Just like humans, pets can develop seasonal allergies as well. In the veterinary world, we see pets come in often during the spring and summer months with allergy symptoms, as pollen is in the air, and on the ground!
Have you noticed your dog becoming itchy? Are they scratching, chewing, or licking excessively? Sometimes pet parents notice discolouration on the paws from licking too much. All of these can be symptoms of allergies in pets, including seasonal allergies! Environmental allergies are so common in dogs they are actually one of the most common reasons for vet visits!
What are Allergies, Allergy Triggers & Dog Allergy Symptoms?
Allergies are an exaggerated immune response by an individual to an allergen. An allergen is a protein that can come from any kind of exposure to the body such as tree pollen, grass pollen, dander and flea saliva.
The allergic dog’s body develops antibodies to an allergen and thus over-reacts to the allergen leading to skin inflammation and itchiness. Pollen, dander and other environmental allergens after all are not harmful by nature to humans and dogs. When the body is in contact with the allergen to which the individual dog is allergic to, this can produce a variety of allergy symptoms.
In dogs, allergy symptoms will most often include itchiness of the skin or ears, and redness of skin or ears. Allergies can also cause respiratory signs, such as coughing, sneezing, or watery eyes. The presentation of the allergy can vary from minor inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) to severe redness, itchiness, hair loss, and inflammation.
Seasonal Environmental Allergies in Dogs
Seasonal allergies in dogs affect the individual when the allergen comes into contact with the skin, called epi-cutaneous exposure. Mild and occasional inhaled allergen exposure can also cause allergy symptoms in dogs, similar to humans.
Environmental allergy is often referred to as “atopic dermatitis”, similar to the human medical term for environmental allergy related conditions. The most common symptom of allergies is itchiness. Itchiness comes in many forms. You may notice your companion pet licking at their paws a lot, discoloured paws, constant biting at their skin, rubbing up against things such as walls and carpets, or scratching with the back leg the old fashioned way! Head shaking, ear scratching and rubbing of eyes are also forms of itchiness in dogs.
How to identify and treat allergens affecting your pet?
The identification of exact allergy triggers in dogs can be simple. This is usually preceded by an organized allergy diagnosis process, which can at times be time consuming but very worthwhile in the long term, as it will be easier to manage allergy symptoms and allergy complications, once the culprit allergens are exposed!
Once the environmental allergy, including pollen allergy, is diagnosed as the cause of symptoms, further work on allergies needs to be very individualized for each dog. There are a wide variety of pollens (including grass, tree, and weed pollen), environmental molds (usually in wet grass and close to large bodies of water), as well as dander and dust in the indoor environment.
While the term environmental allergy is an ‘umbrella term’, each pet is typically affected by its own specific trigger allergens. Trigger allergens are the allergens that are responsible for allergy symptoms in an individual dog, i.e, allergens that trigger allergy symptoms!
In order to determine which allergen(s) affect the individual dog, skin (intra-dermal) allergy testing can be performed, similar to the skin-prick testing used in humans. During intra-dermal allergy testing in dogs, a small amount of each common environmental allergen is injected into the skin. If there is a positive allergic reaction to the allergen, we can say this is one of the trigger allergens affecting the dog. This test is regarded as the definitive and “gold standard” test by many veterinary dermatologists.
An alternative method of allergy trigger identification in dogs is blood allergy testing. Various laboratories provide this test and while it requires a simple blood draw, results can vary by lab, as well as by the individual pet. Various methodologies of blood testing for allergy identification are available. In some pets, blood-based allergy testing may not give any positive allergy trigger answers. This would not indicate that an environmental allergy has been ruled out, rather it only implies that the test used was not adequate for allergy identification in the particular dog.
Upon knowledge of this information, we can then start the ‘desensitization’ or ‘hyposensitization’ process for the pet. Allergy desensitization therapy can be performed using oral drops given by mouth, or by performing injections, using the individualized ‘allergy formulation’ for your dog. It is effective and helpful in about 70% of allergic dogs. This is something personalized and can be discussed with your pet’s dermatologist.
Environmental allergies, including seasonal allergies such as a pollen allergy, can be treated with medication for symptomatic control as well as using medicated baths. Most medications available for symptom control are about 70% effective in providing comfort and relief for dogs. These treatments may include oral tablets or injections under the skin.
Based on the pet’s individual symptoms, age, effectiveness of a previously attempted therapy, as well as the family’s preferences, environmental allergies can be managed using various approaches, including allergy desensitization therapy, drug therapy, or bathing for symptom management. However, no therapy will cure the problem and typically a combination of these treatment options is needed.
Treatment needs for your pet can vary from one season to another, and may also change as your pet ages.
Think your dog has seasonal summer allergies? Or, possibly year round skin problems that are worse in the summer months? Your pet may benefit from a veterinary dermatology examination and consultation. Simply call or email to book an assessment or talk to your family veterinarian about a specialist dermatology appointment, if needed.
Our vet dermatology team will collect your dog’s medical history from you, including skin and ear related concerns from the past, as this will help narrow down the context of your pooch’s skin condition!
We will help you identify your dog’s allergy triggers, to develop a treatment plan that fits your dog and family’s needs. Itch-relief and well managed allergy symptoms will offer improved comfort, happiness levels, and increase your pet’s overall well-being!
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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.