By Kim Everson, DVM
As a new mom at Little League, I was relieved to bump into an acquaintance mother in the stands. She had brought her adult Boxer and my American Bulldog puppy was enamored of her.
As the two dogs rough-house in the grass near us, the woman suddenly announces how angry she is at her current veterinarian (always dangerous territory)! Turns out her veterinarian said not to breed her female dog because she has allergies. Before I can respond another mom interjects dismissively, “Pfht! All dogs have allergies.” Feeling ambushed, my veterinarian instincts overcome my social delicacy instincts and I blurt out “No! Allergies-are-an-expensive-and-difficult-problem-for-many-owners-and-terrible-for-dogs. I-even-know-of-one-dog-who-was-put-down-because-of-her-suffering!”
You could hear a pin drop.
While the Boxer’s owner stares at me with mouth slightly agape, I try to salvage the conversation by asking calmly about her dog’s symptoms and severity. To no avail. The conversation has died and cannot be resuscitated. At least for this baseball game, I have become a pariah among Little League moms.
Having had some time to reflect on the scene, I find myself agreeing with Second Mom’s statement that “all dogs have allergies.” It certainly seems that way some days as dog after dog visits my veterinary clinic with complaints of painful ear infections, inflamed paws and uncontrolled itching.
Yes, many dogs like people have mild seasonal allergies. We don’t discourage people who suffer from hay fever from procreating. We don’t even stop people with life-threatening peanut or shellfish allergies from marrying and having kids. The thought is just plain ludicrous. But dogs are not people, obviously. It is our responsibility in this age of pet-overpopulation to be cautious and judicious about which dogs we allow to reproduce and why. Many allergies in pets have a hereditary component. If not breeding a known allergy sufferer might prevent similar suffering in future canine generations, all the veterinarians I know would be in favor of that.
Canine allergies vary in cause and severity. Like bee sting reactivity in people, canine allergies may worsen with time. A mild seasonal allergy causing red, itchy eyes for a few weeks in a puppy can worsen with successive allergy seasons. The season itself may lengthen to all year round as the pet accrues additional allergy triggers including house dust mites and other unavoidable airborne particles. Symptoms too may worsen with some dogs living their entire lives with expensive, difficult-to-manage chronic ear infections, anal gland problems, and skin disease. Gastrointestinal upset ranging from picky eating, frequent vomiting and soft stools may indicate food allergy, which are historically difficult to diagnose and very expensive to manage.
Yes, Second Mom, so many dogs suffer from some degree of allergies I think most pet owners do consider it normal. The constant foot licking some dogs do, for example, may not be merely boredom. Butt scooting, reported with hilarity as if the dog performs the act for comic relief, may actually signal a food allergy. And let us not forget cats whose allergies are perhaps more challenging to manage than dogs’: the puke piles you step in several times a week are not strategically placed to annoy. And not all bald cat bellies and legs are due to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just because these things are common does not make them normal and acceptable in our pets!
Faced day-after-day with disgruntled, frustrated pet owners and miserable pets who hate taking the medicine that will provide merely temporary relief from their allergy symptoms, I forgive myself the “faux paw” of erupting at my fellow Little League moms. I hope they will forgive me knowing my rudeness is just exuberance on behalf of my afflicted patients.
P.S. Some breeds of dogs are more commonly affected by allergies than others (remember, that hereditary component of allergies?) so do your research before acquiring a new pet. Ask the breeder or former owner if the dog or its parents have a history of allergies or allergy symptoms (itchy skin, excessive licking, ear or anal gland problems, chronic upset stomach) so you can go into the adoption with eyes wide open.