Got an itchy puppy? 6 burning questions for the pet’s history
When clients come in to your veterinary clinic with an itchy puppy, they’re usually not happy—in fact just the opposite, says Allison Kirby, DVM, DACVD, of Animal Dermatology Clinic in Marina Del Rey, California. Most puppy owners expect at least a few trouble-free years before health problems emerge in their dog, so this is messing with their expectations. Plus, housetraining is often proving to be a challenge because the puppy is so distracted it can’t focus long enough to learn.
So by the time these clients see a veterinary team, they’re highly frustrated, Dr. Kirby told veterinarians and team members during a recent CVC session. And their first question, “Will he grow out of this?” may not produce the answer they want to hear. “I tell clients to prepare themselves for the possibility of a lifelong relationship with me,” Dr. Kirby says.
As such, it’s important to empathize with the client’s situation and establish trust and rapport. And since technicians will be the first to communicate in detail with the client and pet on that first visit, they can set the tone for that lifelong relationship: the first visit and the many rechecks to come.
Once you’ve set a positive, compassionate tone, it’s time to get down to business. One of the technician’s most important tasks during the first visit is to get a good history on the puppy. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because this dog is a youngster the history can be short and sweet, Dr. Kirby says. Many clues in the pup’s short life can point to the cause of its itchiness. Here are some key questions to ask:
1. Where did the puppy come from? Shelters, breeders and rescues will sometimes have health notes on puppies that weren’t necessarily provided to the owner upon adoption—it’s worth a call to learn what you can.
2. Have any littermates had similar issues? Knowing this info, which can also be derived from the shelter, breeder, rescue and so on, can help the veterinary team learn about inherited conditions and environmental factors, Dr. Kirby says.
3. Has the puppy traveled at all, either before or after adoption? “In the area where I work I have seen numerous dogs flown in as young puppies from Africa, South America, Mexico, the Middle East and all throughout the United States,” Dr. Kirby says. This may change the veterinarian’s differential list when diagnosing the condition.
4. What’s the puppy’s lifestyle? With the growing popularity of doggie daycare, hiking and walking groups, and dog parks, dogs are more social than ever before, Dr. Kirby says. Rubbing noses (and other body parts) with canine buddies can expose dogs to fleas and other contagious diseases.
5. What itches? Ask the owner which areas of the body the puppy is itching or licking, how severe the pruritus is, and how the puppy has responded to any previous medications, Dr. Kirby advises.
6. How often is the puppy pooping—and what’s the poop like? Though it might not be an obvious question for a derm visit, it’s extremely important to ask about gastrointestinal signs when you have a pruritic puppy, Dr. Kirby says. If the pup has any history of vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, excess gas or mucus in the stool, there may be a food allergy at work.
Once you and the veterinarian have collected a good history, the team can move on to more advanced diagnostics and formulating a treatment plan. A thorough workup, great client communication and education, and commitment on the part of the client can help get these puppies comfortable—and help their owners enjoy their furry family member again.