Does Your Dog Have Seasonal Allergies? These Vet Tips Should Help Ease Your Pup's Discomfort
We all love to scamper outdoors when the weather is inviting, and your best pup pal often leads the way on every excursion. But have you noticed when you return home that they start to scratch, shake their head, or lick their paws a lot? It's possible dog seasonal allergies are creating pesky problems for your pet.
Can Dogs Have Hay Fever or Seasonal Allergies?
Genna K. Mize, DVM, is the technical services veterinarian at Virbac. She tells Daily Paws that "an allergy describes an exaggerated or inappropriate immune response to a typically innocuous substance."
The most common allergens for dogs fall into three general categories:
- Environmental. "We call this 'atopy'," Mize says. This often includes the same things that make humans sniffle and sneeze that your dog inhales, such as plant pollens, mold spores, dust mites—and even cats!
- External parasites. Mize says uncontrolled fleas can pose a big problem. However, some dogs might also be overly sensitive to ticks and ear mites.
- Food. Yes, pooches can be allergic to certain foods, including gluten, soy, dairy, and various proteins.
Mize adds that 'seasonal' allergies in dogs is somewhat of a misnomer, as some pets might be affected by environmental irritants all year long. But because plants vary by season and environment, symptom severity is often seasonal in nature. "It may manifest or resolve with a change of geographical location and is sometimes observed more so in certain seasons." This allergic response is known as canine atopic dermatitis or atopy skin disease.
"Most dogs suffering from atopy begin to show signs in young adulthood, typically between 1–3 years old, but this varies depending on the dog," Mize says. "This disease is thought to be hereditary and thus, purebred dogs are commonly affected, although it's important to note that any dog, including mixed breed dogs, can suffer from atopic skin disease."
Dog Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
"While the underlying mechanism for allergies might be the same, signs of allergies in dogs differ from those in humans," Mize says. "We commonly have symptoms related to the respiratory system including runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, or asthma. Dogs, on the other hand, rarely exhibit respiratory signs."
Instead, a dog's seasonal allergy symptoms frequently appear around the ears, underarms, front legs, and feet. You might notice signs of atopic dermatitis such as:
"If you think your dog is scratching, head shaking, rubbing, or licking excessively, they're uncomfortable, and it's time to take them to your veterinarian," Mize recommends. "Not only do you not want your dog to suffer, but these behaviors can cause or exacerbate secondary ear and skin infections by further damaging the skin's protective barriers. So the sooner the better!"
Here's an interesting tidbit: dogs aren't allergic to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, but can be greatly affected by the oily sap of these plants, urushiol. A nasty encounter might present similar symptoms to allergies—or even more severe.
Dog Seasonal Allergy Treatments and Home Remedies
If your doggo is up-to-date with year-round flea and tick prevention, hasn't displayed any adverse reactions to food, and you're reading all of this thinking, "Huh. Spot was awfully itchy the last time we came back from a hike," it might be time for a professional checkup.
Mize says a vet will administer certain diagnostics, such as intradermal skin tests, to determine the allergens your dog is sensitive to, then perhaps use a series of customized injections prescribed from these results with the hope to desensitize your dog to them over time.
Unfortunately, this isn't a cure for your dog's seasonal allergies, and any human who suffers in the same way understands that no amount of medication eliminates them for good. Atopic dermatitis care will be part of the long-term health management plan for your pup.
"There's a wide range of success reported with this treatment, but anywhere from 50–80 percent of atopic dogs can find at least partial relief from allergen-targeted immunotherapy treatment," Mize adds. "The immune system and allergies are quite complex, so it's really best to find a veterinarian you trust to help you and your pet through the allergy storm." Additionally, many pets benefit from treatment with a veterinary dermatology specialist.
The best home remedy for easing discomfort and maintaining a healthy skin barrier is to bathe your dog with a gentle veterinarian-approved shampoo. There are some on the market that don't strip away their natural oils (which causes more dry skin and itching!) and often contain Omega–3 fatty acid supplements for healthy coats. Mize advises asking your vet for product recommendations—for both your dog's health and to get the most value for your money. "There are a lot of gimmicky products which may not only be ineffective, but also worsen your dog's condition, so watch out!"
How to Help Dogs With Seasonal Allergies
Like us, dogs who are atopic can react to numerous things. For example, if you've heard of hay fever in dogs, this is technically a pollen allergy, or 'seasonal allergic rhinitis'. It's actually a response to various types of fine pollen grains released by trees, grasses, and weeds to fertilize within their species. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lists the types of trees and plants which most often cause problems for allergy sufferers—and even certain areas of the country that are more challenging to live in as a result. (Here's a helpful monthly chart by season if you're curious.)
But remember, environmental allergens such as dust mites and mold spores (and possibly the cat!) can also cause an allergic reaction for your dog. So after allergy testing, your vet will provide some additional tips for minimizing the effects of their specific irritant, such as:
- Wipe off their paws and coat after being outside with clean, wet cloths.
- Don't spend a lot of time outdoors when the pollen count is high (this varies by area and season).
- Steer clear of areas with diverse vegetation.
- Mow the lawn shorter.
- Clean bedding once a week in hot water.
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce dampness.
- Invest in a quality air purifier.
- Vacuum often and use wet cleaners on hardwood floors.
- Don't keep your pet in a damp garage or basement.
- Provide separate areas for your pooch and kitty to sleep and eat to reduce dander and saliva exposure.