Napoleon the Itchy Beagle

Napoleon is a happy, cheeky 4 year old beagle that moved from the USA a few years ago with his parents. After moving to Australia, Napoleon’s owners noticed him developing irritations between his toes, a rash on his stomach and reoccurring ear infections. After realising these were not isolated incidents, Napoleon was brought to AdelaideVet for investigation.

Napoleon underwent his physical examination and dermatological investigation including ear smears, cytology and checking for external parasites. After taking Napoleon’s presenting history, tests results and clinical signs, a presumptive diagnosis of Atopy (allergies) was made. To determine the specific type of allergies Napoleon had, his parents opted to have an allergy blood test. The test revealed that Napoleon tested positive to 29 different allergens, including different types of grasses, trees, weeds and foods.

Allergies (Atopy or food adverse reactions) are common and complex in our pets. Allergies are a hypersensitivity reaction that an animal has to a specific stimulus (allergen). They usually present with skin or gastrointestinal irritations, including, but not limited to, puritis (scratching), ear infections, reoccurring dermatitis, hair loss or changes to faeces. These reactions can be seasonal or year round depending on the allergy. There are many predisposing factors contributing to allergies. Some include exposure to new environments, changes or problems with the microscopic skin barrier and genetics. An important thing to remember is that allergies can develop over time, this means that your pet doesn’t need exposure to anything different to become allergic.

After diagnosis and discussion of treatment plans, Napoleon’s owners decided to start him on desensitisation vaccinations and dietary modifications. These vaccinations are designed to help desensitise the body’s reactions to the allergens. They do this by slowly getting the body used to very dilute versions of the antigens in the environment. Napoleon has been on his injections for just over 2 years and they have helped a lot. Napoleon will still get an occasional “flare up” of a foot or ear irritation and requires additional medications, but the frequency has decreased a lot. Recently Napoleon has started on a new non-steroid based medication for allergic skin disease, called Apoquel, and so far his skin has been very good, keeping him very happy.

Allergic skin disease or adverse food reactions, unfortunately, can never be ‘cured’ only managed. After a diagnosis is made, there are many different treatment options available. Each patient needs to have a tailored management plan. This treatment plan may use combinations of allergy vaccinations, oral medications, washes and diets. If you pet is showing sings of skin/ear irritation, licking, scratching, they should have a dermatological assessment.

While Napoleon will never be “cured”, the consistent management and dedication of his owners means that he will be able to have a very comfortable and happy life and will continue to cause mischief and laughs for a long time.

Napoleon’s parents also have written a few words about Napoleon’s experience:

Napoleon, our 4 year old beagle, was born on November 5, 2012 in the USA. He has lived in three countries, the USA, Italy and Australia, and can understand commands in both English and Italian (although you have a better chance of him listening in Italian!). Napoleon is very curious, energetic, sweet and social. After spending his first year and a half of life living in a city apartment, he was amazed to move to Australia and have a backyard that he can run around in and explore! Napoleon is always up for an adventure. He loves to join his pet parents on road trips to explore South Australia, and some of his favourite places to visit are Sellick’s Beach for a long walk and Gouger Street for a delicious ice cream. He’s even learned to be a very well behaved boy when going out for lunch or dinner (not easy for a naturally naughty beagle!).  Napoleon also loves to spend time playing with his friends at his doggy day care, where he goes weekly. When not out exploring, you can usually find Napoleon curled up on the sofa under a blanket, cuddling , wherever he is, he always makes sure that he’s the most comfortable creature in the house.

Life hasn’t always been so easy for Napoleon, however. After we moved to Australia, our vet Stephanie diagnosed him with severe allergies. These caused him repeated double ear infections and skin problems, and would often make him bite his nails until they bled. In order to treat these, he had to take repeated doses of steroids and other medications, and would often visit the vet every few weeks for his latest flare up. After testing him for allergies, we found out the root of Napoleon’s problems – he tested positive for allergies to most of the food, grass and other environmental allergens screened for! Once we were able to identify his specific allergies, we were better able to formulate a treatment plan. Napoleon was put on a strict diet to minimise his exposure to food allergens, and we made a number of environmental adjustments to keep him more comfortable. He also began to take allergy desensitisation injections, working his way down from injections every few days to a monthly maintenance dose.

While these led to improvements, he still had flare ups of ear infections and skin problems every month or so. This is when Stephanie suggested to us that we put him on a daily dose of Apoquel, a new allergy treatment. What an amazing difference! Napoleon is like a completely different dog. During over three months of Apoquel treatment, he hasn’t had a single ear infection or skin problem, and he has completely stopped biting his nails. He is much healthier and happier, with more sheen to his coat and even more energy than before. We’d highly recommend this option for anyone who is going through a similar problem.

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