Red, itchy eyes, incessant sneezing, and stuffiness are but a few of the enjoyable symptoms that sufferers of seasonal allergies can inevitably expect with each year’s passing. If you count yourself amongst that group, you’re likely all too aware of how miserable allergies can make you feel. That said, for you dog owners out there, you might be surprised to discover that your pup can also be prone to uncomfortable seasonal allergies.
Unfortunately, your dog can’t tell you when it’s in the grips of an allergy attack—it’s up to you to spot the signs. So, how can you determine if your loyal canine companion is suffering from allergies? If your pup is showing signs of hair loss, itchy skin, inflammation, or other skin problems, there is a high possibility that your dog’s body is having an immune response to an allergen in his environment. Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about seasonal allergies in dogs.
What Are Allergies?
An allergic reaction occurs when your pet’s body (namely it’s immune system) is over-reactive or hypersensitive to a particular substance, which is known as an allergen. Typically, such everyday allergens are harmless to the general population of pets but, for whatever reason, don’t react normally in a select group of dogs.
A dog’s immune system helps it stave off infection and disease, but when it encounters something that it is allergic to, the immune system wrongly identifies the foreign object as a dangerous substance and reacts negatively as a result. This creates a host of allergy symptoms and bodily reactions, which we’ll discuss later, that are meant to help expel the allergen. In truth, both humans and dogs react in a somewhat similar fashion to a seasonal allergic. Per NCBI:
It treats [allergens] like germs or foreign bodies…The immune system produces antibodies, known as IgE antibodies, to fight these substances because it considers them to be harmful. These antibodies are made when the body first comes into contact with the allergen, and they then attach to certain kinds of cells. This process is called “sensitization.” If the body comes into contact with the allergen again, these cells release chemical substances, including histamines. These substances then lead to allergic reactions such as sneezing, coughing, skin irritation, inflammation, and skin rashes.
While humans are more likely to have their allergies triggered through inhalation, dogs usually absorb allergens through their skin or paws. And although dogs can be allergic to certain foods, when it comes to seasonal allergies the common culprits (allergens) are:
- Flea saliva
- Mold spores
What Dogs are Most at Risk?
Pet allergies are more common than you think. About 10 percent of dogs have allergies, said Sandra Diaz, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. “Allergies we cannot cure. We just manage them and keep them under control so the animal can have a good quality of life.”
While any dog can develop seasonal allergies, there are certain breeds that appear to be more predisposed towards negative reactions. They include:
Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
The severity of an allergic reaction to seasonal allergens can range from mild to severe. Despite that, a perceptive owner should be able to easily recognize the signs, since even mild cases can cause your pup to feel serious discomfort. Don’t worry, they’ll be sure to let you know when something’s not right. Typically, the signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies in dogs include:
- Scratching and/or biting – This is one of the most obvious signs of seasonal allergies in dogs. Because dogs are more predisposed to absorb allergens via the skin, it’s the first place that reacts to the unwelcome substance. As a result they develop canine atopic dermatitis, which is:
A genetically predisposed inflammatory and pruritic allergic skin disease with characteristic clinical features. It is associated most commonly with IgE antibodies to environmental allergens. Although this definition encompasses many aspects of the pathogenesis and clinical aspects of the condition, it is important to remember that this disease has no pathognomonic clinical signs that permit a definitive diagnosis to be made upon initial owner interview and clinical examination.
What they experience is quite similar to the discomfort of being covered with chicken pox or poison oak. So, they scratch or bite to try and relieve the intense itching.
- Inflamed and/or infected skin – If left alone, your dog will continue itching away despite the resulting damage to their skin. This often causes the skin, which is likely already red and inflamed, to react poorly. As a result, the affected area(s) can then develop secondary skin infections, which require specific antibiotics or medicines.
- Paw Licking – If your dog is compulsively licking its paw as if it were covered in peanut butter, odds are, it’s having an allergic reaction. This occurs because dog’s bodies naturally push histamines (chemicals in the immune system that get triggered by allergens) to their extremities.
- Respiratory Issues – Although it’s not incredibly common in dogs, some dogs can have allergic reactions that manifest as respiratory problems, including:
- Trouble breathing
While some of the other symptoms require medical attention, this can be one of the most serious and potentially fatal reactions to allergies. If your dog is unable to breathe properly, it could cause widespread systematic failure
- Shedding – A common reaction to pollen allergies in dogs is for excessive shedding to occur. This is often worsened by incessant scratching and skin infections. In addition, dandruff can be incredibly common since allergies dry out their skin and cause it to flake. So, if your pet is scratching so much that it’s causing them to lose hair, take them to the vet and get them the relief they need.
- Scooting and/or licking the anus – As mentioned, dog’s bodies naturally attempt to expel histamines through the extremities. This results in an incredibly unpleasant itching in their hindquarters that can only be eased by scooting or licking the infected area.
- Ear infections – This is an especially common allergic reaction for dogs with floppy ears such as basset hounds. Symptoms of ear infections include:
- Head shaking
- Red ears
- Waxy ears
Ear infections can be painful and even dangerous, so it’s best to get them medical attention as soon as possible.
How to Treat Allergies
As of yet, there is no single treatment for canine seasonal allergies.The only thing both humans and their pets can do is manage the problem by finding ways to reduce their exposure to allergens and lessen their impact. For example, preventative measures you can take include:
- Change your daily walk time – Ideally, you want to avoid taking your dog on walks early in the morning or late in the afternoon; at such times, pollen levels reach their peak. By picking a different time, you reduce the sheer quantity of allergens they’ll likely be exposed to.
- Alter your daily walk routine – Along the same lines, during seasons where allergies are at their worst, avoid fields and parks that can contain many of the allergens you wish to avoid.
- Remove excess allergens – Once you’ve finished playing or walking outside, give your dog a quick cleaning. Pay special attention to the paws. There’s no need for a daily bath, simply use hypoallergenic pet wipes to remove excess pollen from your pup’s skin and fur.
- Clean your home – Both the air and surfaces of you home can contain an ungodly number of allergens. By regularly replacing air filters and cleaning surfaces, you can help prevent mold, dust, and other substances from accruing.
Pay special attention to regularly cleaning your dog’s bed. And if that seems like too much work, then cover it with blankets or towels, which are easier to clean.
- Dog shampoo – Medicated dog shampoo can wash away pollen, dust, or other substances that are more deeply imbedded in your pup’s skin or fur. In addition, it can help soothe itchy and inflamed skin.
- Topical solutions – Using a topical solution like an antimicrobial hydrogel can help alleviate and sooth your dogs skin irritations. With cooling and itch relieving properties, your furry friend can get back to themselves in no time.
If your dog has an allergic reaction that is especially bad, you may need to take them to the vet. There, the vet can test them for allergies and prescribe medications to eliminate or ease the symptoms, particularly if they develop a secondary skin infection from all the scratching.
Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
Seasonal allergies are an unfortunate and unavoidable part of many dog’s lives. Although there is no cure, there are steps you can take to prevent and treat the symptoms of allergies. Therefore, be on the lookout for the common signs of an allergic reaction… so you can nip it in the bud before it worsens.
- NCBI. Allergies: Overview. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK447112/
- CNN. Pets, owners challenged by increasing allergies. https://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/26/pet.allergies/
- NCBI. Canine atopic dermatitis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4531508/
- American Kennel Club. Dog Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.