Q: Our 12-year-old cairn terrier developed a skin allergy when we visited the beach in South Carolina two years ago.
Our veterinarian treated it with steroids and recommended that we give her generic Claritin until the lesions healed. Her skin had developed a rash that looked like ringworm (it was in a circular shape) possibly due to sand flea bites. The vet recommended that she not walk or play in the beach sand.
My question is: Is there something we can give her as a preventive measure, so she can walk the beach (something she seems to love)?
— C.S., Aurora
A: Determining what caused the reaction is key to preventing it from happening again.
If the nonhaired areas of your pet’s body were the only areas affected, we have to consider the possibility of a contact allergy.
Even though she walked on the beach before you noticed the rash, if she also walked through a grassy area, the culprit may not be the sand or anything found on the beach.
Most of the grasses found on or around the beaches in South Carolina are coarser than those typically found in yards in Ohio. Small abrasions from the grass, an allergy to that type of grass or a combination of the two could cause the rash you described.
Sand is also abrasive and if the rash is only on her underside it could be from contact with the skin.
If a bite is to blame it is likely from sand flies not sand fleas. Skin tests could be performed to determine if she is allergic to sand flies and a series of shots can be given to help her overcome the allergy, if present.
Sand fly bites can cause bad reactions even when an allergy is not present, so preventing the bites is your best bet.
Eucalyptus oil, lemon oil and tea tree oil have been shown to work well in repelling sand flies. Mixing one or all of these oils with a zinc oxide cream may do the trick. Give a nondrowsy antihistamine 30 minutes prior to walking on the beach, use a commercially prepared (or homemade) repellent and avoid grass if possible.
If she still has a reaction, more testing and detective work will be necessary. I hope she gets to enjoy walks on the beach rash free on your next trip.
— Dr. Connie White Lawless
Pet Vet Animal Clinic, Copley Township
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