May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness month

posted on May 02, 2017 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

One of the most common issues we see in our pets is allergy issues, and the month of May is dedicated to allergy and asthma awareness.  In our pets, 90% of allergies are environmental, versus only about 10% which are due to food.

If your pet is experiencing symptoms such as eye discharge, sneezing, chewing on feet, anal gland issues (scooting or licking anal area), thickened skin, recurrent ear infections, skin infections, or overall itching, it may be allergies.  An examination by your veterinarian should be performed to determine if it is indeed allergies and then appropriate treatment can be implemented.  Cats with allergies can develop wheezing and respiratory issues (allergic bronchitis and asthma).  However, breathing issues can also be due to many other illnesses and can be an emergency.  Please seek immediate medical attention for your pet if it is having difficulty breathing.

Allergies are the immune system over-reacting to things it does not or should not need to.  The goal of treatment is to try to decrease the immune response, either by suppressing the immune system and it’s activity, or to decrease the body’s response to the items it is over-reacting to.  There are a number of ways we can try to do this.

  1. Decrease exposure:  Most allergens are through contact in pets, so decreasing contact is important.  Things such as weekly bathing, soaking the feet in Epsom salts nightly, washing all bedding, and using HEPA filters in vacuums and air filters can help decrease exposure.  If the allergy is food related, finding diets without the offending ingredients can also help.  If allergy testing is pursued, it can further help point us in the correct direction for decreasing expsoure.
  2. Control histamines:  Histamines are released by white blood cells in response to allergens, and they are responsible for many of the symptoms we see such as itching, running eyes and nose, and sneezing.  Antihistamines are a relatively inexpensive, well tolerated, and safe way of controlling these.  Often anti-histamines alone are not enough to completely stop allergies, but they can be of great help.  We can help direct you with the correct dosing of antihistamines for your pet.
  3. Suppress the immune system:  Steroids are the most common medication used to do this.  Steroids work very well to suppress the immune system, but they have side effects.  Short term, they can cause increased thirst and urination, which may lead to house soiling.  They can also cause an increased appetite, which can lead to weight gain.  Long term use can cause weakening of ligaments and muscle loss, along with elevations in liver enzymes and even potentially damage to the liver.  Steroids can also make your pet more prone to infections.  Because of these reasons, we often try to use bathing and antihistamines first, and add in steroids as a later treatment for cases that don’t respond as we would like.

Veterinary dermatologists such as Dr. McKeever or Dr. Eisenschenk have immunosuppressive medications that cause less side effects than steroids.  We now also have a medication like this, called Apoquel.  These medications are more expensive, and may still require monitoring of liver and kidney enzymes or white blood cell counts as they suppress the immune system.  However, these medications are more specific to what part of the immune system they target, reportedly have fewer side effects, and may work better for some pets.

  1. Re-training the immune system:  Lastly, allergy testing can be performed to determine what the pet is specifically allergic to.  Using this information, the environment or diet can be modified to avoid triggers.  Also, an allergy extract can be made.  This extract is injected in very small amounts and slowly increased to try to teach the immune system that the allergens in it are not to be reacted to.  Allergy testing and allergy extract injections can be costly and require a lot of follow up, but may provide your pet with very specific relief and much fewer side effects than some of the other medications available.

Allergies are frustrating for all of us because they are not easily fixed, often require life-long therapy, and flare ups are common.  However, we will try to implement many of the above therapies in the best approach for you and your pet to help alleviate their symptoms.

 

Obesity as an Epidemic

posted on August 03, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the calendars turn to August, one thought enters my mind-food on a stick!  August brings the state fair, and while I know a deep fried candy bar on a stick is not healthy for me, as an occasional, once a year treat, it is okay to indulge.  While many people realize watching what we eat is important for a number of health reasons, these same people may not realize watching what our pets eat is just as important.

You may think an extra pound or two can’t hurt that much, but a pound is not just a pound.  While two or three additional pounds may have very little effect on you or me, they can be quite serious for your pet.  Three extra pounds on a 15 pound dog is equivalent to a 150 pound person gaining 30 extra pounds, and  3 extra pounds on a 10 pound cat is equal to 45 extra pounds on a 150 pound person!

Obesity and overweightness is the #1 health condition affecting American pets today.  Purina estimates that 58% of cats and 45% of dogs are overweight or obese.  This equals 35 million dogs and 54 million cats!

This is a serious epidemic as being overweight has been linked with a higher incidence of a number of health issues including oral (mouth) disease, skin disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, thyroid disease, joint diseases such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, hepatitis, urinary tract disease, asthma, torn ligaments such as ACLs, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, exercise intolerance, slower wound healing, increased anesthetic risk, and cancer.

Even more importantly, it has been found that being overweight can significantly decrease lifespan.  Purina did the first life-long study in dogs regarding diet and its effect on pets.  Half of the dogs were fed free choice, meaning they were allowed to eat as much as they liked.  The other half of the dogs were fed 25% less than what the free fed dogs ate.  The differences were amazing!

Dogs that were allowed to free feed had an average body condition score (BCS) of 6.7/9 (4.5/9 being ideal), whereas dogs that were slightly restricted had a BCS of 4.6.  The control fed dogs lived 15% longer-almost 2 years, with an average of 13 years in the control fed dogs versus 11.2 years in the free fed dogs.  Lastly, the control fed dogs didn’t start needing treatment for medical conditions until a median age of 12 years, whereas the free choice pets started needing treatment at a median age of 9.9 years.

What does this mean for your pet?  Simply put, a pet kept at a healthy weight throughout life is a healthier pet, and has a longer average lifespan.

How can you help keep your pet healthy?  Veterinarians use something called the body condition score to assess a pet’s weight, as there can be quite a range of “normal” weights for a specific dog breed.  Body condition score is a way to judge how much fat or muscle is on an animal and is more accurate than weight in judging an animal’s body composition.  It is based on a 1-9 scale, with a 4-5 being a healthy weight.

To score body condition, a couple areas are looked at:

  • Are the bones visible?  Bones such as the ribs, spine, and hip bones should not be visible in most dogs and cats.  Some breeds are naturally leaner and in them it may be normal to see the bones.
  • How easily are the ribs felt?  They should feel as though you are running your finger over the back of your other hand’s fingers.  There should be a slight fat covering, but you should not have to push hard to be able to feel the ribs.
  • Is there a tuck of the abdomen visible from the side of the animal?  There should be a nice tuck visible.
  • Is there a waist visible when viewing the animal from above?  There should be a waist visible.

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If you think your pet may be overweight or obese and would like help formulating a diet plan, or if you would like to prevent your pet from becoming overweight, please contact us to discuss calorie requirements and feeding guidelines for your pet, or visit our website for more information.

Posted in: Obesity