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  • Dr. Hilary Jones

Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Vets get a huge number of calls about pet allergies this time of year — a whopping 25% of all pet patients seen through DodoVet have allergy complaints. Summer corresponds with a rise in allergies for two reasons: Warm weather means pets go outside more often, where dogs and cats will encounter allergy-causing plants are in full bloom.

Pets suffer from many of the same types of allergies as humans. For instance, many pets with allergies develop atopic dermatitis, a skin condition that shows up as an itchy red rash — a condition called eczema in humans. Luckily, we can diagnose allergies in pets fairly easily, and once treated, they’ll enjoy a big step up in their quality of life. Consulting with a vet may also improve the owner’s quality of life — one study also drew a connection between atopic dermatitis and behavioral problems, including excitability, begging for food, and excessive grooming.

But this is not a moment for Dr. Google. Some symptoms of allergies can also be a symptom of more serious diagnoses, so professional evaluation is a must. For instance, red eyes could be a sign of a dust allergy — but they could be caused by an glaucoma, or an ulcer. Both of those conditions require immediate intervention. Getting professional help saves clients from wasting time and money on remedies that may only prolong their pet’s suffering.

What Causes Allergies in Dogs?

Habitats can make a big difference. Dogs in rural areas have lower rates of allergies than dogs in urban areas, likely because they are exposed to a wider variety of allergens. If you suspect your pet of having allergies, close the windows to keep pollen out. With the windows closed, you’ll want to turn your air-conditioning on — keep in mind that changing the air-conditioning filter can also cut down on allergens, as can adding a HEPA filter to get rid of dust and mold particles.

Grass and Pollen Allergies

Environmental allergies, like grass, trees, and other pollen can really be a hassle for pets! It can be difficult to determine what exactly your pet is allergic to. This is where a veterinary dermatologist can be key. At the dermatologist, they can perform skin tests to accurately determine which plants and pollen are a trigger for your pet’s allergies. Unfortunately other allergy tests, like hair, saliva, and blood tests, are less accurate for dogs and cats. Once you know if your pet is allergic to grass or pollen, the veterinarian can develop specific immunotherapy for your pet to help reduce their allergy signs and provide some relief.

Dog Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Allergies can manifest through a wide array of symptoms.

Itching is a clear sign of allergies, but all dogs and cats scratch. So how can you tell allergies apart from normal behavior? If a dog or cat is experiencing an excessive itch, they’ll stop what they’re doing to lick, bite, or chew on themselves. On a scale of 1 to 10, if the intensity of scratching is a 6 or higher, it’s worth consulting with a vet.

Pet and human allergies often have environmental causes. Pollen can cause a pet’s nasal passages to become inflamed, and dust in the air can make their eyes water. Irritants like these are often the cause of sneezing, as well as “reverse sneezing,” the term used to describe the snorting spell that can occasionally overtake a dog (especially if they are a smaller breed). Ear infections are also more common in pets with allergies to dust, mold, and pollen.

Allergies can also cause red or brown discoloration on the paws and between toe pads, a condition called pododermatitis. For obvious reasons, dogs with pododermatitis will focus a lot of licking and chewing at their inflamed, itchy paws. This is another perfect example of a symptom that might indicate a straightforward environmental allergy, or something more difficult to treat, like a bacterial or fungal infection.

Treatment Options

Pets with allergies often need medication to treat inflammation, as well as medication for the bacterial or fungal infection caused by chewing and scratching their damaged skin. Veterinarians often prescribe a two-pronged solution, with medicines to treat both the infection as well as the allergy. Treatments need to be carefully balanced, and it can take some trial and error to find the right blend.

Over-the-Counter Medications

  • Ceramide-based shampoo and omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements can help treat atopic dermatitis in pets. (Ceramide is a type of fatty acid that helps repair irritated skin.)

  • Small doses of over-the-counter antihistamines, like Benadryl and Claritin, can treat pet allergies. But pet parents should keep in mind — Claritin D is toxic for pets. The “D” (confusingly) stands for pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that can poison pets.

Prescription Medication

  • Prescription shampoos can treat atopic dermatitis, and it’s more effective than shampoos with just ceramide. These shampoos contain the ingredients chlorhexidine and phytosphingosine — chlorhexidine is an antiseptic that kills fungi, and phytosphingosine is a naturally occurring lipid that can help damaged skin heal.

  • Anti-inflammatory pills can also work. It’s important for vets to taper the dosage of anti-inflammatory medicines Atopica and Apoquel, both highly effective medications with success rates of 70% to 80%. The downside: they can both have serious side effects if not administered properly.

  • Anti-itch medications such as a Cytopoint injection can provide your dog with weeks of relief from their allergic symptoms.

Dog Seasonal Allergies Home Remedies

In the past few years, more pet parents have visited their vet to help treat their animal’s allergy symptoms. This trend may be promising — an increase in allergies aside, experts believe more pet parents are recognizing their pet’s discomfort and seeing it as a problem that merits attention.


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