As new plants and flowers burst into life this spring, so too do the symptoms of hay fever. But humans aren’t the only ones who suffer. Animals are susceptible to the same airborne allergens that we are. Blooming plants, grasses and flowers can trigger allergic reactions called atopy in dogs and cats.
The allergy is similar to hay fever that humans suffer. The animal reacts to inhaled particles such as mold, pollen, and dust. While your pet may be affected by similar uncomfortable symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, itchiness, coughing and disturbed sleep, the most typical pet response is itchy skin, and they will persistently scratch, lick and bite to get relief. If left untreated, dogs and cats with seasonal allergies will scratch, lick or chew themselves constantly. In an attempt to relieve themselves, dogs and cats often create sores that become secondary infections.
To determine if your pets watery eyes or habitual scratching are caused by allergies and not something else, observe your pet’s behavior. If the signs occur for less than three months out of the year, or if the symptoms only occur in the Spring or Fall, it most likely is allergies. Oral medications, like cortisone or Benadryl, may be used to control itching. However, certain signs warrant an immediate visit to your vet. These include a foul odor (may be caused by an infection or a buildup of bacteria or yeast on the body, inside the ears, on the lips or in between folds of skin), hair loss or significant behavioral changes such as if your pet is simply not playful or not acting like himself.
In more severe cases, pets are given a skin allergy test to pinpoint what allergies the animal is sensitive to. Your veterinarian can then give injections of the allergic material in minimal doses to build up immunities in your pet’s system. Other treatments for allergies include omega-3 fatty acids (for the anti-inflammatory effect), probiotics, immunotherapy, antihistamines, steroids and medicated shampoos.
There are a few things that you can do to try to minimize the effect of allergies. First, take steps to reduce your pet’s exposure to allergens and head off reactions. Wipe down your dog or cat — especially the paws — after he comes in from being outside. To limit the amount of airborne particles that get into your house, take off your own shoes right after you walk through the door. Keep windows closed, bathe your dog or cat with a mild cleanser frequently, and run a HEPA air filter around the clock.
If you suspect that your pet may be suffering from seasonal allergies, please consult with your veterinarian for the best course of treatment.