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Helping with Potential Flea Allergy

We are originally from Ohio but have been living in various states for the past three years. I noticed that Nicky, my 7 year old Cav, would have a hard time with itching, usually in the latter part of summer. I've always been able to mediate it with coconut oil and an oatmeal bath here and there. It does seem to be worse when we're in Ohio but it's hard to say if that's the state or the sheer fact that he didn't get a huge amount of actual grass time in Boston. Most of the walks were full of small patches and concrete. But we moved back to a very rural area of Ohio and since then his allergies have been just about unbearable for all of us. He was diagnosed with MVD in May so we have been in and out of vet and cardiologist appointments. Our last visit was with a new homeopathic vet in the area in the hopes of actually getting some help with cardiac supplements (his cardiologist and previous vets were unwilling to advise us since there is no "evidence"). Of course about a week after this appointment he started itching like crazy. In the past we have used Revolution but only here and there because fleas haven't been a huge problem. But then I started seeing the research about the pesticide treatments so I started Wondercide this season. It seemed to be working well until about 3 weeks ago, when he really started itching. I tried a good bath and then very thoroughly cleaned the apartment. He was fine until we went outside again, when he promptly started itching again. I've been really worried about the extra stress on his heart so I relented and bought Advantix. That has helped marginally but from what I understand, it only kills the flea after 8-24 hours and this is plenty of time for him to start itching again. I'm getting the impression that fleas are atrocious in our area because he seems to get a new flea every time he goes outside. I've tried brushing him with a flea comb but I can never find a flea. He has very thick hair and it seems like a needle in a haystack. I would be leaning more towards some sort of allergen in the grass but I have found fleas on his belly, when he's been laying on his back in bed.

I'm just really at a loss for what else to do. Right now he's obviously still protected by the Advantix and then I also started spraying on the Wondercide in the morning in an attempt for it to act as a repellant. I also give him coconut oil once a day hoping that it will help prevent his skin from getting as irritated. He doesn't have any major sores but his thighs are red and the front parts of his legs, where they meet his chest are irritated. Does anyone have a method they use that is effective?
Unfortunately, with this breed, any ongoing itching, especially when not responding over time, has to raise the issue of the possibility of syringomyelia, as studies indicate probably 70% of cavaliers will have it by the time they are around age 7+. The most consistent misdiagnosis from vets is allergies, ear infections or fleas/mites. One neurologist says because of this, it can take around 20-3 years for a dog to get the correct diagnosis.

I suspect this may be the issue. A referral to a neurologist would probably be a good idea at this point as you've been trying unsuccessfully to treat something that shouldn't be this difficult to treat. Scratching is the most common symptom of SM. It can appear on and off.

There's more info on the site here pinned in the SM/MVD section, in the health library section, at www.cavalierhealth.org, at www.smcavaliers.com, at www.cavaliermatters.org and in the SM section of neurologist/top researcher Dr Clare Rusbridge's website: http://www.veterinary-neurologist.co.uk/.

Maybe have a look at those and see what you think. Perhaps some of the other symptoms will also sound familiar. Many of us here have cavalier with this condition -- nearly every one of mine has it or had it. Of my 6 cavaliers, 5 definitely have it. So many of us here can answer any questions if you find you might be dealing with SM.

Perhaps this is definitely an allergy, but think it might be a good idea to at least make sure your vet is aware of SM and symptoms. I wonder if trialling the SM meds on Dr Rusbridge's treatment algorithm on her site would be an idea, as if he responds to those, then you will know this is likely neurological rather than an allergy or fleas.

If this is indeed due to fleas, I think you will need to use something that is effective for him such as advantix or one of the other vet-prescribed meds like bravecto. Some dogs get fleas that don;t respond to advantix. Perhaps you will also need to consider cutting his coat and using a flea comb daily. Maybe others have some ideas too.
Thanks for the response. I can definitely bring it up to my vet and I have been watchful for the condition since we've had him since I know it's common in the breed. I'm hesitant to think that it's SM because he does not have symptoms any other time of the year and it's consistently been in the July/August months. I've also found fleas on him. I think the Advantix works to kill them just not in time for it to not irritate him. He's also much less concerned with his head than with other parts. I know the symptoms list the tail area also but he is mainly concerned with his tail area and his ribs, only rarely itching his ears. He doesn't seem distressed or in pain in the way that the SM symptoms state, like whining, but more that he's annoyed that something is biting him. But since it is a common diagnosis, I can talk to the vet about it for sure.
It may be fleas, or possibly SM, but there are also many other things that cause dogs to scratch - my vet when I lived in South Africa said he'd found more than 50 - from creosote on fences to couch grass! There may simply be a wild plant in Ohio that is causing irritation when it is at the height of its growth in August. If you can get rid of the fleas and Nicky still scratches, it would be worth you and your vet looking at other environmental causes of the scratching. I had a Cavalier with SM who normally only scratched when excited about going for a walk, but got itchy on his tummy in the summer from some kind of allergy - probably a particular variety of grass. Good hunting to find the cause!

Kate and Ruby
I took Nicky to the vet on Saturday and she found staph infection on his belly. It had been red for a few days but was worse that morning and looked more like sores. She guessed that his skin was irritated from an allergy he had and that he scratched it and acquired the infection. So she prescribed him ciprofloxacin every 12 hours for the staph and then hydroxyzine (anti-histamine) 2-3 times a day for any allergies that could be happening, either from the fleas or the environment. She was concerned about doing any sort of steroid since it could throw off his fluid balance, which would be bad for his heart. It's been like night and day since then. He starts to itch a little when the anti-histamine starts to wear off (about 7 hours after taking) but then he calms down within about a half hour of me giving him the next dose. I saw one person say that she uses wet wipes when she comes in from outside in order to remove allergens so I'm going to look for some sort of wipes (maybe with Vitamin E?) when I go to the store today. It looks like we will just have to be vigilant about it in the next month or so.

I have been watching videos and researching SM and it seems like he occasionally scratches his ears like in one of the videos. I always assumed it was itchy from a knot. For now I'm going to closely monitor him to make sure I don't see any signs and then I'll be sure to get him to a neurologist if I do.

Luckily, he's back to his lazy afternoons:
Just to add you may want to consider taking him to a canine dermatologist especially given the staph infection, as it could be other seasonal allergies (instead of or in addition to fleas). My sister had her dog tested and now is taking allergy drops daily to help him build a response to his allergens. (the equivalent of human allergy shots). While he is taking the drops, he's also taking Apoquel for the allergies and it is really helping him. The idea of the drops is to eventually have him be comfortable without the apoquel. Your dermatologist would work with your cardiologist in determining the proper protocol with any heart condition your dog might have.
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We use K9AdvantixII and it works like a charm. I apply three or four days before or after bath. Our Sophie never bites at fleas, so they might not even bite her. This time of year, though, I suspect Sophie has grass allergy, especially once the Bermuda grass sends up its seed spikes. This is the only time Sophie has itchies, and it's mostly around her feet.

Our vet has told us it is safe to apply the K9AdvantixII every two or three weeks if necessary. So far, we only had one season like that! I prefer to keep the chemicals to a minimum.

Our Shih Tzu, Alex, often had the staph infections this time of year, on his belly area, in spite of a puppy cut to keep hair short. We never knew if it was grass (like Sophie) or some sort of mold in the grasses from humidity and rain. He spent almost every late summer & autumn on a prednisone steroid, as it was his only source of relief. He was on Enelapril for heart murmur, and there was no issue of drug interaction with the steroid. Often when Alex had the staph infections, our vet and groomer would tell me they were seeing a lot of it at that time of year.

As a last resort, you might consider spraying your yard with an effective pesticide. And keep the dog in the yard and not walks where fleas can jump on from other lawns. While it kills the good insects in the soil, it might be worth it for relief. If done regularly and the problem persists, then you'll know you're dealing with allergy.

I'm so sorry you've having to deal with this, as it does get maddening.
Unfortunately, we live in an apartment complex so we don't have any control over pesticide application. I would be a little concerned about them putting something down that has been irritating him but he's done this just about every summer and we've lived in many different apartments and states. The antibiotic has successfully gotten rid of the staph infection so now it's just a matter of getting past this period with the anti-histamines.

Going to a dermatologist and increasing his tolerance sounds pretty amazing at this point. The anti-histamines have made a huge difference but he still itches towards the end of the dose and when the new dose hasn't kicked in yet.

I've read that probiotics can be helpful so I went to PetPeople today and spoke to them about their options. They recommended a goat's milk that they carry. I think I'm going to try that out but it was $12 for what will likely last a week so I may try goat's milk yogurt after this runs out.
FYI: Look into The Honest Kitchen. They sell a powdered goats milk probiotic that may be a little easier on your wallet.
Good to know! I'll definitely look into it.

Here's a link http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/pro-bloom#customer-reviews

Their food is good too. My Lucky had constant digestive issues until we found The Honest Kitchen (we refer to it as THK), and my dear Sparky, a puppy mill rescue is thriving on it at 9 years old (no heart murmur either). Anyway, just some options for you but I highly recommend them. You can also call them if you have a dog with a special needs diet and their staff will talk with you or make recommendations. Good luck.
well yesterday was a bad day and it looks like today will be worse. I'm not sure if he's having a bad reaction to the goat's milk or the allergens are worse. We had quite a bit of rain over the weekend and the weather finally cleared up on Sunday. I held off on the goat's milk with his breakfast and I'm going to give him a bath this morning. I'm starting to think I'm going to have to go ahead and try the steroids but the vet has me a little wary since she said it make affect his heart. I also am stressed that he has undiagnosed SM but since the antihistamines seemed to work well for a week then it surely has to be allergies, at least with the main itching. I'm just really at a loss on what else to do :(
I gave him a bath using my usual all natural oatmeal/aloe shampoo and mixed in a little bit of my vitamin E oil. It did seem to moisturize a little since my own hands feel a little less dry and his fur felt a little silkier as I washed. I did find a single flea at the base of his tail. I believe it was almost dead so it's possible it got on him yesterday and hadn't been killed by the Advantix yet. I feel like I'm failing massively at finding fleas on him but hopefully now that I got it off the anti-histamines can fight the reaction.
Could your house be infested with fleas? Even the best housekeeper can have an infestation from one flea carried in on a dog. I doubt this has happened, because you would have little flea bites on your ankles, and you would notice them, but it is something to consider. Is the dog's bed washable?

If the K9AdvantixII is not working, perhaps try another product?

I also give him coconut oil once a day hoping that it will help prevent his skin from getting as irritated.
For what it's worth, the dog might be allergic to the coconut oil. A few years ago, our Sophie had horrible itching. Even the Rx antihistamines were no help. I finally asked myself, "What has changed in her routine or diet recently?" I had started adding a very good grade of olive oil to her diet, hoping to help her coat and skin. Duh! Once I stopped the olive oil, the massive itching stopped. One just never knows what the trigger is. So, our dog is allergic to EVOO, of all things. Well, she's allergic to a lot of other foods and such, but, really, olive oil? Gah......
I'm pretty sure I've given him coconut oil in the past without him having any sort of reaction but it is worth a shot to discontinue it for now. I don't think there are fleas in our apartment and if there are, there's not very many. When he first started itching and I found the fleas then I totally swept the apartment and washed all of our bedding. Then I gave him a bath. I was even overly paranoid and progressively moved him room to room so that he was never in a clean room before I gave him the bath. That did seem to help until we outside again. Then the itching started back up again.

I'm just so stressed out trying to discern an allergy from SM and am starting to think that I should go to a neurologist just for my sanity. I can't stand the thought of him continuing to be in pain, especially since I likely missed symptoms for quite some time. I just don't think his symptoms are severe enough to judge SM without an MRI and we don't have insurance for him.
I'm just so stressed out trying to discern an allergy from SM and am starting to think that I should go to a neurologist just for my sanity. I can't stand the thought of him continuing to be in pain, especially since I likely missed symptoms for quite some time. I just don't think his symptoms are severe enough to judge SM without an MRI and we don't have insurance for him.

It might be worth it to have him checked. From time to time, Sophie will yelp when touched around the ears or neck. I finally had our vet refer us to a local neurologist, for my own peace of mind. They did a complete check of her and said they truly doubted she had PSOM or SM/CM. They said they could do an MRI if I really really wanted one, but they didn't think it was necessary. We did not get the MRI, as those answers were enough for me. And Sophie has been fine since then, too. We worry so much about the possible problems that, as my mother said, it's worth spending the money just for peace of mind.

Some dogs are highly allergic to flea bites, and perhaps yours is one of them. Let's hope it is that and nothing more serious.
I'm just so stressed out trying to discern an allergy from SM and am starting to think that I should go to a neurologist just for my sanity. I can't stand the thought of him continuing to be in pain, especially since I likely missed symptoms for quite some time. I just don't think his symptoms are severe enough to judge SM without an MRI and we don't have insurance for him.

I think that may be the way you want to go. You may end up in a situation like Waldor where you don't need an MRI, but if that's the case great.

I always suspected that something was wrong with my Lucky, but the signs seem so subtle and good friends who knew him well and know Cavaliers assured me they really didn't think he had anything wrong with him. Then seeming out of nowhere he developed mystery symptoms of drooling and dry eye that turned out to be linked to PSOM. He never had any major symptoms. A yelp occasionally if I touched his ear the wrong way but I just didn't think anything of it. He was also a very quiet reserved dog which also had me think something wasn't right as most Cavaliers are so social and friendly.

If there is one thing I have learned about Cavaliers is you have to advocate for them. See a specialist if your normal vet can't solve something. and see a different specialist if things just don't seem right with the diagnosis of the Neurologist. (my Lucky was MRI'd with an ear full of something and the neurologist sent us home with antibiotics for an ear infection, not even mentioning PSOM!)

Anyway, my advice is go with your gut. Good luck.
We just made it back from the vet. She was very confident that we aren't dealing with SM because she couldn't find any painful spots on him anywhere. She also found a super itchy spot at his lower back that she said it common in dogs with a flea allergy. I know that vets aren't the greatest at detecting SM so my plan for now is to make it past the next month or so when the seasonal allergies with dissipate and then watch for anything worrisome. I am confident that it's allergies and think I may have freaked a little over SM since I'm still coming to grips with his MVD diagnosis. She did switch his flea and tick to Bravecto since I heard that Advantix is troublesome for neurological problems, just in case.