Florence originally took in Sweep from the DSPCA as a rescue puppy back in June 2002. Within a few weeks of her arrival, Sweep had started to get itchy, and by August in that year, she had to visit the vet for the itch to be sorted out.
The usual investigations and tests were done to diagnose the cause of her itchiness, ruling out common problems like fleas, mange and fungal infections. The conclusion at the end of the work-up was that she was suffering from a condition called “atopy”, which is an allergic reaction of the skin to pollens and dusts in the air. She was given the standard treatment for atopy, including regular shampoos, daily antihistamines and an anti-inflammatory tablet called prednisolone, which she takes with her food, three or four times a week. Her itch responded rapidly to the treatment.
That first time, back in 2002, Sweep’s itchiness had settled down completely at the end of the summer, and Florence hoped that perhaps it wouldn’t come back. Unfortunately, the following June, she started to itch again. She started to chew her paws, she scratched at her ears and she nibbled the inside of her legs. The skin on the underside of her belly began to look bright red and sore, as if she had been stung by nettles on her underside. Her back became scabby, and if Florence tickled her along her spine, the skin rippled, as if it was feeling intensely itchy. Her coat turned dull and greasy, with a characteristic strong fusty smell.
Sweep had to go back onto anti-allergy shampoos and medication for the warmer months of the year. That autumn, the itch again settled down completely. He skin began to look completely normal, with her usual healthy, shiny coat.
Ever since then, the same strong seasonal pattern has followed every year: Sweep starts to get a bit itchy in May and she has to go back to the vet every June, to have a quick reassessment and to pick up a prescription for her summer supply of medication. This stops the itchiness almost at once. Florence has learned that she has to keep her on the medication through till October, but at that stage, she’s able to reduce the dose and frequency of tablets and washes. By November every year, Sweep’s skin is perfect, and Florence is able to take her off all medication until the following springtime.
Some dogs suffer from itchy skin due to allergies all year round, but Sweep’s version of atopy is very time specific: she only ever gets itchy in the summer months, when there are particular pollens and dusts floating around in the air. Sweep gets itchy skin in exactly the same way as many humans suffer from hay fever. If Florence checks the pollen count in the daily Irish Meteorological Service Pollen Forecast, she’ll find that there’s a link: Sweep is more likely to feel itchy on days when the pollen count is high.
Sweep has been a remarkably healthy dog in every other way: she’s had almost no other illnesses or reasons to visit the vet. But every year in the early summer, as that pollen count begins to inch higher, Florence knows that the itchiness will start soon, and without her usual cocktail of shampoos and anti-itching tablets, Sweep will start to get uncomfortable.
- Dogs get itchy skin from pollen, just as humans get hay fever
- High pollen counts, especially in the summer, make the problem worse
- Regular shampoos and anti-inflammatory medication usually solves the problem