Updated: Jun 18, 2022
**This blog post is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.**
Sneezing, itching, watery eyes…if you have a seasonal allergy, you know the drill—and the discomfort. But what about your dog? Dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies too, but the signs can look very different and so can the treatment. Dogs also experience allergies differently depending on the stage of their lives. So what is an owner to do?
We’ll outline what causes seasonal allergies in dogs, how to identify them in your dog, and what you can do to help your uncomfortable pooch if she is suffering from them.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies in Dogs?
Just like in humans, seasonal allergies in dogs are caused by an environmental irritant. These can include grasses, pollen, trees, and even dust, according to PetMD. But it also includes pesky critters that come out as the seasons change, like dust mites, fleas and ticks, according to the AKC.
Just like with us, sometimes our dogs have allergic reactions to these irritants. The onset of seasonal allergies can happen at pretty much any time of year, and in some areas, pets are susceptible to seasonal allergies throughout the year.
About 10% of dogs will suffer from allergies in their lifetime. The sooner you learn to manage your dog’s symptoms, the better you will be able to keep them comfortable if their symptoms get worse over time.
In many cases, dogs will develop more severe reactions the more they are exposed to the allergen, so early treatment is important.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
We’re all pretty familiar with seasonal allergies in humans, but they can manifest quite differently in dogs. And unlike people, dogs aren’t able to let us know what’s bugging them, so it’s our job to watch for the telltale signs.
But this isn’t always as easy as it seems. Determining whether your dog has seasonal allergies can be complicated by the fact that some food allergies will present the same way in pets, and sometimes “seasonal” allergies can happen pretty much all year round.
Here are some signs that warrant further investigation:
Scratching and biting
Compulsory licking (especially paws)
Scratching and biting might be one of the most common signs of a seasonal allergy in dogs, and it also may cause some “secondary symptoms” like hotspots, which can then get infected. Excessive scratching can also lead to excessive shedding and dry skin, so it is important to relieve symptoms as soon as possible. Dogs develop histamines (this is what causes the itching and inflammation) in their extremities, so they might be most affected by seasonal allergies in places like their paws, ears, face, and—unfortunately—their bottoms.
This, of course, leads us to another “secondary symptom”: scooting their butts across the floor to relieve itching. (There are other causes for this as well, so if your dog starts doing this, be sure to make sure they aren’t having an issue with their anal glands.)
Some breeds of dogs (ones with long furry, floppy ears) are more prone to ear infections, and as you might expect, these dogs might exhibit ear infections as a result of seasonal allergies.
Signs of an ear infection include build-up of dark wax, redness, itching and ear-shaking, and an odor coming from the ear itself. Ear infections require veterinary attention, an antibiotic taken regularly, and may take a week to clear up, so if you suspect your dog has one, seek medical care soon to help alleviate their discomfort.
If you know your dog is prone to ear infections, clean their ears regularly (or have it done during grooming), which for some dog breeds (like my Bernedoodle) includes keeping ear hair to a minimum. Some of the most acute symptoms—which require immediate veterinary attention—include respiratory problems. Again, some dogs are more prone to respiratory issues (dogs with flat faces), so be on the lookout for signs of seasonal allergies if your dog’s breed already is known to have respiratory issues.
Treating Seasonal Allergies
With so many symptoms that could mean (but don’t necessarily confirm) your dog has a seasonal allergy, it can be overwhelming to determine what exactly is causing your dog’s discomfort. Veterinarians recommend that if you suspect your dog may have any allergy, you should seek expert advice.
Seasonal allergies can be managed, but not cured, and management is key to keeping your dog comfortable. And as you may have guessed, sometimes the secondary problems caused by seasonal allergies can be more dangerous to your dog than the actual problem itself, particularly if your dog has a hot spot that gets infected. Veterinarians have tools available to them to help determine what your dog might be allergic to—it’s a similar procedure for both environmental irritants and food allergies in pets.
They may run an allergy panel (also known as an intradermal), where small amounts of allergens are inserted beneath your dog’s skin to see what they react to. Depending on what your dog is allergic to, your vet may be able to offer an immunotherapy treatment (which could involve a series of shots or under-the-tongue immuno-treatments).
When the seasons change and your dog begins to show signs of seasonal allergies, keep their coat clean to wash away any pollen that may be causing the reaction. Use a mild soap with no scents or irritants. After taking steps to keep their fur free of irritants, you can also try the following:
Witch hazel (this is soothing to irritated skin)
Coconut oil (for moisture)
Cool black or green tea bags (again, for soothing irritated skin)
Omega-3 fatty acids (these can reduce irritation and help provide a barrier to the skin)
Mild antiseptic spray (for hotspots)
And, when prescribed by a vet, antihistamines
If at any time, your dog’s irritated skin or open sore develops an odor, it is definitely time to seek a vet’s advice.
Preventing Seasonal Allergies
One of the most important things you can do if you know your dog has a seasonal allergy is to try to minimize contact with the allergen. This can be very difficult for environmental allergens, but you may be able to control some of their exposure.
Baths are an important tool available to every owner. Bathing your dog regularly with a mild and moisturizing soap can help to keep allergens out of their coat and off their skin. You can also try wiping them down after they have been outside to try to remove any irritants from their coat.
Additionally, be sure to treat them with flea and tick medication. Get a prescription from your vet for this monthly preventative.
Just as fatty acids can be used to help an allergic reaction in progress, Omega-3s can also be a good preventative idea to help your dog’s skin develop a barrier to environmental irritants. And lastly, just like keeping your dog clean, it is important to keep their stuff clean too. This means washing their dog bed and any toys that go inside and out and keeping their spaces free of allergens.
As with many aspects of pet health, being proactive can help keep your dog healthy and comfortable, and keep you prepared should something unexpected come up.
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