrence of the problem with a low-magnesium diet and urinary acidifiers. Encourage exercise, keep the litter box clean and easily accessible and always have clean, fresh water readily available for Pudgy. H.E.W.
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Article Details
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Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1985
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