The medical term for itching is pruritus. Muller and Kirk’s veterinary dermatology text describes this as “an unpleasant sensation that provokes the desire to scratch… The skin is richly endowed by a net work of sensory nerves and receptors…The itch sensation may be modified by emotional factors and competing cutaneous sensations…a host of chemical mediators have been implicated…Anxiety, boredom, or competing cutaneous sensations (e.g., pain, touch, heat, and cold) can magnify or reduce the sensation…For example, pruritus is often worse at night because other sensory input is low… Stressful conditions may potentiate pruritus through the release of various opioid peptides.”
Kirk’s CVT XIII lists allergies, vaccines, numerous drugs, shampoos, dips and sprays as common products associated with pruritus, specifically, rabies, distemper and antibiotic injections are mentioned.
One thing is for sure, allergies are complicated and multicausal. Rarely is an allergic individual only allergic to one thing. Everybody has an allergic threshhold, above which allergic symptoms manifest.
Allergy testing measures hypersensitivity responses to grasses, weeds, molds, fleas, dust mites, and even human epidermis. (Yes, some pets are allergic to their guardians!) These tests cannot measure all allergens and they do not measure the cumulative effect of multiple allergens on an individual’s immune system.
Food allergy testing is often inaccurate and inconclusive, but surely some ingredients do cause some pets to scratch!
Snoopy is a bichon frise whose story exemplifies the importance of recognizing allergy triggers and how managing allergies in a healthy way can lead to a long, quality life.
Snoopy presented at 3 years of age for euthanasia due to severe allergies. He had worn an e-collar for most of that time to prevent severe excoriation of his face if it were removed. He would rip out sections of fur and lick his paws incessantly. He suffered from frequent ear infections. He had been treated with antibiotics, antihistamines and steroids to no avail. An allergy test identified his sensitivity to June grass, ragweed, dust mites, cat dander, wheat, corn, lamb and venison. His symptoms manifest year round, but worsen in July, at night, with heat and when he is nervous or groomed.
This curly, little white dog is now happy, comfortable and 13 years old! He has been drug-free for ten years. He eats a balanced, prey-concept raw diet which is free of all grains and starches, especially free of wheat and corn. Meats are rotated and never include lamb or venison. Omega -3 fatty acids from krill oil are used intermittently as a natural anti-inflammatory. He walks on pavement as much as possible, avoiding the grass.
He sleeps (with cats unfortunately), but on hypoallergenic sheets which are washed frequently in hot water. There is a fan over the bed for warm nights. Furnace filters are changed frequently and the ducts in the home have been professionally cleaned. The groomer uses a special shampoo and never plucks his ears as this can damage the canal increasing susceptibility to infection. During ragweed season, Snoopy is bathed more frequently with a detox soak and if necessary is treated orally with an herbal blend of nettle and licorice. Once used for nervousness, a Chinese herbal called Shen Calmer is no longer needed. Snoopy never receives spot-on flea and tick preventatives.
Most importantly, Snoopy is never re- vaccinated. Vaccine manufacturer inserts state, “Vaccinate only healthy animals.” A pet with chronic allergies certainly is not healthy. Also pets who are undergoing allergy treatment with steroids are immune suppressed and cannot respond properly to vaccines. Don’t overburden a failing immune system of an allergic pet by giving an unnecessary or perhaps detrimental vaccine. Did you know that it is legal for a veterinarian in Wisconsin to issue a rabies waiver for an unhealthy pet?
Don’t expect to cure allergies. Suppressing symptoms is not curing allergies. Eliminating triggers is not curing allergies. However, these approaches, and supporting the immune system to enable it to process allergens appropriately can certainly decrease the frequency and severity of allergic episodes.
Strive to use treatments which do not have serious side effects. Avoid excessive antibiotics, antihistamines and steroids. Know what the medication is that your pet is receiving. Google it!
Give the body the tools it needs to heal itself. Feed fresh, species appropriate foods. Mimic nature the best you can when making diet and treat choices for your pet. Did you know that it can take three months for a food allergen to leave the body? Remember that the next time the nice lady at the bank drive-up gives your dog a biscuit filled with wheat, soy, dye and artificial preservatives.
So, if your pet starts scratching shortly after his spring visit to the vet, is it due to the vaccine, the treat he was given, the spot-on pesticide, the food component of the chewable heartworm pill, his anxiety or the grass outside?
Don’t push your pet’s immune tolerance over the threshold. Manage his medical care, food and environment in a naturally sensible way so that he can handle smelling the flowers!