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Scratching pets may have allergies, rather than fleas

Question: I have a 3-year-old part Irish setter mixed-breed dog. He gets good care and a good diet. I wash him about twice a month with an alcohol-free shampoo.

He is mainly a house dog and there are no traces of fleas on him. But he continually scratches. _ E. S., Spring Hill

Question: We have a beautiful Cairn terrier mixed with Yorkshire. She has very dry skin, according to our veterinarian. We have tried different shampoos, as well as monthly injections.

The shots don't seem to last too long and the poor thing is scratching again. _ J. M., Palm Harbor

Answer: Other than routine health care, the No. 1 reason dog owners seek help from their veterinarians is for itching/scratching.

The most common causes of itching in dogs are allergies, either to fleas or other external parasites, inhalation of pollens, food allergies or, occasionally, contact with wool blankets, feather pillows, etc.

Treatment involves frequent baths (at least once weekly) with a shampoo recommended by your veterinarian. Some dogs require flea shampoo, others may need an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-seborrheic or hypoallergenic shampoo.

Antihistamines, particularly ones that act on the central nervous system to reduce the "itch reflex," may be useful. Fatty acid dietary supplements, high in Vitamin E and omega fatty acids, also help relieve itching and supply necessary oils for dry skin. Your veterinarian can provide you with fatty acid supplements.

Topical medications for itching and dry skin include oil-free humectants and oil-based conditioners, both available from your local veterinary clinic.

Anti-inflammatory agents, in the form of injections, tablets, liquid and topical preparations, are the most effective medications. They should be used at the smallest dose and the least frequent interval possible, since they have multiple side effects and become less effective with long-term use.

Skin testing for allergies and subsequent hypo-sensitization is the safest and best long-term control of itching from inhalant allergies (such as pollens).

Hypoallergenic diet trials are required to rule out food allergies. Flea allergies are controlled best by eliminating fleas from the animal's environment.

In summary, allergies in dogs are difficult to treat and usually require some or all of these measures for most of the dog's life.

Allergies cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. Source: R.T. (Bill) Goldston, D.V.M., St. Petersburg.

Feline diarrhea

Question: My cat has had diarrhea for almost two years. He has had all of his shots and eats well (both canned and dry food). Exploratory surgery found nothing wrong.

He has been examined for internal parasites. He currently gets one tablet of Prednisone and one-quarter tablet of Flagyl every other day.

He has even gotten an injection of Depo-Medrol and has been given Reglan. So far, nothing has helped.

He still has diarrhea and uses his litter box four or five times a day. _ J. S., Clearwater

Answer: A variety of things can cause diarrhea and/or vomiting in cats. The problem could be an infectious agent, either bacterial, fungal or parasitic (including some parasites not routinely tested for) or an inflammatory condition resulting from food hypersensitivity, hair irritation (if the cat ingests a lot of hair), abnormal growths (not necessarily malignant) or a hypersensitivity to the animal's normal intestinal bacteria.

A repeat biopsy and repeat cultures, plus multiple parasite exams could prove helpful. The animal's diet should be examined as a possible cause. Diarrhea is not always a primary intestinal problem.

It can be the result of some other disease process, such as kidney failure. An extensive work-up to determine if your cat's diarrhea is secondary to some other illness or condition should be considered. Source: Gary Oswald, D.V.M., Largo.

Correcting hip dysplasia

Question: My 11-month-old Labrador retriever has dysplasia in both hips. My veterinarian told me about three procedures that could be done to correct the condition.

Two involved artificial bones. The procedure he recommended was to remove the ball joint completely.

What can you tell me about the success rate of this procedure? _ L. B., St. Petersburg

Answer: Canine hip dysplasia is a developmental disease of dogs in which the ball-and-socket joint does not fit together properly, leading to joint instability and pain from several causes, including tiny fractures where the loose ball hits the rim of the socket, inflammation, torn muscles, a torn joint capsule and, ultimately, osteoarthritis.

Treatment may consist of limited exercise, limited but adequate nutrition and pain relievers. If this does not provide sufficient improvement, then surgical correction is the best option.

The surgical goal is to relieve pain by eliminating abnormal bone contact and creating a new smooth joint surface.

The procedure that has been recommended for your dog is used primarily in cases that do not respond to medical management and for dogs who are not candidates for more extensive reconstructive surgery (total hip replacement).

It is an excellent procedure for small and medium dogs, and can be used with success in large breeds, as well. It can be done on both hips but not at the same time.

Rehabilitation will take many weeks to months, with some loss of mobility. However, pain is greatly reduced and exercise tolerance will return to near normal levels.

Another surgical procedure that can be performed on dogs under a year old is a triple pelvic osteotomy. This involves surgically manipulating the pelvis to permanently reorient the hip joints. Source: Richard F. Brancato, D.V.M, Clearwater.

Send questions to ASK-A-VET, Pinellas Animal Foundation, P.O. Box 47771, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-7771 or call 347-PETS.