I believe Dogs Deserve Freedom, but what does that mean?
I've covered this topic a fair amount and generally my posts revolve around training. But what happens when a dog's health affects her freedom? I thought I would share our experiences with allergies and how they negatively affected our dog. For those of you with allergy-ridden dogs, this will probably sound pretty familiar.
(Disclaimer -- Please note that this is not an entry where I discourage any specific method of treatment, this is simply my experience. We chose not to use certain drugs and to wean off others when we were able to focus on allergen sources. As caretakers of your dog, you must make the decision that is best for him or her and you should always follow the recommendations of your veterinary practitioner. If you feel uncomfortable with your vet then go find a different one! Get a second opinion but make sure you seek our professional help.)
One of our dogs has awful allergies to just about everything. When I say awful, I mean horrible. When we first noticed our dog was excessively itchy, we took her to the vet for a check up. Finding nothing wrong after a physical check up they suggested that since she was a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix that it was probably the beginnings of an OCD. He told us the best thing to fix this would be interruption and corrections. We took her home and followed his advice (meh - we all have to start somewhere, eh? Some of our most important lessons we learn through experience).
We did as he said for a few months, but she developed the habit of hiding to itch. Everything we researched about OCD suggested that this was normal and that unless the cause was addressed, the symptoms wouldn't be resolved with interruption/prevention/correction. We tried everything we could think of to address the cause, but nothing seemed to work (different training classes, take her to work, exploring different places with her, etc). When we returned to the clinic, we were told that we weren't interrupting her properly and the offer of doggie prozac was given. We didn't like the thought of giving this to our dog, so we looked at other options.
We looked for another vet so we could have a second opinion, but by the time we found one our dog was nearly bald and had bleeding sores everywhere (we found that many vets wouldn't look at her because she was a client elsewhere - how dumb was that?). Our new vet took one look and set up a skin biopsy appointment. When the biopsy came back negative she suggested allergies and diagnosed a drug commonly used to treat allergies called Vanectyl-p.
Our dog went on Vanectyl-p at the tender age of 2. For the first while, we were just glad to have her comfortable again and followed the vet's suggestions to keep her on Vanectyl-p. Her sores healed up and her fur grew back. Her itching was nearly gone completely and she seemed so comfortable ... so we continued in bliss for a while (ignorance is bliss, you know).
When she started to gain so much weight that her face actually had rolls (yes, it was grotesque) we started to worry. Not only did she gain a huge amount of weight (going from a 55 lbs dog to a 90+ lbs dog), but she had other side effects too. She was tired and lethargic, she had difficulties controlling her bladder and would routinely wet herself in her sleep. The worst side effect was inter dog aggression. She had never been aggressive to other dogs before, but she seemed to become very agitated when other dogs were nearby. Even when they were in the same room she would put her hackles up, pace around and growl the entire time - if the other dog responded in kind sometimes our dog would lunge; other times she would hide behind us.
We weaned her off Vanectyl-p after she had been taking it for two years and determined that we would find other ways to cope with her allergies.
We planned to eliminate all allergens in her environment. That was where the real battle began. What was she allergic to?
End of part 1. Part 2 to follow another day ...