We all know dogs scratch.
But over Christmas and into the early months of this year our Spinone seemed to be scratching more and more. We were reasonably confident it wasn’t the age-old enemy, fleas. For a start, this was a funny time of year for them, and anyway we, along with a large number of other dog-owners, have been following what we hoped was preventative ‘best practice’. We’ve been keeping his bedding as clean as possible, and using Frontline® for his outsides and Drontal® (and new kid on the block Plerion® once, but we struggled to get that in Ozzie – but that’s another story…) for his insides. This is not a cheap routine, although the liberalisation of the sale of these drugs means that in the UK there is at least a little price competition now. As we live in the countryside, Ozzie has access to all sorts of rubbish by the river, and we are often passing through fields where cattle or sheep have grazed, so it just seemed the sensible precaution to take.
Anyway, we didn’t think his scratching was likely to be fleas or anything like. We wondered if it was perhaps caused by the extreme weather conditions. Ozzie had been moving from warm centrally-heated houses to freezing temperatures and snow, and back again, thawing wetly on our floors, several times a day, for what seemed like weeks on end. Surely this was likely to make him itchy?
But then things suddenly got much worse. He was scratching constantly, drawing blood in places, and his hair was falling out in surprising chunks, and felt dry and brittle. He didn’t lack appetite (but then he is a Spinone) and wasn’t lethargic, but things had obviously taken a turn for the worse. And of course this was a weekend, so we had to wait until Monday for a trip to the vets. Meanwhile we were becoming more and more convinced that Ozzie had something like mange – but that seems ridiculous since we were keeping him regularly dosed with a leading skin treatment in the UK – Frontline®. Older and wiser readers will already see our mishtake, but for the sake of any others who are in the same position as us I will continue.
The vets is always busy on a Monday morning, as diseases and disasters have had a whole weekend to run amok amongst the pet population. After a longer-than-usual wait amongst the crotchety collection of cats, dogs and rabbits, Ozzie was coaxed in to see a vet. Whilst he stood there, hang-dog and trying to look very insignificant, the vet took us by suprise: allergies. Severe scratching for non-specific reasons is, apparently, very common. And particularly among fair-skinned breeds. Fair-skinned? We had never thought of Ozzie as fair-skinned, but apparently that liver-coloured nose is the tell-tale sign. The vet then uttered those words which we have come to fear: “Do you have pet insurance?” Of course we do. She then disappeared and re-appeared with several A4 pages of pre-prepared information, which started with simple sprays and pills and escalated to scans and courses of anti-histamines, and ended with the possibility of having a specialist anti-allergy potion tailor-made for Ozzie which he would need to take for life. Ker-ching! We could hear the vet’s till ringing from the treatment room.
Now, as you can probably judge from the tone of this blog, we love our Italian Spinone to bits. But this level of medical intervention for a pet dog makes us very uneasy. If one of our children were crippled with allergies, then of course this would be a route we would take, but for a family pet, however much-loved? Hmmm.
The vet gave us the documents ‘to think over’ and we accepted the very lowest level treatment suggested, a hydrocortisone topical spray to spray the areas that Ozzie was scratching most. We also came away with a course of antibiotics and a alternate skin treatment, called Advocate®, just to rule out any parasites.
Within a few days Ozzie was responding very well. The spray was quite good for the areas he had scratched raw, but it was the Advocate® that made the biggest difference. The vet had told us that our usual choice of treatment, Frontline®, does not treat mange, and that mange was often carried by foxes. We see foxes and what they leave behind very regularly around here – and come to think of it, with the prevalence of ‘urban’ foxes, there are probably few dogs that never come into contact with foxes.
In retrospect, it seems that Ozzie does indeed have a tendency to allergies, but they are largely manageable – we still use the spray from time to time as required. But he also seemed to have picked up some variety of sarcoptic mange, which triggered a big allergic response. So now we have to alternate a treatment of Frontline®, which deals with fleas and ticks, but not mange and some other nasty parasites, with Advocate®, which tackles many nasties, but not ticks! And of course we still have to use Drontal® regularly to tackle worms and other dangerous internal parasites. Phew!
We would love to cover all bases without having to resort to such complex and expensive treatments, but we haven’t found a viable alternative yet.
This was quite a complicated story for us. Comparing notes with other Spinone owners, it does seem that some of them can be prone to allergies – as indeed can many breeds of dogs, as the vet pointed out. What was difficult for us was figuring out why it suddenly became a problem for Ozzie. Thankfully, this episode was over quite quickly, and we will be better prepared if something like this flares up again in the future.
As an aside, it is best to check with a vet before using some of these treatments. For instance we believe Advocate®, which has been so useful for Ozzie, is not recommended as safe for Collie breeds. We are definitely not qualified experts, so check with a vet!