Eyes, Ears, Skin, OH MY!

by Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

Spring and early summer often kick off seasonal allergies in our pets. The term we use in veterinary medicine is ‘atopy’, referring to a generalized allergic condition. There are any number of factors that can trigger chronic scratching, rubbing of eyes and shaking of your pet’s head, as if to clear out their ear canals. In humans, our primary response to ‘allergens’, or foreign protein compounds that stimulate our immune system, impacts our lungs, typical to asthmatics. In dogs, we look to the skin, the outer ear channel and the conjunctival margin of the eyes as the key expression of allergies in your pets.

The list of allergens can be broad and varied. Dust mites, dander, aerosols, perfumes, pet foods, as inside the home sorts of allergens. Outside, there are emerging plants, pollens, and even grasses that can influence the ‘atopic’ condition in your pets. Often, your veterinarian will provide a general examination; and, may suggest a blood examination to rule out problems. The focus of his attention will be influenced by the site of primary concern. With swollen eyes, full of ‘sleep yuck’, he/she might suggest an eye stain to rule out ulceration to the eye corneal surface. Normal eyes with inflamed conjunctiva are classic signs of allergic responses; Ears need to be swabbed, both for cleaning purposes and for recovering a microscopic slide review to identify yeasts and/or bacterial elements. A proper cleansing schedule with supportive ear medicants are the usual course of action. The particular region of skin afflicted may lend evidence to a possible source of allergen. If lesions are found along the lower body of your pet, I would suggest that your dog is experiencing a ‘contact’ dermatitis, or skin inflammation and infection driven by the repeated contact of his skin to a particular surface like grass in the yard, or even possibly due to contact to carpet or furniture textures. Staph bacterial infections are a common result to any skin irritant response. This condition is typically seen as a ring of skin lost of its hair, and bordered by some flakiness. In this scenario, your vet may suggest special medicated shampoos, cooling agents and topical medicants in conjunction with an oral antibiotic.

Additional diagnostics for chronic, recurring conditions may include skin testing or blood allergen testing, providing a reasonably specific listing of possible materials causing the problem. Often your veterinarian will initiate some form of treatment to provide more immediate relief to the itching, scratching and irritations mentioned herein, most often including anti-histamines and/or anti-inflammatory agents like steroids. Food trials, incorporating any number of possible ‘novel’ protein foods, are commonly suggested, as pets today often become sensitized to ingredients found in any number of pet foods. Your vet is your best guide to identifying possible causes of dog allergies, their secondary infections, and again, providing management and treatment options that suit your pets’ needs.

Good luck and enjoy your summer time with your beloved family pets.

Dr. Doug Pernikoff and Staff
Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic
& Veterinary Pet Rescue(VPR)