Treatment of Allergies in Pets

April 15, 2015
AMC's dermatologist, Dr. Mark Macina, examines a patient

AMC’s dermatologist, Dr. Mark Macina, examines a patient

Spring officially arrived nearly three weeks ago, but the onset of allergy season may not arrive too soon this year, given our harsh winter. But once it warms up, pollen, dust mites, fleas, grass, weeds and mold will kick off allergy season in pets.

Clinical Signs of Allergies
Does your dog rub his face along the front of your sofa or scratch incessantly? Has your cat scratched all the fur off her head and made is scabby? Are you constantly putting in ear drops or giving antibiotics to treat skin infections? All these represent clinical signs of allergies in pets.

Control Parasites
One of the top causes of canine and feline allergic skin disease stems from an allergic reaction to flea saliva. A flea bites your dog or cat, setting off an allergic reaction. This disease presents a double-whammy to your pet: discomfort from fleas crawling all over its skin and the discomfort of being itchy. Fortunately, numerous options for control of fleas are available and your choice of product can be tailored to your pet’s exact needs.

Modify the Diet
Food allergies are typically an ongoing problem, not seasonal like pollen, grass or flea saliva allergies. Veterinarians think the allergen in food is the protein source contained in the diet, but it may be other ingredients as well. The standard method for determining if food is the cause of skin disease is a food elimination trial. Elimination diets contain a limited number of ingredients and protein sources not typically found in common pet food and not previously fed to your pet. Novel protein sources include bison, herring or rabbit. Some elimination diets avoid common carbohydrate sources and include potatoes or oats, rather than corn or soy. An elimination diet requires determination on the part of the pet owner, as the skin improves slowly in response to a diet change. Patience is required to tough out a month or more of strict diet control.

Administer Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy, a medical word for allergy shots, involves specialized testing to determine whether it is pollen, dust mites, fleas, grass, weeds or mold revving up your pet’s itch-scratch pathway. Once the cause of the allergy is determined, a custom allergy vaccine can be developed for your pet. You learn to give the injections at home one to two times per week. These injections contain minute amounts of the offending antigen (pollen, dust mites, fleas, grass, weeds or mold) which trains your pet’s immune system to be tolerant of these agents.

Quell the Immune System with Drugs
A variety of drugs can be used to turn off the allergic reaction underlying the itch-scratch cycle in your pet. The most well-known, but not necessarily the most effective in pets, is antihistamines. Steroids can be very effective and rapidly reduce the clinical signs of allergies, but have unpleasant side effects, such as increasing water drinking, urination and appetite, as well as increasing the risk of infection. Another effective drug for allergy management is cyclosporine, although cost is a concern. New to the market, oclacitinib, inhibits the cells initiating the itch-scratch cycle by attacking allergies at the cellular level.

With so many options to manage pet allergies, no pet should have their summer fun spoiled by constant itching and scratching. Watch The AMC’s Dr. Mark Macina talk about managing allergies in pets.


Flea and Tick Prevention: 2015 Update

April 8, 2015
Photo: Vetstreet.com

Photo: Vetstreet.com

When I started my career as a veterinarian, the options for flea and tick control were limited, smelly and messy. I dispensed cans of spray, bottles of dip, and cartons of powder, but hardly ever prescribed a flea collar. Back then, the collars were not that effective and some thought the only way a flea collar killed a flea was by squashing it when you put the collar on your pet. Thirty years later, the options for pet owners to prevent ectoparasite infestations are infinitely better and way more numerous.

Better flea and tick control has resulted in healthier pets. I used to routinely see dogs and cats crawling with fleas from head to toe. Many developed flea allergic dermatitis, often complicated by a superficial skin infection. While we still see allergies in pets, flea allergic dermatitis is much less common and pets are much more comfortable, thanks to these new products.

Top Spot Products
The big revolution in flea and tick prevention started when top spot products were introduced. These are the little tubes of liquid that come in multipacks for monthly application to the nape of your pet’s neck. The product then distributes throughout the haircoat and kills fleas and ticks when they come in contact with the medicine on your pet’s hair. They also come with stickers for your calendar or an app for your mobile device to remind you when to apply the medication. Many of the manufacturers of these products have videos on their website demonstrating proper application of the product.

Oral Flea and Tick Prevention
Oral products can be active against only fleas or prevent multiple species of ticks as well. Most oral products come as tasty chew treats and are administered monthly; although long lasting products are also available. Not all oral products start working instantly. If your pet has a flea infestation because you missed a dose, check with your veterinarian about a rapidly acting oral product for quick flea takedown.

Long Lasting Collars
Unlike the early flea collars, today’s models last for months at a time. Depending on which collar your veterinarian prescribes, modern flea collars may be active against a single species of tick or fleas and multiple species of ticks. If you choose a collar, check the label carefully as some collars may take a week to reach full strength on your pet.

Choosing What’s Right for Your Pet
When selecting from this array of products, consider the following criteria:

  1. Talk with your veterinarian about the types of parasites in your area. Selecting a product with a profile that fits your area’s parasite population is critical.
  2. Top spot products often repel as well as kill fleas and ticks. If you live in a geographic locale with high numbers of fleas and ticks, you might want this added protection.
  3. Certain collars and oral preventatives last for months at a time. If you are busy and forgetful, one of these products might be a good choice.
  4. Not all top spot preparations and collars are waterproof. If your dog is a swimmer, choose a waterproof product or consider an oral flea and tick preventative.
  5. If you have a puppy or kitten, make sure the product you select is safe for the newest family member. Some products are not labeled for pets < 6-12 weeks of age.
  6. Use dog products for dogs and cat products for cats. Never switch, or you may need a trip to the animal ER.

Weird Worms

August 21, 2014

Practicing in an urban setting, we don’t see too many pets with worms, partly because the city lifestyle reduces exposure to fleas and vermin which transmit worms and partly because I follow the Companion Animal Parasite Council and recommend year round heartworm prevention. Those medications control many common intestinal parasites. Here is information about some of the less common worms veterinarians see in pets.

Tapeworms

Tapeworm segments on a dog's bedding

Tapeworm segments on a dog’s bedding

The photograph on the right came in with one of my patients the other day. The owner was concerned about the rice grains she was seeing on the dog’s bedding and was worried her dog was not digesting the rice in the lamb and rice dog food. What she thought were rice grains were actually tapeworm segments. Dogs become infected with tapeworms when they ingest a flea or eat a small mammal containing tapeworm eggs. Inside the dog’s intestine, a tapeworm consists of hundreds of little segments which are connected to form a worm. Segments break off and can be found moving around near the anus or on your dog’s bedding. Safe dewormers are available to eradicate tapeworms from your dog, but protecting your dog against fleas and limiting their access to vermin will also prevent them from acquiring tapeworms.

Raccoon Roundworms
Even though NYC is urban, we have lots of raccoons. I saw three youngsters washing their hands in a Central Park pond about two weeks ago. Raccoons carry a roundworm in their intestine (Baylisascaris procyonis) and shed roundworm eggs in their feces. Raccoon roundworm eggs are very hardy and remain infective in the soil for years after being shed in the stool. 

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene advises New Yorkers to avoid raccoon latrines (the area where raccoons repeatedly defecate) and to wash their hands if they come in contact with raccoon feces. Children are especially susceptible to infections with the raccoon roundworm. 

Tracheal Worms
Most pet owners think of worms as living in the intestine, but there are worms that live in other organs as well. Dogs can be infected with two different species of tracheal worms, Crenosoma vulpis and Filaroides osleri. F. osleri induces the formation of wart-like lesions in the trachea and bronchi of infected dogs, causing a hard, dry cough. Dr. Kelly Gisselman, an AMC trained ACVIM certified small animal internal medicine specialist, recently posted a YouTube video of a worm she spied while performing a bronchoscopy on a young dog with a cough. Deworming completely resolved the cough which had been going on for a year and a half! Since the worm did not induce the formation of wart-like lesions, we suspect it is C. vulpis

Protecting Your Pets and Your Family Against Weird Worms

  • Check out the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website for more information on pet parasites.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after being outdoors and before eating.
  • Administer year round monthly heartworm prevention. Those effective against dog roundworms will also treat raccoon roundworms.
  • Use medications to prevent fleas which carry the infective form of the tapeworm.
  • Clean up raccoon feces on your property, but wear gloves and wash your hands after doing so.
  • Put trash in tightly covered containers and don’t put food out for wildlife that may carry weird worms.

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