In our weekly Ask A Vet series, Pawp interviews Dr. Laura Robinson on Instagram Live about pet care during Coronavirus, dealing with allergy season, and more. The questions we asked came from the Facebook group Pets Health In Quarantine. If you'd like a vet to answer your questions, join the group and post. This interview has been transcribed and edited for length and clarity.
Meet the vet.
I'm Dr. Laura Robinson, I'm a small animal vet in Rancho Santa Margarita in California. I went to Western University of Health Sciences for my veterinary graduate school career and before that I went to UC Santa Barbara. So I mainly see dogs and cats, but I do see the occasional rabbit or bird.
We'll get started with a couple of questions about the recent pandemic. Is it currently safe to take your pet to the vet?
For the most part, I would try and not go if you're able to. For routine visits, for example, if you're due for your annual exam, holding off on things like that for a month or two won't hurt your pet. Obviously, if there's something wrong, or your dog or cat is sick, you should definitely take them because you don't want to wait too long while things get worse. Some hospitals have closed down, but I think most are trying to keep everyone safe as much as possible.
If it's not super urgent, I would try and put it off. But if your dog is vomiting, has diarrhea, or seems sick and is not eating, I wouldn't wait on that. If your dog ate something it shouldn't have, those are all emergencies and the longer you wait, the worse it can get. It's a scary time, but you don't want to lose your dog because you waited too long to take him in.
How can you make a trip to the vet as safe as possible?
When you make an appointment with your vet, I would ask them what kind of things they're doing at the hospital and make sure they're following the main recommendations. That's the main thing. At my hospital, I would say, all of us our wearing masks all day long, wearing gloves all day long. We actually are keeping our door shut, so we're seeing only drop-off appointments. Maybe you can see if that's an option with your vet.
You get there, you give them a call... we've been having our technicians go out and grab the dog or cat from the car and get a brief history at 6-feet distance or more. Bringing them inside the hospital, we use our own leashes, which we're sanitizing after every single pet we use them on. I look at the pet, give the owner a phone call, get a more thorough history from them and let them know what I found from my exam. As soon as the pet's ready, reception checks them out over the phone and they just pick up their pet. You know, 99% of what I'm doing right now is kind of telemedicine. So talk to your vet and make sure they're doing those kinds of things.
Are pets really safe from Coronavirus? Is there any chance of them transmitting the virus to humans?
I don't think anyone can say with 100% certainty that this isn't possible. The leading opinion right now is that no they cannot. There have been a couple of cases, I think maybe four or five total, of different cats and dogs in Hong Kong and China that have had the virus, isolated from their nostrils. But, even though they have them, most of them are not showing any symptoms. I think there was maybe one house cat that had some respiratory signs.
I'm sure everyone's heard about the tigers in the Bronx Zoo who have come down with signs of Corona and having some respiratory issues there. There is evidence that humans can transmit it to these animals. They heard it was a zoo worker that transmitted it to those tigers and lions, but so far no evidence that they can transmit it back to us at all, but obviously things are changing every day. The virus can mutate and turn into something else tomorrow, but right now there's no evidence for that so I wouldn't worry too much.
"Even if your dog can't transmit [COVID-19] to you, just try and keep everything clean. Wipe surfaces. Technically, it could maybe survive on their skin and their coat, so just take the necessary precautions. Try and limit their contact with other people."
As far as the virus goes, even if your dog can't transmit it to you, just try and keep everything clean. Wipe surfaces. Technically, it could maybe survive on their skin and their coat, so just take the necessary precautions. Take them on a short walk, that's it. Try and limit their contact with other people, for sure as much as you can.
If a dog is due for their Rabies vaccine this month, is it OK to put it off for a month when things calm down?
This is a tough question with Rabies in particular because it's the one vaccine required by law. So you can get in trouble if you hold off, you can lose your pet license for that. You might be forced to go in. That said, in terms of your pet's health, I don't think waiting a month would be that bad, especially if they've been vaccinated before.
They've been showing that these vaccines actually last a lot longer than what we recommend, so everything's on the safe side. They've shown one vaccine can last up to seven years, so your dog or cat is probably safe. The only way to get rabies is if it's transmitted via a bite from an infected animal, and the odds of that happening are probably very low with us all staying inside right now. Again, it is required by law, so I have to recommend getting it.
Can you take your dog to the groomer? And, if not, how safe is it to do the grooming at home, including cutting your dog's nails?
Grooming is not a necessary thing to do right now, so I would try to avoid that. Obviously, a lot of us don't know how to cut our dog's hair, so they may get a little bit of a funky haircut. I would avoid it if you can.
Nails can be a little tricky. Try to not do it on your own unless you absolutely have to. There's basically a blood vessel that goes down in the little claw at the end, so if you cut them too short, it can bleed like crazy. And if you don't know what you're doing and you don't have the necessary things to stop the bleeding, it could be bad. Try not to go to the groomers, do baths at home, and wait on the haircuts and nail trims.
"[Trimming] nails can be a little tricky. Try to not do it on your own unless you absolutely have to. There's basically a blood vessel that goes down in the little claw at the end, so if you cut them too short, it can bleed like crazy"
It's allergy season! How do you know if your pet has allergies? What are the symptoms?
So allergies are a third of the appointments I see every day, it's crazy, especially in California, it seems like we have year-round allergies. Humans get itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, that type of thing. Animals, it's kind of split. The majority when they get allergies, it comes out more in their skin, which is not to say they can't have sneezing or coughing. It's just the main thing is skin issues.
They'll often start licking their paws. I find it funny, a lot of people will be like "oh my dog is licking its paws"... well, it's probably allergies. Sometimes that's either from their paws actually contacting the ground, like if they have a grass allergy. It can also just be from them inhaling a pollen and, for whatever reason, it comes out as them licking their paws. Also a bunch of scratching, they get ear infections a lot as a sign of allergies, you know, chewing at different spots in their body, like the armpits or groin. They get red skin, hives, that kind of thing.
Are there any particular dog breeds that are more susceptible to allergies?
Definitely purebreds seem to get allergies a little bit worse. The main breeds I see them in are boxers, golden doodles, labs, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, pit bull breeds, West Highland terriers are a big one. Those are the main ones, but any dog can have them really. I see them in mixed breeds too.
What is the best way to treat an allergy, considering you may not know where the allergy is coming from?
Usually I tell people there are three main reasons for allergies: flea allergies (even if they get bit by one flea and they have an allergy, their skin may flare up); the second is food allergy (the most common food allergies are protein sources, like chicken and beef); and the third is environmental (grass, humans, yes dogs can be allergic to you!). It can be a mixture of those, they can have two maybe three. Usually with food, you'll notice the allergy earlier in their life, when they're young. Fleas can happen any time and the same thing with environmental allergies, they can happen any time.
So as far as treatments go, it depends on which allergies they have. Fleas is the easiest one, you just get them on a flea control. I really like Nexgard or Bravecto. Those are oral medications, a lot of the topical stuff really doesn't work as well, especially over the counter, so I would suggest getting them from your vet.
Food is a little bit tougher. There are a lot of food allergy tests you can do for your dog, but they aren't always super accurate. You have to do trial and error. I usually tell people to stick with one diet for three months, no other treats for three months, to see if their skin gets better. If it does, then you know whatever they were on before, they're probably allergic to. If they don't, you can go back to what you were feeding.
"There are a lot of food allergy tests you can do for your dog, but they aren't always super accurate. You have to do trial and error. I usually tell people to stick with one diet for three months, no other treats for three months, to see if their skin gets better."
On the environmental side, the easiest thing you can try during this time is giving your dog or cat an antihistamine, like we take. You can give them an over the counter Zyrtec or Claritin, you can give them a Benadryl. You just need to check how much your dog or cat weighs as far as dosing goes. I probably see good results maybe a third of the time with those, but they are good things to at least try, and the cheapest option for sure.
Weekly baths help a lot, so using an aloe oatmeal shampoo. Trying to not use warm water but cool water for 15 minutes or so and then rinsing it off. You can use fish oil as a supplement, that really helps a lot for the skin barrier. Be careful with your dosing on that because they can get diarrhea if you give too much.
Everything else is from your vet, there are daily oral prescriptions called Apoquels, that's the main one we use. There's a new thing called Cytopoint that's a one-time injection and it's for itching, so it basically attacks their itch cycle and tells their brain that they're not itchy. So you get it once and it lasts 4-8 weeks. It's a nice option and it's something newer on the market.
If the itching leads to bleeding and none of the over-the-counter meds are working, what should you do?
The tough part is that dogs get itchy and because they get itchy, they start chewing on themselves, licking on themselves, and it causes a bacterial imbalance in their healthy skin bacteria, so they can actually give themselves a secondary skin infection. That's why, at the first signs of itching, you want to get them into a vet before it leads to a skin infection.
But if it does get to that point and the dog or cat is bleeding after a bath or salmon oil, what they probably has is more severe than allergies, so they'll probably need oral antibiotics if it gets to that point. Usually, I'll give them antibiotics for three to four weeks and tell them to supplement all that with the baths and the over-the-counter stuff, like fish oil. Getting them on a skin diet can help, even if they don't have a food allergy. Purina Pro Plan has a good one, Royal Canin has a good one, Hill's has a good one. Those are the ones off the top of my head, but they add fish oils to their diets to try and give some relief in that way.
"If you're not eating a very good diet and there are different micronutrient deficiencies, they can cause your skin to get dry and flaky and kind of thin, kind of feels rough. Make sure you're feeding a well-rounded diet that's well-researched."
Is having an unhealthy coat or consistent itchiness a sign of other health problems?
It definitely can be. For one, if you're not eating a very good diet and there are different micronutrient deficiencies, they can cause your skin to get dry and flaky and kind of thin, kind of feels rough. Make sure you're feeding a well-rounded diet that's well-researched. If it's chronic, all-the-time, and especially dogs that are kind of greasy, it can be a sign of a low thyroid level. They'll get greasy, nasty, and gain weight with that too.
So if they're getting fatter or having chronic ear infections, I definitely tell people let's do some bloodwork to make sure that looks good. It can be thyroid level or they have other endocrine issues, like issues with adrenal glands that can cause skin issues. It's a good idea to do some routine bloodwork to make sure there's nothing underlying there.