Live and Learn
. . . and your next dog will benefit even more.
For months now, I’ve been planning and thinking about and making notes for “Itching to Be Well,” the article about canine allergies that I wrote for this issue. My last dog, a Border Collie named Rupert, has been on my mind as I’ve been working on the article. Rupe was itchy most of his life, and though I became aware early on that he had a severe hypersensitivity to flea bites – the bite of a single flea could turn him into an obsessively scratching, chewing, red, irritated mess within hours – it took me almost a decade to discover that he also was allergic to chicken.
How could it take me that long? Rupert was seven or eight years old when I was asked to edit the inaugural issue of Whole Dog Journal, an incredible (to me!) 14 years ago. I came to the publication from a career editing horse magazines; I was a rather average dog owner at the time. I knew enough to understand that there was some connection between his food and his health, but not enough to diligently record what was in the foods and treats I bought for him, or what sort of response he had to them. Sometimes he was itchier than other times; I wasn’t sure why. When his chewing and scratching got severe, and he mutilated himself in an effort to stop the itching, I’d take him to the vet for some steroids. That cortisone is a real miracle drug.
Please don’t judge me! I didn’t know better – and I have to say, none of the veterinarians I brought Rupert to (for his occasional steroid shots and pills) said much to educate me about what else I could be doing to identify the substances that were torturing my dog, so that I could better manage Rupert’s exposure to them. That is, until I started editing this journal and visiting a different type of veterinarian.
Holistic vets! I wasn’t in Kansas anymore! (Metaphorically speaking, of course; there are actually some great holistic vets in Kansas.) The first holistic vet I took Rupert to was the first vet I ever met who didn’t want to vaccinate my dog for something; in fact, he suggested that Rupe not be vaccinated again at all until we improved his health. What was he talking about? Rupert was a healthy dog; he just had these weird itching fits, so much so that he’d start a “hot spot” and need antibiotics. And he did have a lot of ear infections, but that’s just life, right?
Well, this is just embarrassing. Suffice it to say that I know better now. I know enough to be really worried about my dog Otto, because in the past week, he’s suddenly started licking himself a lot, and all over. He’s been mildly itchy in the spring since I adopted him almost three years ago, but this is definitely a new behavior. I suspect atopy, an allergy to something in the environment – probably tree pollen. I’m giving him a bath tomorrow, and have an appointment to see our vet later this week (it won’t be for steroids).
Rupe, I’m dedicating this issue to your memory. Thanks for the education; sorry I was so slow.