Whenever the seasons change, it is common for humans to experience a period of adjusting to new weather, climate, and other environmental factors — pollen, we’re looking at you! In fact, according to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million Americans experience some type of allergies each year, with allergies being the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. But what about dogs? Are pets affected by seasonal or environmental allergies, too? And if so, what can pet owners do to protect them?
“Seasonal allergies are very common in dogs,” explains Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian and veterinary consultant for DogLab.com. “These dogs are allergic to plants and trees in their environment. Each year when these plants bloom, these dogs will start itching and having skin infections.”
If you think your dog might have a seasonal or environmental allergy, keep reading to find out more about symptoms, what to look out for, and when to consult your veterinarian.
Can dogs have seasonal allergies?
Yes, dogs can have seasonal allergies. According to Dr. Ochoa, a seasonal allergy in a dog will present itself through symptoms like itching or a skin infection.
Alexandra Rodriguez, veterinary technician and veterinary consult at CatPet.Club, adds, “Dogs that scratch excessively may be allergic to something. Some pets are affected at certain times of the year, while others have problems all year.”
Can dogs be affected by environmental allergies?
In addition to dogs having seasonal allergies, they can also be affected by environmental factors or, in veterinary talk, “allergens.”
“Although there are many causes of itchy skin in pets, there are three main types of allergic skin disease: parasitic — such as flea bite dermatitis from the presence of fleas — food allergy — secondary to a protein or grain ingested over a period of time — and atopy, caused by exposure to an environmental allergen,” Rodriguez says.
According to Rodriguez, flea allergies tend to show physical symptoms on the lower back, tail head, perineum, hind limbs, and umbilical area, whereas food allergies manifest near the ears or rear of your pet.
“Classic signs of atopy involve self-trauma to the face, feet, armpits, and groin regions of the pet, due to intense itchiness,” Rodriguez adds.
If you are worried that your dog might be dealing with environmental allergies, be sure to keep a close eye on those most commonly affected areas.
What are the signs of allergic dermatitis?
While it’s true that different allergies tend to affect different parts of your pet’s body, there are also some common symptoms and signs to look out for.
“Itchy signs can include chewing and licking of the feet, rubbing or pawing at the face or eyes, rubbing the head or ears along the carpet or sofa, rubbing the belly or rear on the floor, and redness of the skin in the affected areas,” Rodriguez explains. “Many pets will lick their armpits, thighs, belly, or abdomen. Scratching at the ears or ear flicking and head shaking is also indicative of allergies.”
What’s worse, your pet trying to mitigate his or her own symptoms can actually cause more health issues.
“The constant scratching and licking can result in a secondary bacterial skin infection,” Rodriguez warns. Rodriguez explains other symptoms could include reoccurring ear infections, full anal glands, and anal gland infections.
“Most pets will start showing allergy signs between one and three years of age. Initially, many allergies will occur seasonally when the allergen is at its peak, but each year, the allergy season starts a little earlier and lasts a little longer and the allergies worsen. Eventually, with time, allergic dermatitis can become year-round. Allergens such as house dust mites, molds, and mildews are present any season and pets sensitive to these will suffer year-round.”
Which kinds of allergies do dogs have most frequently?
Dogs can be allergic to almost anything that people can. While food allergies are often common in dogs, they can also be sensitive to grass, fleas, trees, pollen, and other year-round allergens that may present in the house (dust or mold and mildew, for example).
“Environmental allergies are also very common,” Dr. Ochoa says. “Dogs can be allergic to molds, pollen, other animals, and even people.”
Which breeds are most susceptible to allergies?
Some breeds are more susceptible to allergies than others. According to Dr. Ochoa, the affected breeds she sees most commonly are Pitbulls, boxers, and any dogs with white or blue-gray coloring. However, This Dog’s Life also adds German shepherds, Bichon Frise, Brussels Griffon, Bull Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Maltese breeds to the list.
How to treat seasonal or environmental allergies in dogs
If you are dealing with a pet who is struggling with environmental or seasonal allergies, it’s best to consult your veterinarian.
“Having an itchy pet thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian is the best option,” Rodriguez explains. “Keeping a record of when the pet became itchy, duration of the itchiness, and what makes it worse proves very helpful for diagnosis, especially when combined with a proper dermatological exam.”
Once a contact dermatitis is diagnosed, your veterinarian might suggest avoiding the allergen (especially if it’s a food allergy), medical management (for allergies like fleas, flood, and atopy), and controlling the environment (especially in flea and atopy).
“In addition, topical shampoos, leave-on lotions, and sprays may help mildly itchy pets by removing the offending allergen from the skin and rebuilding the skin barrier,” Rodriguez says. “Essential fatty acids may be given orally to improve skin function. Medications such as antihistamines, steroids, and immune-modulating drugs are specifically designed to address the itch and manage the atopic pet.”
However, it’s important to note that if your dog has an allergy, she will always have an allergy. Allergies are about mitigating and managing, not curing.
“Remember that allergies are controlled and not cured,” Rodriguez says. “Keep in mind that each allergy patient is different, and each treatment will be individualized to that pet. Some therapies will work better than others for different pets.”
If you have a pet at home, consider participating in the Wisdom Panel Pet Census, a survey that reveals insights into the lives of our nation’s cats and dogs: sizes, breeds, activity levels, and lifestyle choices. The more we know about our pets, the more accurately pet owners can take care of them!