Not yours. Not mine. The dog’s.
Dogs have them. Mine does, anyway. Fortunately, her allergies are food allergies, which are relatively easy to control. Be careful what she eats, and she’s unlikely to have a problem. I’m not sure what exactly sets her off, although I have suspicions about chicken, and am less suspicious about beef. It’s hard to tell, because her allergies are more like sensitivities. She doesn’t have an immediate reaction (which is probably a good thing, really), but in a few weeks, she gets an ear infection or two, plus the itchies. That’s uncomfortable for the dog, expensive for me, and dangerous for her job, because too many ear infections, and it starts to affect a dog’s hearing.
When I got Ms. Pup, she had an ear infection, but so did every dog on class, because it had just become summer, and the kennels had suddenly become hot and humid, and doggy ears are dark and moist and warm. So I didn’t think anything of it, and I just got a very thorough lesson in how to clean her ears. Then I took her home and she had another. And another. Plus, she was really gassy. And her eyes were red and itchy a lot.
I switched her off of Iams, because it had corn and other crap dogs shouldn’t eat in it, and put her on Nutro. That made the gas better, at least, and her poop didn’t smell like pot anymore. (Don’t ask. I have no idea. I sure didn’t have any pot). Eventually, I moved back up to Boston and started taking Ms. Pup to see Dr. Becky, about whom I’ll post more later. That’s when we concluded that Ms. Pup had food allergies, and put her on Science Diet prescription food. It worked like a charm, but it was crazy expensive and could only be obtained from the vet’s office. Things cleared up I didn’t even know were wrong. Her coat became shinier, she scratched less, and her ear infections cleared up to maybe one ever six months, which was amazing after six straight months of infections. She chewed on her paws less. Incredible!
Unfortunately, Ms. Pup didn’t actually like the kibble very much. Despite being half lab, she’s not all that food-motivated, except for people food. I’ll admit that the prescription food also creeped me out a bit. It’s got the same crap as any other food, but it’s chemically engineered so that the dog can’t have an allergic reaction to it. That’s really, really weird. Plus, like I said, it cost twice as much as even high-end dog food. So Dr. Becky suggested we try a single-protein-source food (so we’d be able to narrow down any allergens that turned up), preferably with a protein source Ms. Pup had never tried before, so she wouldn’t have had a chance to develop an allergy to it yet. I got some California Naturals Herring and Sweet Potato kibble, and it’s working out great. I can have it delivered to my house, and the delivery service I use gives me 20% off because it’s for a guide dog. Ms. Pup’s breath is nasty and fishy now, because of the herring, but she’s quite healthy.
Now GDF is switching over to Natural Balance, which is also high-quality and single-protein, with human-grade ingredients. And they’re getting us a discount. So I may stick with what works now, but if Ms. Pup does eventually develop an allergy to it, at least I’ve got other options.
Now, why would the school knowingly give me a dog with health problems? Well, they wouldn’t. Allergies are a moving target. If they know a dog has them, they will remove that dog from the pool of potential guide dogs. The problem is that allergies often develop late, after the age when the dog has already gone out to work. Labs, for example, often develop allergies between the age of 2 and 4, at which point they’re already working. Also, a dog may be raised and trained in one part of the country and then go to work in another part of the country with different allergens, so it won’t encounter anything to which it’s allergic until it’s already working. They’re difficult to test for sometimes, and they’re not a minor thing, either – food allergies are a lot more controllable than, say, environmental allergies are. And medication can sometimes affect a dog’s functioning and ability to work. Plus, allergies make the poor dog miserable!
Quite a few dogs are retired due to allergy problems, but they’re not something people think about a lot. I got off relatively light with Ms. Pup’s issues.