Seasonal Allergies in Dogs | Author: Dr. Cliff Redford, Veterinarian
What Causes Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
Seasonal allergies are inhalant in nature. Allergens like pollen, grass, ragweed, trees, mould and dust become airborne in larger quantities in the spring. Just like humans, when your dog breathes them in, a cascading inflammatory response sets off in their body. Predictably, we see a steady stream of pet owners coming into our clinic seeking allergy relief for their pets around springtime. The symptoms subside eventually once the allergens dissipate from the air, however, some dogs can suffer from them all year round. Seasonal allergies cannot be cured. The best you can do is to proactively manage the symptoms to keep your pet comfortable during allergy season. Any dog can get seasonal allergies, however, some breeds, like West Highland Terriers and Labrador Retrievers, succumb to them more easily.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
Allergic reactions in dogs present quite differently from humans, where symptoms like itchy eyes, stuffy noses and sneezing are common. While these can occur in dogs, they are rare. Instead, the reaction manifests itself on the skin. You may notice hives on the lower half of their body, on their chest and belly, under their arms and also on their paws and pads.
If your dog has seasonal allergies, it will show up in the early stages of life when they are two or three years old. Generally, the mild initial reaction will progressively become persistent and last longer as your dog ages.
Classifying Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
We classify allergic reactions into three stages. Stage One is the mild initial reaction, Stage Two is when it becomes more persistent and we place them in Stage 3 when the medications we prescribe no longer work.
Stage One Seasonal Allergies
Young puppies presenting with their first allergic reactions will have itchy skin with hives as described above. You might even notice your dog licking their paws more than normal. This will generally last for just a month or two and then suddenly disappear. Ensure your veterinarian confirms it is an allergic reaction before you start any treatment. Simple reactions can easily be managed with over-the-counter anti-bacterial and anti-fungal shampoo. You can even purchase anti-itch sprays to give your dog immediate relief from itch discomfort.
If you already know that your dog suffers from seasonal allergies, then ask your veterinarian for a preventative treatment plan with anti-inflammatories like Omega Fatty Acids. They usually take 3 – 4 weeks to kick in so you should start your dog’s treatment in advance of allergy season. Omega Fatty Acids hydrate the skin, fortify it with healthy bacteria and reduce itchiness. However, they also improve heart health, arthritic joints, the immune response and also provide strong protection against some types of cancer. That is why we often recommend it for dogs year-round, and especially if we know the breed is prone to seasonal allergies. Omega Fatty Acids are relatively inexpensive and available over-the-counter. You must purchase the ones designed for dogs and not humans.
Keep your veterinarian informed of your dog’s progress so they can keep track of the progression of its allergies and adjust the treatment plan, accordingly.
Stage Two Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
The main problem with seasonal allergies is the secondary infections they lead to, like bacterial infections (Pyoderma), along with fungal infections (Yeast Dermatitis). As time progresses, the allergic reactions will become more persistent and last longer. Unfortunately, you will find over-the-counter medications becoming less effective. The allergies will agitate your dog to the point of interfering with their comfort and sleep. At this stage, it is important to see your veterinarian. You may require prescribed antibiotics medications or injections, anti-itch vaccines, anti-fungal medications and prescription strength topical cortisone creams.
Stage Three Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
Stage Three allergies occur when the prescription medications from your veterinarian no longer work. This is when we refer you to veterinarian dermatologists. These specialists train for 2 – 3 years after obtaining their veterinarian degree, to deeply focus on single areas of study. They conduct tests on your dog to uncover the specific allergens that are causing the reactions. From there, they design customized anti-allergy serums for you to administer regularly. Such treatments can become expensive but they are extremely effective. Fortunately, Stage Three allergies are rare.
While antihistamines, like Benadryl, work phenomenally well on humans, they do not bode well for dogs and can sometimes be downright dangerous. Human dosages are not designed for pets, either. Antihistamines for dogs usually only work 25% of the time, and only provide limited relief when they do.
A dog with seasonal allergies will require a proactive owner to help him/her through allergy season. Pet owners should not be afraid to ask veterinarians lots of questions to educate themselves. You can also obtain a second opinion if you are unsure of how to move forward. The best decisions for your pet are those you make jointly and confidently with your veterinarian.
ABOUT DR. CLIFF
Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, is an experienced veterinarian and owner/operator of the Wellington Veterinary Hospital in Markham Ontario. Fondly known as Dr. Cliff to his clients, he has tended to the wellness of pets and animals for over two decades. Hands-on experience in his clinic, combined with animal advocacy and rescue missions locally and across the globe, has allowed him to curate a vast body of knowledge on animal health and welfare, including preventative counselling, soft tissue surgery, advanced dental procedures, internal medicine and emergency care.