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Q: I'd like to know if dogs can get allergies like I have that cause my nose to run and eyes to water?

A: The allergies you refer to are inhalant allergies called atopy and cause dogs to get itchy skin. They will spend a lot of time licking and chewing their paws, scratching their flanks, and rubbing on the carpet or furniture. Respiratory and eye symptoms will be present occasionally. Some dogs don't show any symptoms other than recurring ear infections.

Symptoms are typically worse during the seasonal changes of spring and fall, though some dogs are affected year-round. Dogs react to the same allergens as people: grass, tree and weed pollens and molds. Symptomatic treatment aimed at decreasing the itchiness can be helpful and may be all that's necessary. These include antihistamines and oatmeal-based baths. Like people, dogs have individual responses to antihistamines, some working better than others or not at all. Omega 3 fatty acids can decrease skin inflammation and are sometimes helpful in making other therapies work more effectively. Corticosteroids are used for their potent anti-inflammatory effects, but because steroids have many side effects, they should be used at the lowest possible dosage and duration. Your veterinarian can often determine what your dog is allergic to with a skin or blood test. With a specific diagnosis, your veterinarian can help your dog avoid the allergens or at least lessen your pet's exposure.

D. Jeff Pollard, DVM

Time to be spayed

Q: My 7-month-old female cat has become so affectionate lately. She is constantly meowing for attention, lifting up her hind end and rolling on her back. Should I be worried that there is something wrong with her? Is she trying to tell me something?

A: Given her age and behavior, my guess that she is trying to tell you that it is time for her to be spayed. What you describe is typically called "coming into heat." By "heat" I mean that she is exhibiting behavior indicating that she is (or is about to be) sexually receptive to male cats (or "toms"). Female house cats typically have their first heat between 5 and 9 months of age, but it can come as early as 3 1/2 months or as late as 18 months of age in rare circumstances. Cats in heat will exhibit a variety of behaviors including rubbing their faces on objects, rolling on their backs, purring, stretching, kneading their paws, lifting their hind ends, vocalizing and even urine spraying. During this time, she is fertile (or can become pregnant) and will often try to escape from the house in search of toms or may breed with intact males in your own household (even her own littermates).

I encourage all clients to spay (or neuter) their cats between 4 and 6 months of age. Not only will spaying stop her overly affectionate behavior, she will also be a healthier pet as spaying reduces the occurrence of life-threatening diseases such as mammary cancer and uterine infection. By spaying her, you will be doing your part toward reducing feline overpopulation as well, which is an enormous problem in Buffalo and the surrounding communities.

Timm Otterson, DVM

Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 403, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052-0403. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.

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