Seasonal allergies in pets

All domestic animals can react to the changes of the season – just like some humans do. During late winter, early springtime, when the climate is dry and windy, there is a lot of dust and pollen in the air. Humans as well as our pets inhale these particles or pets brush up against skin irritants, which can lead to seasonal allergies.

Let’s explore the symptoms of seasonal allergies in pets, what triggers the allergic reaction, and how to treat seasonal allergies in dogs and cats.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies in dogs and cats

If your pet is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms and/or behaviours, it is likely that they are experiencing a reaction to a seasonal allergen:

  • coughing, sneezing, wheezing
  • snoring or abnormal respiratory noise
  • itchy, inflamed eyes; watery eyes
  • ear infections
  • red, inflamed or dry, flaky skin
  • swollen, sensitive paws; compulsive paw licking
  • excessive grooming; abnormal licking
  • excessive shedding
  • excessive scratching
  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea

Some pets are not only allergic to seasonal allergens like pollen, dust and grass, but may also react to general allergens like mites, mould and mildew. These pets will be more sensitive to allergens when there is a greater load in their environment (like when the seasons change), but they may also show these symptoms at other times of the year.

What triggers seasonal allergies in pets?

In general, allergic reactions occur in the body when the immune system recognises a foreign substance (dust, pollen, mould spores, etc.) and launches a defence against this substance, even though these rather benign substances are not biologically harmful. It quickly creates antibodies to fend off the foreign substance, triggering the release of histamines, and deploys inflammatory responses to prevent the foreign substance from entering our system. Inflammation in the skin, sinuses, airways, eyes, ears and even in the digestive system are prime examples of immune reactions.

Seasonal allergies in our pets occur when their bodies are reacting to an excess amount of dust and pollen. Their immune reaction to those foreign substances causes them to sneeze, scratch, tear, sniffle, and sometimes even vomit. However, not all pets develop seasonal allergies – in the same way that not all humans are sensitive to pollen and dust. It’s all down to our genes; some immune systems are simply more sensitive to allergens than others.

Do I need to take my allergic pet to the veterinarian?

Generally, most pets with seasonal allergies have dry, itchy skin, the sneezes, and if they are susceptible to ear infections, these will flare up. Soothing, conditioning baths with medicated shampoos as well as applying nourishing or prescription lotions can help with mild reactions. However, some pets will scratch until they break their skin, which can cause secondary infections or a sore spot that doesn’t heal.

In instances where pets are very unhappy because of their symptoms (their quality of life is affected) or if they have trouble breathing, sleeping or eating – i.e. the allergic reaction is severe – then it’s time to take them to the vet.

How will the vet diagnose my pet’s allergies?

During a consultation, the veterinarian will assess your pet’s physical symptoms. It will help a great deal if you can give the vet a timeline of when the symptoms (scratching, sneezing, etc.) first appeared and how severe they may have become. Have you noticed a difference in your pet’s eating and elimination patterns? Have you recently changed their bedding or introduced a new toy or treat? What other changes can you think of?

To rule out any other problems that may be causing these symptoms (such as flea and food allergies), and to confirm that the allergies are what they appear to be (a reaction to seasonal allergens), the vet will perform an intradermal skin test – or what we know as a skin-prick test. This involves injecting a tiny amount of known allergens under your pet’s skin and if the skin becomes red, inflamed and swells, it indicates a positive immune response to the allergen. The vet then uses this confirmation to formulate a treatment plan to reduce your pet’s symptoms and reaction to the allergies.

The vet may also refer you to a pet dermatologist for further testing and treatment.

How are seasonal allergies in pets treated?

The treatment plan for seasonal allergies will vary from one pet to another, and depends on the severity of the allergic reaction. For mild reactions, the vet may prescribe oral antihistamines or recommend over-the-counter medications to help manage symptoms. Your friends and family might suggest various remedies that worked for their pets’ allergies, but ALWAYS check with the vet before giving your pet any medications.

Soothing, anti-itch sprays and creams may help to control the topical symptoms while you are helping to build up your pet’s immunity. Oatmeal baths with skin-moisturising properties can also help to relieve itchiness and dry, flaky skin.

For severe reactions (which have been diagnosed with proper dermatological testing), the pet dermatologist or veterinarian will prescribe an allergy serum. The serum is injected in small doses and gradually increased over time to allow your pet to build up immunity against the allergen and reduce the severity of their allergic symptoms.

How can I prevent my pet’s allergies from flaring up?

Prevention is better than cure, but when it comes to an allergic reaction in our pets, prevention can be a bit tricky. Pollen, dust and other allergens in the environment cannot simply be removed, but there are a few things pet owners can do to alleviate their pets’ symptoms.

  • Try to keep susceptible cats indoors during high-allergen times of the year.
  • Use a dust-free variety of cat litter, to give your cat’s respiratory system a break.
  • Do not smoke around pets.
  • If your allergic dog’s play area is on a lawn, it’s likely that he’ll react to the grass and pollen. Take him for walks on a pavement or road instead and see if it reduces his symptoms. Allergen load is usually highest in the mornings and early evenings, so try walking your dog in the middle of the day (if it’s not too hot) to see if he’s less reactive.
  • Giving pets more frequent baths or thorough wipe-downs with medicated wipes will help to remove most of the allergens from their coats and reduce allergic reactions.
  • Bath pets with lukewarm water, as hot water can irritate the skin even more. Medicated shampoos can soothe and cool hot, angry skin as they contain antihistamines and steroids, which can reduce inflammatory symptoms.
  • Clean their coats and paws each time they come indoors, to prevent them from tracking pollen, dust, spores and other allergens all over the house and creating more exposure. Try to make indoors as allergen-free as possible.
  • Vacuum and clean more frequently during high-allergen seasons, especially on and around your pets’ beds and play areas.
  • Support and strengthen your pets’ immune system with a healthy, high-quality diet, supplemented with pre- and probiotics, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that will boost their vitality and wellbeing.
  • Speak to the vet about the best preventative protocol for your pet, as all pets will require a different approach to help reduce or manage their symptoms.

Are some pets more susceptible to seasonal allergies than others?

Seasonal allergies are the luck of the draw for pets, but some dog breeds have been shown to be more vulnerable than others: brachycephalic dog breeds like pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers and Pekingese are susceptible because of their very short airways, but other breeds like setters, terriers, German shepherds, shar-peis and retrievers are also high on the allergy list. 

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