We’ve been seeing so many itchy pets this month! Pets develop itchy skin, hair loss, and recurrent ear infections for a variety of reasons, but the most common cause is a disease called atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a heritable condition that causes pets to develop hypersensitivity (also known as an allergy) against normally-benign environmental triggers such as pollens, dust mites, or normal skin flora like yeast or bacteria. Allergic pets can become very miserable if left untreated! Thankfully, we have a wide variety of treatment options available to help us keep atopic patients more comfortable.
- Topical treatments: Medicated shampoos help to decrease the numbers of yeast and bacteria on the skin, and can also strengthen the skin barrier which makes it more resistant to infection. For pets who are difficult to bathe, there are a number of medicated mousse products that can be applied without needing to rinse them off. We love reaching for topical treatments over oral antibiotics whenever possible because they are less likely to lead to antibiotic resistance, and there are fewer systemic side effects such as GI upset.
- Fish oil supplementation: Essential fatty acids, such as those found in fish oils, reduce skin inflammation, reduce itch, and improve the skin barrier. Fish oils need to be used for 1 to 3 months to reach their full effect.
- Diet: While atopic dermatitis is different from a food allergy, some atopic pets have both food and environmental allergies. Feeding a hypoallergenic diet may not eliminate allergy symptoms for these pets, but reducing food allergens can allow other treatments to be more effective. Hypoallergenic diets can either be novel protein diets, such as rabbit- or duck-based foods, or can be made with hydrolyzed proteins.
- Antihistamines: Commonly-used antihistamines in veterinary medicine include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and chlorpheniramine. Even though these medications are available over-the-counter, you should always talk with your veterinarian prior to administering any OTC drug to ensure that you’re using the right product at the correct dose! Many human antihistamine products are combined with decongestants, which can be fatal to pets.
- Immunosuppressant medications: Because atopic dermatitis is caused by an over-exuberant immune system response, using medications that suppress the immune system offers a rapid and powerful means of controlling itch. The most common medications in this group include corticosteroids (such as prednisone) and non-steroid immunosuppressives (such as cyclosporine, or Atopica).
- Apoquel and Cytopoint: These relatively new products treat allergies by disrupting the body’s ability to make one of the proteins that transmits the sensation of itch from the skin to the brain. Apoquel is an oral tablet and Cytopoint is an injectable monoclonal antibody. There are relatively few side effects to these medications relative to immunosuppressant medications because they target a much smaller portion of the immune system’s response to allergens. Unfortunately, these products are only labelled for use in dogs (sorry cats!).
- Treatment of secondary infections: Bacterial and yeast overgrowth are common in pets experiencing an allergy flare-up. While anti-itch medications can be very effective, they usually won’t work in the face of a skin or ear infection. If you are using one of the treatments listed above and your pet is still very itchy, that’s a good sign that your pet might need a vet visit to evaluate whether they might have an infection.
- Immunotherapy: Veterinary dermatologists have the ability to create allergy “vaccines” that train your pet’s immune system to stop overreacting to normal environmental triggers. We are lucky to have a number of amazing dermatologists in the Twin Cities. Please ask us if you would like a referral.
Atopic dermatitis can be a very frustrating condition to manage. No one likes to watch their pet itch all day! While it does take some dedication, pets with allergies can live very comfortable lives once we find the right combination of treatments to help them.
How To Clean Ears
Ear cleaning is a great habit to get into if your pet is a regular swimmer, has very hairy ear canals that are prone to waxy buildup, or has skin allergies that lead to ear infections. Cleaning your pet’s ear is a simple procedure that you can do at home as long as you have the right tools. You’ll need an ear cleaning solution, gauze squares or cotton balls, and for most pets, you’ll need a helper to hold your pet while you perform the ear cleaning.
First, make sure you have an ear cleaner labelled for use in pets (please never put water, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol into your pet’s ear). Ear cleaning can be a messy process, so we recommend doing this outside or in an area that’s easy to clean like a bathroom! Gently hold your pet’s ear flap open and squeeze the ear cleaner into the ear canal. You want to add enough that you can see the cleaner pooling at the brim of the canal. For large dogs, this requires a tablespoon or more of cleaner; small dogs and cats usually need ½ teaspoon or less. Gently massage the base of your pet’s ear to help break up the debris in the ear canal. Allow your pet to shake their head once you’ve finished massaging, and then use gauze or a cotton ball to wipe the cleaner and debris off of the ear flap. We recommend that ear cleaning be done after every time a pet swims, after bathing, and once every 1 to 2 weeks for preventative care in pets who are prone to ear infections. Happy cleaning!
If you’d like to request refills of your pet’s medications, we have a few options:
- Submit our online refill request form
- Submit your request via the PetDesk app (download at the Apple store here or Google Play store here)
- Call us at 651-645-2808 and leave a message with your request
Please give us 24 hours notice for refills. We will contact you when your prescription is filled and ready for pickup. Thanks for your understanding!
Upcoming closures: We will be closed on Saturday, July 31st for technical updates. We will also be closed from September 4th through September 6th for Labor Day weekend. Thank you for your understanding!
Minnesota State Fair (August 26th through September 6th): Traffic in our neighborhood increases significantly during the Great Minnesota Get-Together! Remember to give yourself extra time to get to your appointment and try to avoid going past the fairgrounds if you can. Dr. Megan Schommer will be performing surgeries in the MVMA Surgical Suite at the Pet Pavilion on Wednesday, September 1st at 2:00 and 4:00 pm. Stop by and say hello!
Congratulations: Our team members have earned some amazing accomplishments this summer! Veterinary technician Sam has graduated nursing school, and now is both a CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician) and RN (Registered Nurse). It’s rare for an individual to earn and maintain both of these degrees, and Sam plans to continue working in both the animal and human medical fields. Veterinary assistant Carlie was accepted to the Industrial/Organization Psychology graduate program at UMN-Duluth with a scholarship. She’ll be starting in the fall, and while we hate to lose her, we are so excited for her to go on to do amazing things! Send them both a note of congratulations when you have a chance!