Monday, September 27, 2010

Veterinary fact of the day: Itchy dogs

A few weeks ago we started our Clinical Dermatology class, and next week is the first test. It’s been a particularly useful class for me on account of my itchy golden retriever. Jack has always itched from September through November, on his belly, armpits, feet, and face. My dermatology notes taught me: he probably has atopic dermatitis, or non-contagious, itchy inflammation of the skin. Atopic dogs very often show this exact distribution of itchiness (or pruritis, to use the technical term). Many atopic dogs are allergic to dust mites, and many benefit from shampooing to remove allergens. (I literally put down my notes, got up, vacuumed my bedroom floor, and put Jack’s bedding in the wash. It is amazing that I know for sure that I am allergic to dust mites — I’ve been tested — and yet it takes learning that my dog may just possibly be allergic to them to get me to vacuum.)

There are lots of other approaches to managing an atopic dog; cleaning up dust mites is just the easiest, and a good approach in a dog that is not all that itchy. Anti-histamines may or may not help, but are very safe to try in case they do help. Their main side effect is to make your dog sleepy — which in Jack’s case is probably the main mechanism whereby they take care of the itching. Atopic dogs can scratch their fur off (alopecia) and have thickened skin (lichenification), along with other problems.

I hesitated at first to write this post for fear that people would try to fix their atopic dogs on their own. You guys wouldn’t do that, would you? You will of course call your vet for advice before trying to give any medication to a dog, even something safe like an anti-histamine. And if you think your dog is uncomfortably itchy, don’t just vacuum — take him to a vet, starting with a general practitioner and moving on to a dermatologist if you need to.

What I did today: Today was one of the dreaded “eight hours of lecture” days. Two hours of anesthesia, two hours of dermatology; lunch (during which I went to a talk about research on whales in the Arctic, very cool, but that made it nine hours of lecture); two hours of large animal medicine/surgery; two hours of ethics. Phew!

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