DEAR READERS: Dogs with so-called atopic dermatitis suffer with a common, difficult condition. It’s characterized by intense itching, redness and papules on the skin, especially on the belly, legs, face and ears, which is often coupled with inflammation of the nasal cavity and eyes, especially in response to seasonal changes. In a small but promising study published in the British Veterinary Record in April (by C.J. Klinger and others), significant improvements were reported in dogs diagnosed with this condition who were given a high oral dose of vitamin D3. Doses started with 300 international units (IU) per 1 kilogram of body weight, increasing to 1,400 IU over a four-week period, then maintaining that high intake with close veterinary monitoring.
If your dog has been diagnosed with this condition, or has an unresolved skin issue and common causes such as mange and food allergy have been ruled out, discuss vitamin D therapy with your veterinarian. Do not treat your own dog without veterinary monitoring, because high doses of vitamin D3 can cause harm: elevating blood calcium levels, possibly causing bladder stones and even comas. A few drops of fish oil daily and a 1/2 teaspoon of local bee pollen can also benefit dogs with itchy skin conditions.
Treatment with vitamin D3 may well be safer and more effective, and will certainly be less costly, than with Novartis’ Atopica (cyclosporine) and Zoetis’ Apoquel (oclacitinib) for “itchy dogs.” The latter drug, currently widely advertised on TV, essentially shuts down the immune system, sometimes with fatal consequences, as reported earlier by one reader of my column. More cases of adverse reactions are being reported. (See Dr. Andrew Jones’ article “Apoquel Alert” at theinternetpetvet.com.)
Vitamin D3 benefits have been reported for people with this skin condition and also asthma, hypertension, congestive heart failure, cancer and dementia. Veterinarian Dr. Deva Khalsa, who has also posted reservations about using Apoquel, reports in the June/July 2018 issue of Animal Wellness Magazine that older dogs showing signs of canine cognitive dysfunction showed improvement when given a daily vitamin D3 supplement. She gives 5,000 IU daily for two months, then half that amount for maintenance, to large dogs; smaller dogs get smaller doses.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have several cats (six, the last time I counted! Ha!) all of whom are indoors all the time. Recently we had a slight cold go through the cats. Most of them had only a slight case of sneezes or light coughs for a couple days, with no effect on their behavior. Two of them, however, developed breathing issues and were visibly ill.
One cat was taken to our regular vet because it was a Friday afternoon and we were concerned about going into the weekend. I’d been reading online about cats with colds and knew they could get serious quickly. He was given an injection of antibiotics and sent on his way. There was an improvement in his mood and energy levels almost immediately, and he recovered well.
The other cat, however, began to get ill over that same weekend and it progressed rapidly. On Monday night, at 10 p.m., he was hiding under my bed and would not come to me. When I got him out, I realized he was doing some mouth-breathing and knew it was serious. After some steam treatment in the bathroom, I took him to a local emergency vet. After many hours of waiting, they prescribed an antiviral pill, an antibiotic liquid medication, and eyedrops, all of which I was supposed to give every 12 hours for 10 days.
They wanted to do a chest X-ray and insisted that he was “very sick,” but were ready to send me home without giving him his first dose of meds -- at 3 a.m., when I had no one at home to help me! Upon request, they did administer a dose but, once home, it proved nearly impossible to do myself. I got a few of the pills into him, but very little of the liquid. What I did give him upset his stomach so bad that he would retch for 15 minutes after taking it. He was so traumatized by all of this that my very affectionate and needy cat wouldn’t come near me for over a week. He did eventually recover just fine, however, and is now back to his usual lovey self.
I’ve owned cats almost all my life and never experienced cats with colds like this. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations? -- J.S., Moorhead, Minnesota
DEAR J.S.: You went through an experience familiar to those with many cats and who have an “open” policy in terms of adding a new cat, or having one or more of their cats get outdoors and contact an infected cat.
In some instances, a free-roaming cat could get onto an open deck that the house cats have access to, and leave infective material carrying one of many respiratory viruses. It is also possible that you were carrying a respiratory virus, or even a strain of influenza, and while you showed no symptoms, you infected your cats.
As you have discovered, cats do vary in their immune response to infection. The one who really became ill may have another underlying chronic viral infection, which could have impaired the immune system, making the cat unable to withstand the infective virus.
You are not the only person to complain to me about veterinarians giving no instruction as to how best to give medication to cats. This can be very difficult, often requiring an assistant to secure the cat. An alternative to stressful hospitalizations would be home visits from a vet tech or veterinary nurse/assistant, who can medicate feline patients.
Cats can be challenging patients. The more they become used to being put in a carrier and riding in the car from an early age, the easier it will be to get them to the veterinarian for routine wellness examinations and in times of emergency.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)