When Meghan Boyle brought home a cute, cuddly puppy from the Toledo Area Humane Society about three years ago, she made a commitment to give him a wonderful forever home, no matter what happened.
So several months later, when the Boxer mix started biting and licking himself until his fur came off, the Maumee resident took him to her vet to see what might be bothering him.
“Brody started having symptoms [at] around 5 months old,” Ms. Boyle said. “He was always scratching or biting his back and legs, causing missing patches of fur and skin infections. Poor Brody was going to the vet all the time with these problems.”
After many food trials and a trip to a veterinary dermatologist, it turns out that Brody is allergic to many things, including cats. Dogs and cats can share the same types of allergies as people. And the process for finding out what’s bothering them is similar.
Brody, now 3, gets regular allergy shots from Ms. Boyle every two weeks. After several thousand dollars and numerous trips to the vet, Ms. Boyle says it has been worth it to give him some relief.
“It hasn’t cured him 100 percent. He still scratches and bites fur off,” she said. “Even though this treatment is very expensive, it is worth it to me. Brody is more than a dog — he is part of the family.”
Brody’s case is unusual in that it started when he was so young, said his veterinarian, Dr. J. Bart Soeder of Heatherdowns Veterinary Clinic, 2454 Cass Rd., Toledo.
Allergies generally develop when a dog or cat is 1 to 4 years old, Dr. Soeder said. Dogs tend to be affected more often.
“I see dogs to cats about 2 to 1,” he said.
After Ms. Boyle brought Brody to see Dr. Soeder about the itching and hair loss, the vet had her feed him several foods specially formulated for dogs with allergies.
Each of the foods contains one protein source and one carbohydrate source not typically found in regular pet food. Protein sources in the special foods include lamb, duck, and venison.
After none of the foods seemed to offer Brody any relief from his itching, Dr. Soeder thought it was likely that he suffered from environmental allergies, which can be found both outdoors (ragweed, pollen, hay fever, grasses, and trees) and indoors (dust mites) as well as other animals’ hair. Dr. Soeder referred Brody to a veterinary dermatologist for intradermal testing.
During the testing, dogs typically are sedated or put under general anesthesia, a large area of their fur is shaved and they are injected with a series of allergens. The source of the allergy can be determined by how the skin around the injection site reacts.
There are no veterinary dermatologists in northwest Ohio or southeast Michigan. The closest are in Richfield, 20 miles south of Cleveland; the Ohio State University in Columbus, and in Southfield, Mich. A veterinary dermatologist is a specialist who, following four years of veterinary school, has completed an internship and residency program in dermatology and allergy. There are 150 board-certified veterinary dermatologists in the United States. To locate a veterinary dermatologist in their area, owners can check the American College of Veterinary Dermatology Web site at acvd.org.
Because at the time Ms. Boyle was in the process of moving to Boston, she saw a veterinary dermatologist there who tested Brody and formulated the serum for his injections, which she has been giving him for a little over a year.
“I was very nervous at first, but now it is just routine,” she said. “Brody knows that he gets a treat after, so he is fine with it. Unfortunately, unlike humans, he will never build up a tolerance and will remain on the injections his entire life.”
The immunotherapy starts with three vials of serum. The first two have a weaker concentration of the allergens, small amounts of which are given every three days to build up resistance. The third, or maintenance, vial contains a stronger concentration. At first, five injections are given every three days, then two injections every 10 days and a single injection every 14 days from then on.
“The intradermal allergy test was $318.15,” Ms. Boyle said. “My very first appointment including everything — all the different skin tests, the exam, the intradermal allergy test, sedation cost, Fluorescein injection, all three vials, six months’ worth of Revolution (flea preventative), and some other medications came to $1,222.48.”
The immunotherapy is effective in 70 percent to 90 percent of patients with environmental allergies. It takes most pets six to nine months to respond to it but can take up to a year in others.
Since moving back to northwest Ohio, Ms. Boyle said Brody might be allergic to grasses or trees more specific to Ohio, so she has made an appointment with the dermatologist to whom Dr. Soeder typically refers patients, Dr. Alice M. Jeromin, 3967 Broadview Rd., Richfield.
“Sadly, Brody has not responded to the injections as I had hoped, and now I am hopeful that Dr. Jeromin might be able to change the regimen of the serum or do something to help him out,” Ms. Boyle said. “I feel bad for him. He has cuts around and inside his ears and is missing fur on his back and legs from scratching. He takes Claritin (an over-the-counter antihistamine) in the mornings, which unfortunately only helps a little. I hated having to give Brody steroids and other medications all the time. I am concerned how those medications will affect his health as he gets older.”
While allergies rarely are life-threatening, they can be disturbing for the owner who hates seeing their pet in such discomfort, Dr. Soeder said.
Ms. Boyle agrees, adding that she would advise other pet owners not to delay seeking treatment if they suspect their pet has an allergy.
“My advice is to talk to your veterinarian right away and start the process as soon as possible to help your pet and yourself get some relief,” she said. “It is a time-consuming process. The food trial alone takes at least two months and it takes time for the shots to help, too. It is very stressful to see your pet uncomfortable all the time, so the sooner the better.”
It can take a lot of detective work to figure out exactly what is aggravating the pet, Dr. Soeder said.
“A lot of dogs will have multiple allergies, such as both inhalant/seasonal and food,” he said. “It can show up with a variable degree of itchiness, for example, it gets worse in spring and summer.”
Often pets with allergies develop secondary illnesses, such as fungal or yeast infections on the skin or in the ears, that need to be treated with antibiotics or ointments.
Despite the stress his condition has caused, Ms. Boyle doesn’t regret adopting Brody for one second.
“Brody is a very happy dog. He is loving, smart, and very friendly,” she said. “I love everything about Brody. One of my favorite things is how he always makes me smile. I love how he runs to greet me at the door after a long day and that he is pretty much always at my side. I’m very lucky to have such a good dog.”
Contact Tanya Irwin at email@example.com or 419-724-6066.