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Friday, 29 July 2011

Paw reaction to allergens

I would appreciate any advice anyone can give me with regard to allergies.

My five-year-old dog Tyler has had chronic ear infections since last April time and as you can imagine he's been prescribed lots of different medications over the past year. At the same time as the ear infection flared up, he had one back paw that was red in between the paws, but it was not a major concern at the time and the vet said we'd keep an eye on it. By October all four paws were red in between the toes and he was also licking them a great deal. Nine months on and his paws are still red, almost looking as if they're bleeding at times.

We're currently back and forwards at the vet almost every week and in the past month he's been on prednisone steroids on and off. Other meds he's been on/is currently on are Epi-Otic ear cleanser (not using that at the moment), Hibiscrub for his paws (not using at the moment), Epi-Soothe shampoo (not using at the moment), Surolan ear drops (not using at the moment), Otomax ear drops (currently using), Coatex medicated shampoo (currently using), Prednisone (not using at the moment but was on them a couple of weeks ago), Cortisone steroid spray (currently using) and Advocate flea meds (have not used yet).

The vet has said that long term the steroids might be the only treatment we can use, but obviously I’m not comfortable with this and the vet does understand my worries hence why she prescribed the cortisone instead. Atopica has also been discussed but is very dear every month.

I'm looking for any natural alternatives that can help with Ty's red paws and chronic ear infections, as I’m really not happy with the amount of medication he's been on the past few months. Tyler has not had an allergy blood test, as the vet didn't think it was worth it as she said 80% of dogs are allergic to dust mites, so we're basically treating it as a dust mite allergy. His bedding is washed at least once a week and I vacuum/mop/dust every day or every other day to keep dust at bay. He's also fed Barking Heads Salmon and Potato dry food with Fish4Dogs Salmon Mousse added in daily. He receives no treats. It's all so frustrating, not knowing what is causing him to react and not being able to get it all under control!

Many thanks,

Louise, by email

Alison Logan, vet, advises...

If I am presented with a young dog licking and chewing all four paws then my first suspicion is an allergy, and in particular an inhaled allergy or atopy. The red paws you describe is a reflection of bacteria breaking down saliva on the fur after Tyler has been licking at his paws, and is a real giveaway for a dog who may not be seen licking his paws. Westies are a classic breed for being white with red paws because of paw licking. I wonder what breed Tyler is?

Tyler is older than the classic age for first showing signs of an inhaled allergy, often one-two years of age, but I would still be highly suspicious. An allergic dog is usually allergic to more than one thing. My usual plan of attack is:

- Strict flea control, even if no sign of fleas found – a dog allergic to fleas only needs one flea to bite, and fleas are only on the animal for 5% of the life cycle, the remainder being spent in the environment. It follows that an efficient flea control strategy will address not only the pet in question but also all other dogs, cats and rabbits living in the household, and the environment (not overlooking the car, caravan, treehouse etc);

- Elimination diet – there may be an element of food hypersensitivity which is keeping Tyler above the itch threshold;

- Inhaled allergens – seasonal (grass pollen etc) and non-seasonal (house dust mite, human dander etc).

Allergens can be identified from blood sample or intra-dermal skin testing, allowing a specific hyposensitising vaccine to be formulated to treat Tyler.

Corticosteroids will dampen down the allergic response, but this is treating the effect and not the cause of the problem. However, where it is not possible to pursue further tests in order to identify underlying allergens, or if specific therapy is unsuccessful or cannot be maintained after diagnosis, then there is an important role for corticosteroids to play. After all, the ultimate aim is to relieve a particular dog’s itchiness. There must be nothing worse than an incessant urge to scratch and lick at oneself. There are potential drawbacks to treatment with corticosteroids so one always aims to treat with the lowest effective dose, accepting that side effects may occur.

Tyler is still young so I do think it would be worth pursuing further investigation and hopefully finding a specific treatment.

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