VET’S DIARY: Spring and summer without the irritations

It has been a long dull, dark and wet winter. I feel spring is just round the corner with some recent warmer days and increased length of daylight, writes David Young.

It is an uplifting time of year and everyone’s spirits are raised due to the brighter days and the expectation of warmer weather.

Soon, there will be the distinctive smell of newly-mown grass and the sound of leather on willow heralding the start of another cricket season.

This gives me much pleasure, but also can cause me many problems as it can be the start of annual allergic skin disease suffered by many dogs and some cats.

There are some dogs with hypersensitive skins that are allergic to household allergens such as house dust, house dust mites or possibly storage mites often found in dry dog food or to some of the components of the food itself, eg beef, wheat, etc. These dogs tend to show signs of having an itchy skin throughout the year.

A higher proportion of skin allergies are seen only during the spring and summertime with allergies to particular grasses, weeds, trees and shrubs being most common. This can lead to a very red, inflamed skin causing constant irritation and scratching to the dog and much anxiety for the owner.

There are several treatment options including desensitising immunotherapy vaccines as well as cyclosporine (Atopica), both of which can be quite expensive with the result that many pets rely on long-term steroid and antihistamine treatment to control their allergies.

The unwanted side effects of steroid treatment, which can be dose-dependant, are an increase in thirst, excessive passage of urine, increased appetite and begging for food, which if not ignored, can lead to weight gain. This weight gain can lead to arthritis and diabetes, but steroids can also have an adverse effect on the liver and kidneys if given at a higher dose over a prolonged period of time.

Recently, I attended a presentation about a completely new product for the control of allergic skin disease called Apoquel. If it turns out to be half as effective as the pharmaceutical company (Zoetis) claim it to be, then it will be a very important addition to our treatment options for this condition.

It comes without any of the potential side effects of using steroids and so has an increased safety margin. It cannot be used in dogs less than 12 months of age and if there are certain other concurrent problems such as Cushing’s disease or malignant cancers, otherwise it can be used along with other medicines quite safely. It also has the benefit of being able to be used while further investigative tests are being performed and so controlling the inflammation and scratching.

It has a rapid onset of action within hours and is more reasonably priced than cyclosporine so I hope that this year many more dogs can enjoy the spring and summer seasons without constant irritation.

There are many other supportive treatments which can both help to prevent or reduce the severity of allergic skin disease such as a good balanced medicated shampoo to reduce bacterial secondary infection of the skin as well as moisturising the skin, a good diet or supplement containing omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Also, don’t forget that the ears are part of the skin and sometimes allergic skin disease only shows itself as a chronic ear problem or an ear problem might only start if your pet has an allergic skin disease.

There are also several new products which can help us to control ear disease, some of which you can use at home, but also some which can only be used at the surgery with your pet under sedation. These more up-to-date products combined with longer and more aggressive treatment of an ear condition at an early stage has resulted in far fewer surgical procedures being required than used to be the case several years ago.

It is looking more promising for your pets this spring and summer so all we want now is some fine weather for lambing and for the start of the cricket season!