By Lisa King
Even though the eastern part of the U.S. is covered in ice and snow and California is experiencing heavy rains and mudslides at press time, spring will eventually come. When it finally arrives, people with seasonal allergies will begin sneezing and wiping runny eyes. Although their symptoms are very different, dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies, too.
Allergies are basically an overreaction of the immune system to a specific trigger. While in allergic humans, spring (and in some cases fall) brings on upper respiratory misery, in dogs who are allergic to pollen the symptoms are usually skin-related. Although allergic dogs sometimes sneeze and have runny eyes, they usually scratch, chew and lick themselves excessively, especially their feet. A dog who scratches all the time can create open sores, hair loss, hot spots and skin infections. These dogs also are more susceptible to ear inflammation and infections. Not to mention, they feel miserable from all the itching.
If you notice your dog scratching excessively, take him to your veterinarian to have him evaluated. He might have flea-bite dermatitis, an allergy to flea bites, another spring and summer phenomenon. This condition is usually relieved by effective flea control and thorough house cleaning.
However, if fleas aren’t the problem, your vet might diagnose your dog with a seasonal allergy. There are several ways you can help your allergic dog be happier and more comfortable. Clean off his feet when he comes in from outside so he doesn’t track pollen and other allergens into the house. Bathe him often; this removes allergens in his coat. Vacuum your home frequently to keep floors free of allergens. Wash your dog’s bedding and blankets often, too, to remove accumulated allergens. If it’s feasible, request that people remove their shoes before they come into the house to reduce tracking in pollen. Keep track of the pollen count in your area, and on bad days reduce the amount of time your dog spends outdoors.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can be effective in reducing minor inflammation. Many supplements formulated for dogs are available at pet supply stores. Ask your vet if your dog should be eating an anti-inflammatory diet. These diets are formulated to contain very little grain.
Medications that suppress the immune system can help reduce allergic reactions. Some over-the-counter oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, are safe for dogs, but check with your vet for dosage recommendations, which will vary based on the size of your dog. These medications reduce itching and inflammation, but can make your dog sleepy.
If you try all these measures to mitigate your dog’s allergies but he is still scratching, your vet might recommend oral or injectable steroids. They are effective with many allergic dogs, but they can have side effects, especially if used over the long term. Cyclosporin, sold as Atopica, is the same drug that people take to prevent organ transplants rejection. It is an oral medication, and its use in dogs is relatively new. It can be more effective than steroids and has fewer side effects, but it is also more expensive.
Your vet might also recommend an intradermal skin test, which is similar to a human allergy test. The vet will shave off a patch of hair and apply specific allergens to isolate the one causing problems. If she is able to find the source of your dog’s problems, she can give your dog a series of allergy shots or a vaccine to prevent future reactions. These solutions can be costly, however.
Some dogs grow out of allergies, but some dogs’ allergies get worse as they age. If you think your dog might have seasonal allergies, the wisest course is to take him to the vet as soon as he begins scratching to prevent his symptoms from becoming too severe so he can enjoy the spring weather outdoors with you.
About the Author: Lisa King is a freelance writer living in Southern California. She is the former managing editor of Pet Product News International, Dogs USA, and Natural Dog magazines. Lisa is also the author of the well-received murder mystery novel “Death in a Wine Dark Sea and the soon-to-be-released “Vulture au Vin.”