Today is our sweet Ruger’s 6th month birthday! Which means you get a little montage of our boy…
We have loved every second of being this baby’s parents, and are so proud of how well he has done with his bird dog training. And I am SO proud of Steven for being such an awesome dad and bird dog trainer! He works so hard with Ruger nearly every night to perfect his skills and he is becoming a well-mannered little gentleman with the most innate drive to retrieve. Later this week, he will become a big brother to our newest addition, Gump, and we are excited to watch him mentor and teach his little brother how to be a good bird dog.
We’ve had a lot of fun with this munchkin, but a lot of it has also been… itchy.
Not what you were expecting, right?
Around the first or second week in July, we found that he was just scratching non-stop, and about to drive both of us crazy with all the scratching. Steven was frustrated with him trying to get out of training work with constant scratching, and the sound of his continual scratching near and around all our furniture and floor was about to drive me insane. But we didn’t really think much about it, honestly.
Until I rolled him over one night playing with him and saw that his little armpits were red with sores and he had giant bald spots. I felt like THE MOST HORRIBLE MOTHER EVER.
I took him to the vet the next day. Our practice has two vets, so we saw the doctor we don’t typically see because their schedule is based on walk-ins only. He was very nice, and told us we had a case of allergic contact dermatitis, meaning he ran into something that didn’t agree with his little skin and caused him to break out. He gave us a steroid shot, and a special shampoo and sent us on our way.
There is a lot of construction going on in our neighborhood, and at the time, there was a patch of sunflowers and other weeds near our house that the boys liked to go play near. Steven would throw dummies into the mess and Ruger is fearless to go get any and everything, so we assumed there was something in that area that he was allergic to.
About six weeks later, we ran into the same situation. He just ramped up scratching again and couldn’t seem to stop. So, we went back to the vet.
This time we got the vet he saw for all his shots and neutering surgery. She was very empathetic, and went into a more in-depth exam. She did skin scrapings for mange, and checked over his whole coat for other issues.
at the vet and feeling pretty itchy! the concrete floors were nice and cool!
Our sweet vet said his skin scrapings came back negative for mange (which was a relief), and he didn’t have fleas (he’s on Trifexis for heart worms, which also protects against fleas). She said his entire coat was very dry, which to her suggested an environmental allergy, not a contact allergy. The spots where he looked terrible were due to his skin being so beyond dry that he scratched and chewed it something awful, not due to something coming in contact with his skin that he was allergic to. She said that it is really common for dogs to be allergic to corn and chicken, so she suggested we switch him to the 4Health food at Tractor Supply (the puppy version is corn free/ grain free with lamb and white rice as the main ingredients. they have much more variety in the adult versions). She gave him a steroid taper and put him on an Omega-3 fish oil capsule and said he should start feeling better. She said if switching foods didn’t work, our next step would be a blood draw for allergy testing. Apparently is it unlikely for a puppy his age to have developed airborn allergies (like people allergies), and he would not be old enough to use the typical treatment yet.
We had to get fairly strict about his diet since we thought this was caused by a reaction to his food. No treats that had corn or chicken (which is like impossible!!) and no table food or leftovers that might have something offensive. He wasn’t as itchy, but it still didn’t really seem to be the food. He was still chewing on himself occasionally, so we bought a Bitter Yuck spray to make it much less appealing to chew on himself.
Our best conclusion was that he just had extreme eczema, so we tried to get him as much moisture in his coat as possible. We tried Benadryl, but it didn’t make a difference, as well as an allergy spray. He finished his steroid taper and within days he had large bald and sore spots on his chest. We reached the end of our rope again last week and took him back to the vet for more answers.
We made it back in with the vet we don’t typically see, and he looked him over again. He took more skin scrapings (one just HAD to be on the top of his head. it looks terrible!!) and said he thought he knew what was going on. He left out to look a few things up, and the vet tech began describing how common a certain strain of puppy mange is, and that luckily it’s not communicable with humans. Steven and I exchanged looks of concern at this point because neither of us even knew that mange could be contagious to humans, and we didn’t really even have mange of any kind on our radar for what this could be.
The vet came back with an ancient textbook and opened it up to the chapter on skin disorders. He pointed to a section labeled “Waterline Disease” that had about two sentences of description. Basically it is an extremely rare condition that occurs only in black labrador retrievers that causes him to have a defect in his keratin production, which means his skin is extremely dry and unhealthy. The vet said the main symptoms are extreme itching and hair loss. And that our only treatment option is to put him on continual steroids for the rest of his life.
The vet told us that he may not be responsive to steroids, and that if steroids work, there may come a time that it doesn’t respond to steroids. The vet gave him another steroid shot and a bottle of steroid based shampoo that we’re supposed to use every other day for him (we had stopped bathing him because we thought that was making it worse, but apparently we were wrong…)(and we’ve resorted to Steven bathing him in our shower as this is the only way he doesn’t completely freak out. He’s a total water dog except when it comes to baths). We are supposed to him an eye on him for the next few weeks to see if this shot helps, and if so, we’ll start prednisone pills again.
So far, he is doing well. We are concerned about the long term health effects of being on steroids (like diabetes, steroid induced myopathy, as well as increased risk of cardiovascular issues) but feel we don’t really have a choice since that’s the only treatment option we’ve been given.
We thought we could go home and do much more research on this, but we haven’t been able to find any more online than the two sentences the vet showed us in his book. We’re considering consulting a veterinary dermatologist in Round Rock to see if they have any other suggestions or options for treatment. Our breeder was very sweet, and eager to help us look for answers, but she has had no experience with it either.
So, long story short, if anyone has any experience with Waterline Disease, please let us know!! We would love to speak with someone who has some answers! Itchy or not, he’s still our baby and we love him!