CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Monday, 24 October 2005

Mystery Malaise: Sick Dogs & Allergic Cats

Garden Helper: This is Mico doing a little Well, what a weekend we had! I hope yours was as much fun.

Taking advantage of the ground being relatively soft after recent rains, I've been outside breaking my poor old ageing back (I ache .... whine, whine) pulling weeds up by the neck, by hand, before they grow high enough to strangle ours. Seven foot weeds are one of the disadvantages of a climate that makes things grow so fast and furiously. And this would definitely be easier if there weren't so many weeds, so much ground to cover and, if I actually had some tools with which to do the job.

Meanwhile, the cats have been enjoying the return of the sun to catch lizards the size of prehistoric monsters. Yes, even Khan, sadly, from which we must conclude that the lizards are not biting hard enough!

One really large specimen, who has been in and out of the house so regularly lately, I was beginning to wonder if I should make him up a bed, was finally dispatched by Kitty today. In the interim, she's dragged him in, Khan had ... Betty looked at him and decided not to.

Mico is more of a mouse man.

Balu? Oh, no. He certainly likes his food (and some), but he's a truly "modern cat" who knows that food comes from fridges, packets, tins and, especially with waitress service (read lazy). He sees little need to go out and hunt anything down and is thus rarely seen doing so. If he hadn't been born 25+ years after Garfield was created, I'd say Garfield was modelled on Balu!

And dear Holly dog, who, we must accept, is probably getting to "that age" (like her owner) when a few "off days" are not unexpected, was ick. Very ick.

In fact, a better description would be to say that she exploded!

Not wishing to ruin anyone's breakfast, but it was both ends, both types, all liquid and in generously copious quantity. Something her system did not want, obviously.

Unfortunately, she was sleeping with me at the time of the sudden "explosion" and let me tell you that waking up at 7.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning - wet through and with a whiff of ... well a very nasty odor in the air - was not a fun experience.

Much swabbing later and, I think I've done two million wash loads.

Mothers of human babies will be wondering what I am moaning about, I know.

Ah well, that saves me "Spring" cleaning for a few years.

One humorous side effect of this is that although I had to throw her out of my bed (where, I know and she knows she should not have been in the first place), I have allowed her to have her own bed exactly where she wants it and will stay on it. That is, in short, in the way! Really, right in the narrow entrance to my bedroom, where she does not feel that she is too far away from me and can "guard the door".

But whom exactly she thinks she is kidding with this guarding facade though, is the real mystery here, probably, because 55 lbs of hulking Rottweiller type mongrel failed miserably to keep even five pussy cats out of my bedroom - all of which would have to walk right across the surface of dog's bed and probably various parts of the dog too (unless they flew) to get there.

It is merely my HOPE that she would perform better with a real "cat burglar".

To think Canarians cross the street to avoid her or ask me nervously if she bites. Nah, but she'll give you a nasty lick! LOL! :-)

Oh, there is actually no mystery about the probable cause, I don't think. The most convincing theory is that it was a result of Holly eating what we shall politely term "reprocessed" cat food. That is, reprocessed through a cat.

And since three of the five cats are her "adopted children", I can see how it would seem natural for her to clean up after them. She's been washing their bums since they were tiny scraps. (See, I said it was a nasty lick!)

It doesn't matter what steps I take, like covered cat litter trays, she will always find a way to get to the "housework" first, when I am asleep, when I'm not looking and especially cleaning up the odd "accident" that occurs.

No, the mystery alluded to in the title of this post is a malaise that has been affecting Mico, now my oldest cat (Mico is a year older than the dog and is coming up 12), over the past few years and, is one, I think, I have finally solved.

Each year, I have tried to carefully observe anything that might have coincided with the onset of the problem, in an attempt to find a means of dealing with it. Not an easy task, it was like searching for a needle in a haystack, blindfold, in the dark.

Whilst it is widely known that many people have allergies to cats, what is not as widely known is that cats too have allergies. Each year in late summer, Mico would be inflicted with a nasty rash, so bad that scabs and scales would form, around his neck and ears especially, and it was also causing his fur to fall off.

That he also scratches more and becomes quieter and a more clingy "mummy's boy" at these times, also concerns me that the rash really bothers him too.

The vet would give him corticosteroid injections, but while they did immediately calm the rash, such injections can cause undesirable long-term side-effects, so I want to avoid more of them if at all possible. Indeed, I found this during my research:

Corticosteroids such as injectable dexamethasone will help calm the itching and inflammation resulting from dermatitis.; however, safer and more natural approaches may be more suitable.

(Actually, I knew this already, because I'd been given cortisone injections myself for hay-fever allergies in my teens - before the dangers were recognised/admitted.)

I also want to avoid long-term damage to his coat, not from vanity reasons, although that counts, but because he really needs it as protection from the sun.

We ruled out most parasites, etc. We ruled out flea bites. He didn't have fleas and the flea and worm treatments the vet recommended made no difference anyway.

We ruled out the sun itself as the cause, because of the seasonal nature of the problem (the sun shines here all year) and because Mico comes from an area hotter than this one, but the problem did not develop until we moved here.

Mico was born on the south of the island, in a dry area, so the plants in this humid and fertile valley - and there must be a million varieties - are not his "natural habitat".

We had got the point of knowing that, since if I kept him indoors the problem disappeared, it had to be "something out there" - an irritant plant - that was causing this dermatitis and not, for example, a household chemical. But what?

I've had to resort to keeping him indoors to keep the situation under control. I treat open sores immediately with iodine to avoid infection. I've used aloe (a natural antihistamine) gel on the rash on unbroken skin to calm it (this does seem to help some), bathed him in tepid water (not really appreciated) and slathered him with olive oil to soften and repair the scar tissue to encourage new fur to grow. That last works wonders and he doesn't mind licking it off!

This year, because we have had a number of factors determining that the cats should be kept indoors more than usual (the marauding tiger, too hot weather, too wet, workmen, etc.) I have had a better control of the situation and opportunity of tracking when the rash first appeared and when the problem finally ceased.

And, my conclusion:

Immediately after the grapes were harvested at the beginning of the month, the problem stopped. Once the grapes were gone, I let Mico out and carefully watched for any reaction. There hasn't been, even when he's been out all day.

All the days previous, while the grapes were still on the vines, he'd only have to be outside for an hour or two and he'd come back very red and raw looking. The tips of his ears would be fur-free and even bleeding at times. I have cried seeing it.

Then, thinking back, yes, the onset does coincide with when the grapes begin to ripen. And, the year that all of the crops seemed much earlier, so the grapes were harvested earlier too and the problem went away that much sooner.

And, when the crops developed later, it's lasted until later ...

Obviously, my conclusion lacks a scientific confirmation. My vet said that we could allergy test and it would be more reasonable to try that now with something to go on. It wasn't viable with 1001 plants to choose from. There is the chance that something else naturally coincides, but I do not think that likely to show such a marked cessation of the problem as did the removal (picking) of the grapes.

Which would seem to go completely contrary to the following information:

Bioflavonoids (plant-based, antioxidant substances with the power to protect plant and animal tissues), have been shown in many scientific studies to help the tissues maintain their youthful structure. Antioxidants from green tea (Camellia sinensis) and grapes (Vitis vinifera) have been shown to have particularly beneficial effects and may be employed preventively or therapeutically to help repair damaged tissues

However, even with my limited knowledge it seems logical in the sense that many things we can have as "cures" are themselves "causes". Think vaccines that are mild doses of the virus or whatever in question that they aim to protect against.

Neither would it be a long stretch of the imagination, mind you, to accept that I simply have an(other) "awkward" and "contrary" critter!

Then I remembered the only other time the dog was very ick.

She is not a thief. In fact, she has only stolen food on three occasions in 10 years, which is an admirable record for a dog. Once was sliced ham that I had neglected to put back in the fridge, while handing out scraps to an appreciative audience. Another was an English sausage, right out of the frying pan!

The third and last time, was a bunch of grapes.

That was when they were harvested last year/year before and the landlady left me four huge bunches. Three black, one white. I prefer white grapes and these did look especially nice. So, I put them all in the fruit bowl, up on a high enough surface (at least I thought) and was looking forward to tucking into them later.

.. and the next I saw of them was just the stalk, looking like a sad winter tree that had lost all its leaves, lying, suspiciously on the dog's bed. Exibit A.

"Fortunately" her system, again, realized that a good kilo or more of grapes should not be in there and promptly disgorged itself of them ... all over the hall floor. So much so that the only recourse was to hose it all outside!

Antacids and a rice & milk diet ensued, but she was clearly unwell for days.

(The vet recommended plain rice, but I would like to meet the vet who could successfully feed plain rice to my dog. She will eat paella. Rice pudding is OK. As you will have noted, she will even eat shit. Plain rice, however, she will not touch!)

It was only after this event that I researched and read that grapes can KILL a dog. They are too acid and can cause kidney damage, which is why I say it was fortunate that her system had the foresight to eliminate them so totally and quickly.

This is also where my logic says that if grapes are too acid for a dog's fairly hardy innards, then I can also see how that acid could be literally burning the cat's relatively more delicate skin to cause the redness, sores and fur loss.

I still say it is an allergy, because a) it responds to allergy treatments, like the corticosteroids and the aloe and b) it affects Mico especially. Betty, who was also from the south, but a higher altitude area where some vineyards exist, does develop similar symptoms, but not to the extent where they are a problem.

Hers has cleared up too in the last three weeks.

The other three cats, who were born locally and whose ancestors, we can safely presume, were also bred around here, show no signs or symptoms whatsoever.

(And I just can't help getting a political dig into this discourse, because I think that is clearly an adaptation of these cats' genes to their environment through evolutionary development, not by some intelligent design magic.)

Right, but that does still leave us with a tiddly problem.

We live IN a vineyard. The entire backyard is vines, hundreds of feet and enough to make 200 liters of wine. Even if it weren't, this is wine country: vines are up the road, down the road, next door, opposite the house ... and all around us. Acres and acres and layer upon layer of terraces literally groaning with them!

Possibly the key to the problem (which also differentiates our grapes from their therapeutic application mentioned above) is the length of time that the grapes are left on the vine for winemaking - frankly until they look "bad", to my untrained eye (and, by extension they probably ooze acid in that time).

But, one of the good reasons we live here is because the cats can go out at all.

In urban areas on this island it is impossible.

There is ALWAYS someone who will poison cats, deliberately. On banana plantations at lower altitudes, they also use chemicals that kill. On the vines, the only thing they use is sulphur, which doesn't harm and weed killer once a year that we get warning about and can avoid. Stronger chemicals are prohibited because we are inside the protected Teno Rural Park.

Perhaps what we need to try is some form of barrier. Barrier cream, such as one might use on one's hands to avoid dermatitis, would be the obvious thought, but this isn't exactly an easy option with fur. A total sun block? Spray sun protection? Maybe. It needs to be something that won't itself poison the cat!

If, in the end, it means I simply have to keep Mico in for 2-3 months a year between the time that the grapes begin to ripen and before they are actually picked, well then, so be it. It is better that he is able to go out the other 9-10 months, than not at all elsewhere. This will also be a lot easier to track than it might have been if it had been caused by one of thousands of "mystery" weeds!

I know this was a bit of a lengthy, rambling post, however, I do hope that my albeit weird logic and strange thinking may assist someone whose cat may suffer allergies. It may lead you to a process of elimination to tell you what the cat cannot.

If you don't have a cat and are thinking about it, yep, there is often a bit more to it than opening a can and otherwise letting it look after itself. But the learning you acquire from dealing with those problems is a reward in itself.

And, just like "real" kids, no matter their problems, how badly they behave and no matter the trouble they cause, you just can't help loving them.

Pamela is a former accountant, recovering journalist and international cat herder, disabled and chronically sick with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Fibromyalgia and Cervical spondylosis, fluent in three languages; English, Spanish and Rubbish. Mostly writes in the latter. She likes Genealogy, Model Railways and Cats.

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