One of the most frustrating things for an owner is to watch their dog scratch incessantly. Now that the snow has finally left us, a variety of molds and other allergens are left on the grass outside. As the plants and trees begin to bloom, potential allergens (pollens, molds, etc.) will fill the air too, possibly stimulating an allergic response in your dogs – and you!
Spring and fall are likely the worst times of the year for dog allergies. Although, depending on what is causing the allergies, they can occur at any time of the year, including winter. In most cases, dogs suffer from seasonal allergies, but it is also possible that the trigger (allergen) is found inside of your house. In fact, house dust and mites, along with natural fabrics like wool, are common allergens too. In situations where your dog scratches throughout the year, regardless of the season, the allergen is likely found inside your home. Although food protein is the cause of a mere 5% of allergies, this may also be the cause of your pet’s year-round allergies.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies in your pets:
The most common sign of allergies in pets is scratching. As a result, many owners mistake allergies for fleas. Although fleas are always possible, they are usually found in late summer and fall. If your dog has fleas in the spring, this could be a sign of squirrels in your attic!
In addition to scratching, many dogs will lick their feet, rub their face on the ground or even drag their rear ends (although this is more commonly due to anal gland or rectal issues). The other common manifestation of allergies, even without the scratching, is chronic ear problems. While almost all repetitive ear problems have some underlying commonality, allergies (atopy) are at the top of the list.
Determining if your pet has seasonal allergies:
Although your veterinarian may suspect seasonal allergies as the cause of your pet’s clinical signs, further diagnostic tests may be needed. Although blood allergy tests may be recommended, the gold standard is direct skin testing. It is more accurate, but will most likely require a referral to a dermatologist. Once the results of the skin testing are known, a unique allergy solution is developed for injecting into your cat or dog on a regular basis in an effort to slowly “teach” its immune system not to be so over-reactive when exposed to the offending allergen. This treatment technique is called hyper-sensitization and is used in people as well. These injections can be administered either by your veterinarian or you – if needles do not frighten you.
Treating your pet’s seasonal allergies:
Skin testing and hyper-sensitization injections can be challenging, both in terms of time required and cost, and they don’t always work. Hence, drug therapy is often required to control the scratching and other symptoms, even with the allergy injections. Prednisone is probably the most commonly prescribed drug, either alone or combined with an antihistamine. Prednisone works, but not without short and long term side effects. Short term, it stimulates excessive drinking and appetite. Long term use can play havoc with your dog’s internal organs (the adrenal glands in particular). Trying to get your dog onto an every-second-morning administration, instead of every day, can minimize side effects.
Omega 3 fatty acids and antihistamines can also be effective in treating allergy symptoms if you know what is causing them and are proactive about treatment. There are many antihistamines available, but based on studies that have been done, hydroxyzin works very well in most dogs. Numerous studies have also shown that omega 3 fatty acids can be effective anti-inflammatories for the skin of dogs. Your veterinarian is best to advise you about type and dosage.
The vast majority of dogs (and, fortunately, only very few cats) that have seasonal allergies will develop problems every year. In fact, as the years pass, the number of allergens will often increase and hence the “seasonality” of the allergies will increase from spring, to spring and fall, to potentially all year round. It’s important to recognize if your pet has seasonal allergies and initiate preventive treatment with your veterinarian before the clinical signs get out of control. In this way, everyone can enjoy the warmer weather outside!