Tilly, our Jack Russell Terrier, was just under four years’ old when I accepted a two-year posting to the Middle East. Before relocating, Tilly was as fit as a fiddle and enjoyed life to the full. But within three months of settling in to our new home, she became ill.
The first sign of distress was her uncontrollable urge to scratch the side of her body, day and night. Second came paw chewing, then the fur on her back became very wiry and rough (she’s a smooth haired Jack with fur like silk, normally!) Followed by her tummy breaking out in a pink, blotchy rash; and her eyes started to exude a gooey, foul-looking matter.
We trawled the internet for an answer to Tilly’s dilemma. What we concluded from the collective information obtained is that her symptoms were likely due to either an insect infestation or an allergic reaction. So we set about developing a strategy to try and isolate the underlying cause.
Tilly back to her old self.
The starting point and easiest to identify was parasite invasion. And so we investigated this first.
Because Tilly had no itching or irritation of the ears, and didn’t indulge in frequent head shaking, ear mites were readily eliminated from the list of potential irritants. As was fleas. We examined her fur, particularly at the base of her tail (where fleas tend to congregate), but there were none. Perhaps harvest mites? These live between dogs’ toes and on their legs, but there was no sign of them, either.
The most likely source of an allergy would be her food or treats. And so, we set about excluding particular items from her diet. First withholding one food type, only to find it didn’t solve the problem, then re-introducing it but stopping another item. Nothing we did seemed to make any difference. At the end of these trials, Tilly was no better off than when we started.
We’d come to the end of our limited knowledge of the likely triggers causing her scratching and paw chewing. We were beaten! We made an appointment at a veterinary practice recommended by a friend.
The vet didn’t find any parasites, and we told him about withholding certain food types. He determined that the offending substance must be from the local environment.
Lawns in the Middle East are very different from those in the UK and contain more bugs than you can shake a stick at. This, surely, was the answer. It satisfied all the known variables and seemed a reasonable evaluation. But we were all to be proved wrong.
There was nothing we could do about the surroundings in which we lived. Tilly, like the brave little girl she is, would just have to soldier on until the end of my posting. Two years to the day, my posting came to an end and we moved back to the UK.
Returning home would, we hoped, be a welcome relief for Tilly. We were looking forward to the prospect of her having an itchy-free life. The euphoria, though, was short lived.
Ten days in to our return, Tilly developed the same symptoms. Evidently, the cause and effect of moving overseas and the development of an allergic reaction was purely coincidental. So it was back to the vets.
The vet advised taking a blood sample and sending it for analysis to test for a specific allergen. We gave the go-ahead, with fingers crossed our beloved little perisher would soon get the relief she deserved.
The blood-test works by identifying the level of antibodies in the blood corresponding to the clinical signs of allergy. The results would show the offending allergens and level of reaction. The results were a bit of a shock!
Two test reports came back. One covered environmental allergens, the other dealt with dietary concerns. Each of these was then divided into two subgroups.
The good news was she’s not allergic to pollens: grasses, weeds, trees and shrubs; or, subgroup two, indoor allergens: fleas, mites, moulds.
The second set of results was divided in to foodstuffs; those that give an immediate reaction and those that give a delayed reaction, the latter taking hours or perhaps even days to manifest itself (more commonly known as food intolerance). This proved to be the source of the problem.
She fell into both camps, having an immediate reaction to some foods and a delayed reaction to others, and several of which appeared in both columns.
It seemed more a case of what she didn’t have a reaction to than what she did. The list of ingredients to avoid appeared endless: beef, lamb, wheat, soybean, barley, rice, potato, corn, milk and egg – one or more of which is present in most popular proprietary foods and treats.
So, what could she eat? There were negative results for pork, duck, chicken, turkey, oats, white fish and venison. But to clear her system of harmful residue, the Vet prescribed ultra allergen free kibble. This was a nutritional solution targeted at Tilly’s particular needs. And it worked!
Within a few days of diligently adhering to this new regime of strictly prescription kibble, the outward effects of her allergy began to abate. And after ten days or so she was back to her old mischievous self. Her eyes were clear and bright, and her coat felt like velvet. She was a happy bunny once more.
The tests were not cheap, and the prescription kibble costs an arm and a leg. So, is Tilly worth all the expense and time expended? You bet she is!
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