Managing Your Dog's Seasonal Allergies
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Did you know that dogs can get seasonal allergies just like humans? It's true! Seasonal allergies in dogs usually manifest as itchy skin, but there are other telltale reactions. For instance, if your pooch has a runny nose, is excessively scratching, or just acting a bit off, it could very well be allergies.
Here are some ways you can identify seasonal allergies in dogs, as well as tips for getting your pet back up and running should they fall under the weather.
Signs of Dog Seasonal Allergies
The reactions dogs have to allergens are slightly different from those of humans. Itchy skin and recurrent ear infections are the most common signs of seasonal allergies in dogs, but your pet may also experience red, swollen eyes, a clear, runny nose and fits of sneezing.
The itchiness your pet may experience can range from intense to mild, and is most likely to occur in the armpit, groin, muzzle or paw regions. Note: Dogs can scratch themselves raw. So if you notice them scratching, rubbing on carpet or furniture, chewing or licking themselves more than normal, it's worth taking them to see a veterinarian. This behavior can lead to painful infections — signs of which include unusual odor and discharge — that will require treatment.
What Causes Dog Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies in dogs occur when they inhale or come in contact with something that they're sensitive to. Going a little deeper: allergies happen when the immune system becomes less tolerant of an allergen. After that, any time the immune system encounters that allergen in the environment, it goes haywire with an inflammatory response that causes all or some of the reactions mentioned above.
Seasonal allergies are brought on by factors only present during specific times of the year, such as tree and grass pollen, dust and dust mites, mold and mold mites, flea bites and fresh grass in the fall or summer.
How Are Seasonal Allergies in Dogs Diagnosed?
Your vet can tell you for sure if your dog is experiencing seasonal allergies or something else, based upon your pet's history, a physical exam, laboratory tests and their response to therapy. You can also take your dog to a dermatologist for skin testing — another accurate method for diagnosing seasonal allergies.
Skin testing is usually performed by a board-certified veterinary dermatologist, who measures your pet's reaction to microdoses of different allergens to determine exactly which they're allergic to. Using this information, they can make a serum for allergy shots that may make your dog's response to allergens less intense over time.
Blood testing is another route to consider, although skin testing is considered the more accurate approach.
Managing Dog Seasonal Allergies With Medication
One way to manage seasonal allergies in dogs is by using the allergy serum prescribed by your dog's dermatologist. This requires a series of allergen injections that slowly increase in dose over time. The needle you'll use is very small, but you can perform these injections at home with professional guidance.
Allergy injections tend to have low levels of side effects, which can make them a good option for dogs with moderate to severe allergies.
If your dog only has mild seasonal allergies, they may respond well to several over-the-counter and at-home remedies, such as antihistamines.
Oral prescription medications are another option. Anti-itch medicine that can work quickly and can be discontinued without negative side effects could be an option for your dog. There are even medications that modulate the immune system's response to allergens. Both are available via prescription from your local veterinarian and require annual examinations and/or blood work.
Both of these types of prescription medications have side effects, so be sure to talk with your vet about how taking them could impact your dog's health. In general, it's always a good idea to ask your vet before introducing anything new to your dog's system — especially with over-the-counter medicine — so you can give your pet the option and dosage best for their unique needs.
Managing Dog Seasonal Allergies With Nutrition
Another option for treating your dog's seasonal allergies is through nutrition. Certain therapeutic dog foods are specially formulated to help manage your dog's skin allergies. These can be an excellent option to supplement or even replace the need for more expensive medications. The best part? It's as easy as feeding your dog as you normally would! Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if there are nutritional options for your dog. Make sure to properly transition your dog's food if a therapeutic food is recommended by your veterinarian.
How to Keep a Dog's Seasonal Allergies at Bay
You'll also want to limit your dog's exposure to allergens. After outside playtime, use a baby wipe on their underside, paws and legs before letting them inside; this can remove allergens from your dog's skin.
Weekly baths with oatmeal shampoos can also be helpful, but make sure the water is lukewarm, as hot water can dry and irritate their skin. Dogs tend to respond well to a bath with a medicated shampoo that contains antihistamines or steroids. Prescription-strength lotions and sprays are also available.
While seasonal allergies are a thing every single year, their impact on your dog's well-being can be reduced with proper treatment and active prevention measures. Not every approach will be right for every dog, but with a little trial and error, you can figure out how to keep seasonal allergies from slowing your pet down.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.