Seasonal Allergies in Pets

Last month the pine trees were shedding so much pollen that massive green clouds could be seen billowing across roads and fields. Simultaneously our practice saw a spike in dogs with painful ear infections, skin lesions, fur loss and uncomfortable itching problems. Coincidence? I think not. We will see the aftermath of the pollen explosion all summer. When the tree pollen wears off the flower pollen will take over in the summer. Then we’ll segue into the fall weed pollen season. Your pet could itch for one month or several depending what types of pollen allergies she has.

People with allergies may exhibit weepy eyes and scratchy throats, cough and be wheezing when we are exposed to pollen from flowers trees or weeds. Dogs exhibit different signs because the pollen settles on their skin and is absorbed through the skin and causes symptoms which are related to skin issues rather than respiratory issues. Just as we get a weepy nose and eyes with allergies dogs may have a runny nose, a post nasal drip with “reverse sneeze” sound and red irritated eyes. They rarely cough due to allergies.

Pets may have an allergic reaction to all types of pollen, air pollutants, aerosol sprays, detergents, and even make up. Home products such as air fresheners, candle and incense smoke; sisal and jute can also set off allergies. One of the biggest offenders for pet allergies is cigarette smoke. We have seen dogs, cats and even birds with severe skin lesions and even life-threatening self-trauma in response to the cigarette smoke in the home. Pets feel just as miserable as people with allergies. Pets are less active and responsive when they are distracted by a painful itching sensation. And post nasal drip.

Cats experience allergies but they may have skin lesions or severe respiratory reaction to pollen and other allergens. Cats can be asthmatic in response to exposure to pollen and other environmental allergens. It is suspected that birds have allergies although research must still be done to learn more. Birds can have big itching problems due to smoke or air fresheners. They can traumatize their skin very efficiently with their beaks. Give your bird a shower to wash off the allergen. Showering your bird weekly can help a lot

What can you do for your pet in the face of this allergen assault? You can wash allergens off the skin by bathing with an oatmeal shampoo as often as weekly. Keep the windowsills wiped down if the windows are open. Vacuum frequently. Faithfully apply the tick and flea product recommended by your veterinarian every month. An insect bite can compound the allergic reaction. Has your pet been assessed with a physical exam by your veterinarian? An ulcer, scratch, a lack of tear production or a reaction to pollen may cause a weepy eye. Each is treated differently. Antihistamines work nicely for people but unfortunately, each one has only a 40% chance of being effective in your pet. Your veterinarian can work with you to find the antihistamine and proper dose that is correct for your pet. Your veterinarian will determine if there are secondary bacterial or fungal skin infections and treatment for those if necessary. Discuss the benefits of fish oils with your veterinarian. There are many types and they are a natural way to reduce itch if given at the proper dose.

Allergic skin problems and a constantly itching pet are a cause of frustration for both the pet owner and the veterinarian because sometimes there are no quick fixes. The ideal fix is to eliminate the allergen. Sometimes allergen elimination can be achieved but pollen is ubiquitous and a constant source of irritation. Many times the solution is to control the problem with multiple types of treatments.

Veterinary dermatologists do skin testing for allergens in dogs. These veterinarians have studied for several years after completion of their four year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. They can test multiple allergens on the skin and see which ones trigger the biggest reaction. Your veterinarian can run a simple blood test for 48 allergens that are present in your area of the country. The blood test may reveal exactly what typed of grass weed or tree pollen is causing the problem. Then your pet may receive desensitization injections to help decrease the skin reaction. A decrease of 50% in the itching is considered good progress.

Don’t give up on pet allergies! Call your veterinarian and work together to establish a game plan so your pet can be as comfortable as possible for the vacation weather.