Like humans, a dog’s immune system can recognize allergens and allergic symptoms can surface. If you find your dog scratching, licking, or biting themselves more than usual, they may have allergic dermatitis caused by seasonal and pollen allergies.
Signs and Symptoms of Allergic Dermatitis:
- Itchy, red, moist, or scabbed skin
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Itchy back or base of tail
- Sneezing, which can be mild or more severe.
- Your dog might chew or lick its swollen paws
- Excessive licking, biting, scratching, ear itchiness, and ear problems.
- Rubbing against vertical surfaces like furniture or rubbing their face against carpet.
- Hot spots, which are inflamed and infected areas on the skin.
- Hair loss, scabs, or crusts.
Symptoms become more severe after the dog is exposed to pollen. Pollen exposure can be indoors as well as while the dog is outside.
Which Dogs are at Risk?
Any dog can develop pollen allergies. Some breeds are more susceptible such as:
- Terriers (Boston, Westies, etc.)
- Labs and Golden Retrievers
- English and French Bulldogs
- German Shepherds
- Shar Pei
How Do Dogs Develop Pollen Allergies?
Pollen allergies, like allergies to other substances such as a food allergy or house dust mite allergy, develop due to an over-reactive immune system in a patient. Some dogs may be more prone to environmental allergies, including pollen allergies, due to their lifestyle, pollen exposure, dog breed, etc. When the skin of a sensitized dog (a.k.a. a dog prone to developing allergies) comes in contact with pollen in the environment, this leads to inflammation of the skin and an itch response. The hair coat of longhaired dogs may harbour allergens in it, leading to further inflammation of the skin. As time passes by, the immune system may falsely overreact to additional allergens leading to worsening in allergy symptoms.
What You Should Do for Testing and Treatment Options
If you suspect your dog has pollen allergies, it’s best to get it checked out by a veterinary dermatologist. They are trained and specialize in testing, managing, and treating dog allergies and can successfully help to relieve your dog’s discomfort. A veterinary dermatologist uses current testing methods and proven treatments to control dog allergies and help prevent or minimize symptoms from reoccurring. You can get a referral to a vet dermatologist from your family veterinarian.
Before testing for pollen allergies or other environmental allergies is performed, a preliminary check should be done, ruling out any possibility of fleas, mites, fungal or yeast infections, chronic bacterial infections, and other skin problems that may mimic allergic skin disease.
There are Two Basic Types of Testing for Environmental Allergies
- Intradermal Allergy Testing (IDAT) – It is the same test as the scratch test or allergy test that is performed on the arm or back of humans. It is performed on the side of the chest on dogs and cats. This procedure requires special training and is performed by veterinary dermatologists. Within a few hours, pollen and other allergens affecting the dog can be determined by utilizing this test.
- Serum Allergy Test – a blood test that can be performed where intradermal testing is not possible or is sometimes combined with intradermal testing to supplement those results.
What Treatments are Available?
The most effective treatment for pollen allergies is immunotherapy (allergen specific desensitization therapy) which is specifically manufactured for your dog. The vet dermatologist prepares allergens that your pet is individually allergic to and then administers these allergens to your dog over a period of time so that they develop an immunity to the pollen allergy. Immunotherapy may be administered using injections under the skin (subcutaneous therapy) or by using oral drops given directly in to the mouth (oral immunotherapy). Both methods are effective for desensitization against allergies. The vet dermatologist will discuss with you which option is best suited to successfully treat your dog.
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Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.