It’s that time of year, when beautiful flowers are blossoming, grass is turning green—and a thick layer of yellow powder coats every surface. The springtime pollen that is wreaking havoc with your sinuses can affect your pet, as well. Seasonal allergies often flare in spring and fall as the weather patterns change to rising summer heat or plunging winter chill. Many pets also suffer from a flea or insect hypersensitivity in the spring because of rising insect populations.
What causes seasonal allergies in pets?
Allergic reactions are frustrating conditions with many names, whereas seasonal allergies are called atopic dermatitis, atopy, or inhalant allergies. Atopy typically presents as itchy skin caused by an allergic response to an inhaled environmental allergen. Most atopy cases are seen in spring and fall when inhalant allergens are found in abundance. Pets frequently suffer from the following springtime inhalant allergens:
- Flowers, but rarely the brightly colored varieties
- Pollen from other plants
We also see pets with a hypersensitivity to dust or storage mites, dander, and mold spores, which can be present year-round indoors but may spike in the spring. Atopy is the second-most commonly diagnosed allergy in dogs, after flea allergy. Both types flare with warmer weather, so accurate record-keeping is vital in determining whether your pet has a seasonal or year-round allergy.
What are the signs of allergies in pets?
While people usually fall victim to congestion, sinus pressure, and itchy, watery eyes, we rarely see these symptoms in pets. Allergies in pets commonly manifest in their skin, although they may also sneeze and produce excessive eye discharge. If your pet is suffering from seasonal allergies, you may notice the following signs:
- Hair loss
- Red, inflamed skin
- Ear infections
- Hot spots
- Face rubbing
- Licking and chewing paws and legs
- Skin infections
Inhalant allergens are extremely common with pets’ springtime allergies, but contact allergens can also cause problems. Dogs will often lick and chew their bellies and feet after playing in grass and other vegetation. Some pets will react after limited grass contact from a quick elimination break.
Fleas enjoy springtime as well, and their population booms. A classic flea allergy sign in dogs is a naked hind end. Fleas love to congregate at the base of the tail, and a hypersensitive dog will chew herself raw around the tail and hind legs. Cats may show more generalized hair loss, but will develop scabs and lose hair around the face and abdomen.
How are allergies in pets diagnosed?
Pet allergies are frustrating because they are difficult to diagnose and manage. If we suspect only an environmental allergy, diagnosis can be simple, but most pets are usually hypersensitive to a multitude of allergens, which makes an accurate diagnosis challenging. A pet may suffer with a flea allergy and a grass pollen hypersensitivity, and perhaps a food allergy as well.
A pet who is itchy at the same time every year can easily be diagnosed with a routine seasonal allergy, but allergies can change as your pet ages. A springtime allergy may develop into a sensitivity seen from early spring through late fall, making pinpointing a single culprit difficult. We use intradermal testing, which is the gold standard for determining environmental allergy causes, but we can also measure antibody levels in the blood.
- Intradermal testing requires shaving the pet’s side so we can see the skin. We inject small amounts of allergens just under the skin and look for a local reaction, seen as a raised, red area surrounding the allergen. Intradermal testing allows us to judge your pet’s response to common allergens in her environment.
- Serum testing involves taking a blood sample from your pet. We send the sample to an outside laboratory to measure the antibody levels in the blood and determine the environmental allergens that trigger your pet’s allergic response.
How are allergies in pets treated?
Allergy management is a lifelong battle for people and pets alike. We offer a wide array of management options, depending on your pet’s specific allergy, which may include:
- Oral medication targeting the “itch response”
- Injectable medication that neutralizes the main protein triggering the scratching
- Corticosteroid therapy
- Topical skin protectants
- Medicated shampoos or mousses
- Antibiotics for secondary skin infections
- Flea and tick prevention
- Immunotherapy developed from serum testing
- Prescription diets
Often, multiple therapies are necessary to keep a pet comfortable and prevent allergy flares. Also, pets’ allergies change, and we will regularly switch out our treatment plan to ensure we are always combating your furry friend’s itching most effectively.
Is your pet itching for relief? Schedule an appointment at our hospital to make your pet comfortable in her own skin again.