Hi, friends! Today, I wanted to share a little about our sweet boy Ruger. I missed his 1 year birthday (3.27.17) because he was at training, but I wanted to give an update on him now- especially his itching.
Here is where we left off… We were told by our vet at the time that he had Waterline Disease, which is basically a keratin production disorder that only affects black labrador retrievers. The only treatment recommended and the only treatment that seemed to work was oral steroids, so we started him on a daily prednisone regiment.
After a few months, we started researching veterinary dermatologists because he seemed to be getting slowly itchier, and we were still worried about the long term side effects of the daily steroids. We had moved regular vets whenever we brought Gump home, and he was kind enough to give us a referral to a specialist in Round Rock to get a second opinion.
So, in December, we took him down to the specialist for a consultation. The vet dermatologist walked us through all the possibilities and treatments. She felt that it was likely food allergies, environmental allergies, or a combination of both. She stated that Waterline Disease is often used as an umbrella term for allergies in black labs, and that many breeds have specific names for allergies like this. Our first steps were to do a very strict food trial, and then go from there. We left with prescription food (made from rabbits), and all his medications (heart worm and flea/tick) were flavorless. He was to have no other foods other than his prescription food and either apples, carrots, celery, or potatoes, so no treats, no table food, no anything fun for 12 weeks. She prescribed him an antihistamine (hydroxyzine), an antibiotic, and we kept using the steroid with the hope that we would eventually taper it off.
We followed up on this at 4 weeks, and he seemed to be about the same- no better, no worse. We kept up with the food trial, and tried to taper down on his steroid, but he would get progressively itchier as we tapered down, which meant it was treating everything more than we thought. We continued this for the full 12 weeks, but felt like we never noticed a change in symptoms. We were confident at this point that he has environmental allergies, most likely to weeds and grass. We discussed sending off blood for an allergen panel to do allergy shots, but after researching this option, we found that the success of allergy shots were found to be about fifty/fifty, and really expensive. Because of that, we decided to stay with the steroid, and continue researching other options.
Any time we would back off the steroid, he would begin to lose hair on his undersides and could barely move without itching. We did feel like a little of it was habit- if we distracted him, he wouldn’t scratch as much, but it was definitely still there. We narrowed down his dose to the smallest amount of prednisone that would control his symptoms, but just decided it was something we’d have to give him everyday to keep him comfortable. The week before he was headed out for training, we tried several last ditch efforts to help- an anti fungal shampoo, an antibacterial/antifungal shampoo and conditioner, some kind of crazy serum recommended in Gun Dog magazine. Nothing seemed to make a dent, so we decided to send him with the steroids to training.
At the end of February, he and Gump left off to go to formal retriever training. We discussed with our trainer that he seemed to be better when he was distracted, so we hoped he would be better while training.
Our trainer tried to taper him off a few times while there, but he began to lose hair quite a bit off his underside and in his armpits. It’s always been pretty thin under there, but he began getting basically bald spots. This spring has been particularly bad for our area as far as weeds and allergens, so we know that there is no avoiding his exposure to allergens, especially as he is out training.
We went to Dallas two weeks ago to work with the boys and found that he had quite a bit of hair loss and it seemed to be the worst it’s been. Our trainer agreed to let us take him home for a week to get a steroid (depo medrol) shot to get him through the rest of training.
While we had him home, we continued to do research on what could possibly help, and I consulted one of the places that holds vast knowledge– Facebook. Specifically, the group “Bits of Life”. This is a group of around 30,000 women from all over the world that share life, ask questions, give advice, etc. I knew there had to be other people with dogs with severe allergies, and hopefully labs with allergies, and that someone would have a good suggestion for how to work on this. Several women commented that they had dogs that switched foods and were fine, and a few more said they just got steroid shots frequently and just kept them comfortable. But one sweet person suggested just what we needed. We had decided to just get another steroid shot and hope that there would be a better answer once he came home from training. And that one sweet person slipped in a comment at the end recommending we ask our vet about Cytopoint or Apoquel. We researched this online the night before our vet appointment and felt like this might be what we were looking for.
The next day, we took him in, and our vet looked him over and agreed that the steroid shot was possibly his best option, and we discussed Apoquel (he didn’t have any experience with Cytopoint). Apoquel is basically an immunosuppressant that blocks the receptor for itching in the body. It has a quick reaction time- it begins working within 24 hours, but it also only lasts 24 hours, so it’s a daily pill. It has been in clinical trials for the last few years, and has only been widely used for about six months. Because of this, no one is sure of any long term side effects, but it has shown great success so far in dogs over a year old that have severe itching and scratching due to allergies when nothing else has worked.
So, because we weren’t really sure of side effects, our vet recommended we not start it until he was going to be home with us to watch him. He got his steroid shot, and we decided to revisit Apoquel when he came home in August.
And then we went through the weekend without any break in scratching. In the past when he’s gotten these shots, it’s like a switch flips and he stops scratching almost instantly. This didn’t seem to make a dent. So, we decided it was time to keep him home, and start Apoquel.
Steven had started his training, and felt like he could finish him up himself since it was just him. We started Apoquel a week ago (last Tuesday) and it has been amazing. He scratches occasionally (I think we are super paranoid about it at this point, so we notice it more than the average dog parents), but it is NOTHING like what we had before. His hair is starting to grow back, which is good, since he was starting to get bald spots on the outer parts of his legs as well. Obviously, we still don’t know the long term side effects, but we do know the long term side effects of the prednisone, and feel like it is worth the risk for something that is working this well. We would highly recommend asking your vet about this if you are having issues with severe allergies with your dog.
Here is our sweet boy! He’s a little over a year now, and has learned so much! He knows sit, stay, heel (here), place, kennel, and hold. He will do all of these commands without fuss, and is working to get steady to gunfire. He will retrieve blinded dummy birds from high grass/weeds and loves being outside. He is a retrieving machine, and loves being with Steven more than anything. Those two are best buds, and I love watching the two of them together. He is proud of everything Ruger can do, and I am so proud of him for working so hard with Ruger and getting him to where he is!
Linked with Erika for Tuesday Talk!