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Wandering Jew & Allergic Dermatitis

With Spring now upon us, our gardens will be full of fresh growth with new flowers and pollens. This makes the backyard and park an inviting environment for our pets to play in and then to sun themselves in while snoozing.  Laying and playing in this new growth can cause skin irritations due to contact allergies.

Spiderworts, commonly known as "Wandering Jew" is a common cause of contact allergies in dogs as it is found in many backyards.  It has green, shiny leaves with parallel veins covered in small hairs. It establishes itself as a thick carpet-like groundcover in moist, shady areas. The species can have many forms.  See the attached photos.

Contact allergies normally affect the underbelly, armpits, chin, chest, groin, between the toes as well as their ears and face.   The irritation begins as pustules surrounded by red skin which the dog then irritates more by scratching.  This can then lead to bleeding and raw skin.  The cause of allergic contact dermatitis in dogs is an overreaction of the immune system to a normally harmless allergen. The source of the contact dermatitis is damage to the skin caused by the irritant.

Treatment for contact dermatitis usually begins with the removal of the substance that is causing the symptoms.  In this case, we would recommend that the plant be removed and regrowth controlled. It is a very hardy plant, so removal is normally over a prolonged period.  The other option is, if you can identify which plant is causing the irritation, to deny the animal access to that area of the garden by fencing or not visiting that area of the park. 

Depending on the severity of the allergy, treatment can vary. In some cases,  using certain shampoos that clear the skin of the irritant will address the problem, or in advanced cases, anti-inflammatory medication along with antibiotics for a secondary infection may be required. 

Owners can become quite distressed when they see their animals unsettled.  In a short period of time, normal skin can become inflamed with hair loss, severe redness and itchiness leading to bleeding and pus.  This can all happen without realising something as simple as a plant can cause such severe irritation. 

When replanting this year, avoid Spiderworts for that quick ground cover, the side effects for the four-legged family are not worth the gain!