Dr. Marty Becker
and David S. Greene
As anyone who has ever tried to sleep in the same room with an itchy dog can tell you, canine allergies can be miserable for both pets and people.
People get runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing or wheezing when allergies flair. For dogs, the problems are mostly skin-related: They scratch, chew their skin, rub against stationary objects or shake their heads in frustration from itchy ears.
Allergies typically show up within the first three years of a pet's life, worsen with age and can't be cured, only controlled. Knowing what causes allergies is an important first step toward treating them, and that means getting your veterinarian's help. Flea bites are a top cause of these allergies, but food and environmental issues are a problem for many dogs. Dust, pollen and spores in the home and yard gather in the pet's fur, and the allergens then trigger reactions.
Your veterinarian will have suggestions specific to your dog, your region and your season, but in general, you can help your pet a great deal with an allergy-prevention regimen in the home. Dedicated parasite control is the first step, and that will mean veterinary-recommended flea-control products along with frequent vacuuming of pet areas and washing of pet bedding.
Concurrently, you can limit the amount of dust and other irritants pets sweep up by keeping floors, furniture and other surfaces where dogs and dust connect clean, as well as by using air filtration systems. In addition, if you smoke, quit. Secondhand smoke bothers pets, too.
And while you may have heard that frequent shampooing strips the skin of essential oils, veterinary dermatologists now recommend bathing pets at least every week (up to every day for extremely at-risk, allergic pets) during the spring and summer to help wash allergens off the coat and skin before they can trigger an allergic reaction.
While regular flea-control, a clean house and frequent bathing may dramatically decrease your pet's allergic response, more powerful treatments are often needed to help a pet ditch the itch. Fortunately, veterinarians have new treatment options that may make a world of difference.
You probably know someone who takes shots to manage their own allergy symptoms. Known as immunotherapy, or hyposensitization, these small injections of allergens under the skin can also be effective for most dogs with atopic dermatitis, which is the medical term for what pet owners would call "constantly itchy skin." Pet owners can administer the injections at home with guidance from their veterinarians, and many dogs respond well to this treatment.
To fight the skin reactions to allergens that trigger scratching and chewing, Atopica is another option. This medication calms the cells that trigger an allergic response, rather than treating the symptoms after a reaction -- and without the side effects of steroid shots. Ask your veterinarian if this treatment is right for your pet.
But it's not just about airborne allergens or parasites: Pets suffer from food allergies as well. Allergy reactions to pet food are usually caused by proteins and can include beef, egg, milk or cheese products, soy, or even fish. If food allergies are suspected, your veterinarian will guide you through food-elimination trials to find the culprit, and then recommend a diet that won't trigger an allergic response.
With modern veterinary options and a world of new products to help, the allergies of dogs can be managed better than ever before. And that means you and your pet will both sleep better, since neither of you will have to be bothered by your dog's noisy scratching.
to a bad habit
Q: I am ready to get rid of the dog because no matter what I do, he insists on eating from the litter box. I have spanked him, yelled at him, and all it did is make him sneaky. If I can't keep him out of the litter box, he's going to a home without a cat. Fix this! -- P.T.
A: Eating things people find objectionable -- to say the least -- is a common problem in dogs. It's generally more effective to change what you're doing instead of what your dog's doing to stop this behavior. (Especially since, as you've learned, punishment isn't doing the job.)
Changing the situation means figuring out how to keep the box where your cat can get to it and your dog can't. How you do that will depend on the size of your dog, the layout of your home and your cat's preferences for what he will and will not tolerate about changes to his box.
Here are a few ideas:
-- Purchase a covered litter box. Some cats don't like them, cats with asthma shouldn't use them, and some dogs find the cover a fun challenge. But this is an easy solution if it works. A box that scoops automatically may also work, again, unless the dog is determined to crack open the container.
-- Change the litter box's location. You must be careful not to upset your cat, since cats often react to change by avoiding the box. But experimenting with ploys such as gradually moving the litter box to a location above the dog's reach can do the job.
-- Provide barriers. One way is to rig the door to the room containing the litter box so that it stays open wide enough for the cat but not for the dog. Another possibility is to put a cat-sized door through the door to the litter box room if your dog is medium-sized or larger. For small dogs, try a baby gate -- the cat can jump it, but the dog can't.
It's a good bet some combination of these strategies will resolve the problem so that you can focus on changing the angry feelings you have for your dog. -- Gina Spadafori
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ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.
The kitten's nose
knows where mom is
A kitten's nose may be tiny, but it works well. Kittens are born blind and deaf, but they use their sense of smell to find the nutrition their mothers offer them. The first milk that kittens ingest is very important. Called colostrum, it contains antibodies from the mother and other important substances that give the kittens initial protection against diseases at a time when their own immune systems are not yet functioning well. These antibodies diminish over time, but until they do, they not only protect the kitten against disease, but they also may block the usefulness of any vaccine. That's why kittens (and puppies) need a series of vaccines for protection -- to keep up when the maternal immunity drops.
-- Blood banks for pets have grown in popularity in recent years. Veterinarians used to draw blood from pets of their own or of staff, or keep animals as pampered hospital pets for this reason. While practice pets -- especially cats -- remain popular and are no less pampered, the growth of blood banks means they're not as often made to donate for their keep. As with human blood banks, volunteers are essential to these livesaving efforts. Owners bring their health-screened pets in to donate in exchange for credit toward future care. Ask your veterinarian if your pet is suited to donating to save the lives of others.
-- The noises humans bring to the oceans are bothering the world's fish, some 21,000 species of which rely on their hearing to navigate their underwater world. The fish environment is full of natural noises, but humans have added 10 decibels of ambient commotion to the water during the last half-century. Construction of oil platforms, wind turbines and bridges can interfere both with the normal behavior of fish and with their ability to reproduce. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon