Last time we talked about the number one reason dogs visit the veterinary clinic – allergy related issues and more specifically atopic dermatitis (inflammation of the skin caused by inhaled allergens). These issues are typically manifested as itchy skin and ear infections. This week’s blog is going to focus on what dog owners and veterinarians can do to help alleviate the suffering caused by allergies.
First and foremost, most dogs rarely come to see me when they are just in the inflammatory stages of the disease (just starting to scratch or have red skin/ears with no evidence of infection). On the contrary, most owners don’t bring their dogs to the veterinarian until the signs have been going on for a while, so I typically see them with two problems: the underlying allergy and now the secondary yeast or bacterial infection. Determining the type of infection and prescribing the appropriate treatment of the infection is the first step to helping the pet. The next step is then trying to simmer down the inflammation and slow down the allergic response to hopefully prevent future infections.
So, let’s say a retriever comes in for scratching and shaking his head and ears full of brown, yucky goo. First, let’s expel some myths. The dog does not have an ear infection because he swims a lot or he has floppy ears. Long ago those things were thought to be the culprits – we now know it just happens to be that breeds that have floppy ears and swim a lot (spaniels and retrievers) also happen to be the more common breeds with allergies. It’s not the cause of their ear infections. The first thing I need to do is examine the ear with an otoscope to determine the severity of the infection and make sure the ear drum is not compromised. From there I will get a sample of the goo in the ear and look at it under the microscope to see if we are dealing with yeast or bacteria. If the ear is full of white blood cells and bacteria, I will recommend sending in a culture to not only find out the type of bacteria in the ear but also the type of antibiotic that will kill that organism. Oral antibiotics typically will not get to the ear to clear an infection, so we need to use a topical product that can be applied directly into the ear to treat the infection. Most of these topical products contain a medication to treat either the yeast or bacterial infection along with a steroid medication that will help to relieve the pain, swelling, redness, and itchiness that is going on in the ear. For many severe ear infections, I may put the patient on an oral steroid (very short-term) to help alleviate the inflammation a little faster. Basically the same thing will go for skin infections though we can treat those with oral antibiotics for 2-3 weeks along with bathing with a medicated shampoo.
Treating the infection will go a long way toward helping my patient, but if I don’t explain to the owner the primary problem and how we can go about dealing with the allergy issue, the owner will be back with their pooch again in a few weeks, only this time a little more frustrated. Stop in next time as I discuss our next goal – to actually help prevent future infections by slowing down the allergic inflammatory response. There are a number of ways to go about this – all can work together to help but NONE are the magic bullet that will just solve the problem forever.
By Dr. Kami Ireland