Thursday, September 3rd9.6°C
Dr. Moshe Oz

Allergic reaction to insects

Camping season is in its prime. I am always fascinated how the nature of many of the cases I treat in my clinic is directly related to the season. With our patients running around in nature, naked, and fascinated by all things moving, insect bite allergic reactions are a familiar presentation for vets. Many of these unfortunate encounters between the family pet and the insect happen on a camping vacation, when naturally the variety of insects encountered is larger. However, a severe, acute allergic reaction can happen on the daily walk or even in the back yard.  Our desired area of living, with the hot weather and variety of greenery and fruits growing everywhere, is also popular amongst these pests. The list of the potential harmful insects is too long to mention in full but the most common pests that affect house pets are: bees, wasps, ants, biting flies and spiders.

An allergic reaction is actually the body’s defence reaction, that is out of control. When the pet’s body comes into contact with allergenic insect, the body recognizes it as a foreign material, triggering the immune system to react to this “invader”. Why this reaction goes overboard, impacting the pets in such tremendous way is still unclear.  

Due to the pets nature to explore things with their nose, most of the reaction usually starts with a significant swelling of the face, usually around the muzzle, eyes and even the ears. The swelling is typically accompanied by intense itchiness and redness of the skin. The skin redness is easily noticeable in the inner side of the ears, where the skin is apparent.

The reaction may also manifest systemically, affecting the whole body. This case is known as Urticaria and it is characterized by eruption of skin lumps, initially close to the bite site, then spreading over the body. These lumps are easily visible in slick coated dogs, however may go unnoticed if covered by long hair. Beside the dramatic physical symptoms of the face swelling and the skin lumps, pet owners will easily notice the mental changes in their pet. This kind of allergic reaction is very irritating and accompanied by signs of restlessness and distress. The pet will typically rub itself intensively and cry or yelp continuously. Beside the great inconvenience to the pet, other more serious complications may arise.

Severe swelling of the face and neck may lead to breathing difficulties.  This complication is not very common, however, it is important to be aware of it because the outcome can be tragic. Brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Boxers, Pekingeses, Persian cats and more, that have “squashed” faces are at most risk to be seriously impacted. These breeds have such crowded throats, they can barely breathe when healthy, and any acute allergic reaction in short-faced pets should be considered a potential emergency.

Many pets owners are not in a hurry to go to the vet. If you look online you’ll find DIY advice on these kind of reactions. I have to admit that I am not a fan of any DIY attempts when it comes to pets. Many people will go straight to human Antihistamines (Benadryl). I don’t find this medication helpful when given on its own, let alone the dose adjustments from human to pets, and the side effects that may arise with errors in that area.

Most cases of insects borne allergies are fairly easy to treat if other severe complications have not occurred. Most veterinarians will suppress the allergic reaction by using steroids either on their own or by incorporating steroids with antihistamines. In most simple cases of allergic reactions, a single treatment, or a short course over few days of treatment is sufficient in completely eliminating all the symptoms. In severe cases, where there is a potential life threatening complication, the pet may be required to be hospitalized for intensive treatment.  Luckily these cases are not the majority. In any event, if your pet is showing any of the mentioned symptoms, I strongly recommend that you seek a veterinary assessment which will restore your pet's comfort and the peace in your house.   


For those of you unfortunate enough to have suffered from an ear infection, you know how terrible the pain and discomfort can be associated with ear aches. So can you imagine having tiny creatures living in your ear canal, constantly causing itchiness and inflammation?

One, or probably even the most common cause of ear infections in cats are ear mites. Ear mites are parasites that are called Otodectes cynotis. They live in the ear canal and feed by piercing the skin.

Ear mite infestation is a very common problem in cats. Unfortunately most cats that are adopted from animal shelters, or even cats with an indoor/outdoor lifestyle, will contract ear mites at some point in their lives. Ear mites spread rapidly and can be transmitted by even brief, physical contact with other animals. In pets, ear mites most commonly affect cats, ferrets, and to a lesser extent, dogs.

Ear mites are a serious problem and are deeply distressing and uncomfortable for your pet.

Infestation usually occurs in both ears and can cause intense irritation. Scratching, rubbing the ear, head shaking and ear twitching are the most frequent signs exhibited by affected cats. The degree of itching varies among individual cats.  Very commonly I find hair loss and damage of the skin behind the ears and on the neck due to the intense scratching. The most typical appearance of ear mite infestation is the presence of dark brown-blackish dry or waxy discharge in the ears. Many people are not aware of ear mites and their symptoms and mistakenly think that this discharge is just dirt.

If left untreated, ear mite infestation can spread to other parts of the body, or spread deeper into the ear, jeopardizing the ear drum integrity and putting the animal at risk of deafness.

Occasionally, a blood vessel in the ear can rupture due to the frequent head shaking, leading to a swelling that results from the blood accumulation. This condition is called Aural hematoma and requires surgical drainage.

Ear mites are diagnosed very easily by a microscopic exam of the discharge from the ear. This exam can be done in any veterinary facility, does not require sedation or anesthesia, only takes few minutes, reveals immediate results and is very affordable.  

Once the diagnosis of ear mites is established, the best course of action is to thoroughly clean the animal’s ears. The medication for ear mites comes in few different options of topical drops applied on the skin or directly into the ear canal.  Treatment should be repeated after one month to kill the next generation of mites that will have hatched by then. Relief, in terms of the animal no longer scratching at its ears, will be noticeable within a few hours.

Ear mites can be prevented by applying a topical product monthly against parasites and heartworm. Because ear mites are transmitted so easily from one animal to another, if one animal has it then all the other animals in the household should be treated as well.

Quite commonly I see people attempt to treat a problem at home based on advice from the Internet. I always recommend to my clients to be cautious about using the Internet for medical advice. Beside not knowing the source’s credibility, you should know that in some instances home remedies may cause other medical problems. It is always safer to receive professional veterinarian advice that includes a thorough exam, an accurate diagnosis and prescribing the medication that is best suitable for your pet’s individual condition.

Marijuana intoxication in pets

It was 4 AM and I was finally sleeping after a very busy weekend at the hospital when I got a phone call on my emergency line from a panicked dog owner. The owners are a young, bubbly couple.  They had just finished partying when they noticed their 10 month old puppy was acting very strangely. The dog suddenly became apathetic, non reactive, was stumbling and couldn’t bear weight and stand up, let alone walk. The oddest symptom of all was the dog's hunched back and his inability to control urination. The owners were terrified and had no clue what had happened to their dog. They left him in my safe hands to run some tests. 

Basic laboratory tests of the blood and urine did not reveal any remarkable abnormalities. Since I’ve seen numerous cases that were similar, before I proceeded to perform more expensive tests I called the owners and asked whether there was a chance that the dog had been exposed to Marijuana. The owners were shocked by my suggestion and they denied it completely. It was clear that the dog’s nervous system had been injured. My concern and aim was to locate the damage and assess its extent. X-rays showed no damage to the dog's vertebral column. I called the owners again and after gaining their trust they finally hesitantly admitted that there were some cookies containing pot at their party and yes, four cookies were missing. This information shed light on the dog’s condition and allowed me to treat him accordingly. The dog consumed an overdose 10 times larger than what is considered safe for his weight. The dog reached full recovery after spending  two days in the veterinary hospital.

Smoking illegal substances is one’s personal choice. It is natural to assume that weed smoking people exclude their under age children from the situation, and prohibit their access to the drugs. Pets are very similar to young children in many aspects. They also are very curious, they test everything by mouth and they have no good judgement whatsoever. This is very important to remember and you should protect your pets from substances that may harm them. Marijuana intoxication is quite common in pets, especially dogs. The drug affects the animal's nervous system and manifests by a very wide range of symptoms including depression, wobbliness, aggression, hallucinations, seizures and even coma. One of the most common phenomenon I’ve seen in these intoxication incidents is alternating episodes of depression and then excitement in which the dog seems normal to the owners. Other symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea may also appear.

There are specific tests that can detect the drug in the blood and urine, but in most of the cases the diagnosis is determined by the symptoms and the information given by the owner.  

Tell your vet if your pet may have been exposed to marijuana. YOUR VET IS NOT OBLIGATED TO INFORM THE POLICE. Your vet’s main priority is the pet’s care and well being. Sharing the information with your vet will allow your animal to receive the right treatment promptly and will save you time and money. The treatment of marijuana intoxication is only supportive. There is no antidote for marijuana. If the animal gets to the vet within 30 minutes from the drug ingestion, vomiting can be induced. After 30 minutes from the ingestion the drug absorbency can be prevented and measures are taken to decrease the effect of the drug to a minimum. This can be done by feeding the pet active charcoal which binds to the drug and inhibits absorption.  Fluids are also administered by IV. With the right treatment most animals will make a full recovery.

Remember, your vet is on your side. The vet’s job is not to judge you so disclosing all the information is crucial for your pet’s best medical care.

Behavioral problems in dogs

Back in history it was very uncommon for people to take medication for mental issues. People that were treated medically were considered crazy. Going to a psychiatrist was the last resort and was done secretly and accompanied by feelings of of shame.

Nowadays things have changed, people are aware of the importance of good mental health. Our modern society is striving to improve the quality of life, hence there is an increase in the number of people seeking help and counseling.

Today it is common and legitimate to use medications not only for severe mental problems but even for mild mood disorders. Today, depression and anxiety and other mental disorders are talked about openly and the medications for such issues are not considered different than any other medications taken for any other medical problem.

Veterinary medicine has also changed and developed over the years. We now know that pets also suffer from mental problems that alter their own lives along with their owner’s life. Many of the dog's behavioural disorders are misinterpreted by the owners as mischief. This behaviour usually annoys and aggravates their owners. This results in an anger reaction of the owner that may exacerbate the dog’s problem.  This vicious cycle can be resolved by understanding the dog’s behaviour and the management options.

The most common behavioural problem in dogs is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs is usually manifested by destructive and inappropriate behaviour when the dog gets left alone even in a familiar environment.  The most common complaints I hear from owners are that the dog constantly howls, barks or whines, destroys by chewing various objects in the house including furniture, doors and windows. Some dogs urinate and defecate in the house despite being house trained. These dogs will usually express extreme excitement when the owner returns home.

This condition is extremely irritating for the dog’s owner but it is crucial to understand the nature of this behaviour. These are symptoms of severe stress. Dogs are social creatures, they consider the family as their “pack” in which they are an equal member. It is not natural for dogs to be separated from their owners and some dogs get very distressed by it. When they express destructive behaviour it is not done out of vindictiveness, it is their way of trying to free themselves. Soiling the house may represent a sign of severe emotional distress.

Because we can not converse with the dog, the diagnosis of separation anxiety is tentative and is done by ruling out other medical problems that may result in a similar behaviour. Puppies may show destructive behaviour as a part of teething and not due to separation anxiety.

Punishing the dog will not help to solve the problem. On the contrary, when you punish your dog when you return home, it may associate the punishment with your return rather than with the mischief it caused. This may stress it even more when you leave home the next time.

The management of this condition is not straightforward. This problem will not go away on its own. It requires perseverance in a process that is meant to ensure the dog that when you are leaving you are not deserting it and you will be back. I strongly recommend to the owners of dogs who suffer from behavioural problems to consult a behavioural specialist. The treatment process usually involves desensitization training in which the dog learns to cope with periods of separation that are gradually extended. It is also important to create a safe area for the dog  in which it will feel secure and its ability to cause damage will be limited. The key is to confine the dog without making it feel isolated.  Leaving an object with your smell such as shirt may help the dog feel closer to you.  

Behavioural modifications are available for dogs. These medications are similar to human antidepressants and anxiolytics. Most people find these medications very effective in reducing their dog’s stress level without sedating them.

Another common mental problem is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This is a repetitive behaviour. It can range anywhere between constantly running back and forward on the exact same path up to a destructive behaviour of either animate objects or even themselves (obsessive licking for an example). Some of these obsessive behaviours can be harmless, but in other cases they can be successfully managed with medical treatment.

Owning a dog with a behavioural disorder will affect both the dog’s and the owner's quality of life. There is no need to suffer any longer. If your dog is trashing your house or showing other mischievous behaviour, it is not done necessarily to spite you, it is very possibly a call for help.

Read more Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna. Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is Internal medicine and surgery. In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website:

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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