As warmer weather arrives, life is good for your dog. She’s spending more time outdoors. Her human is more than up for longer walks. And she can hang out in the backyard, getting her nose down into the landscape. But then again, you notice she’s not quite herself. She’s constantly pawing at her face and licking her paws, and no matter what you say and do, you can’t convince her to stop. Those are classic signs of seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies make us think of the human experience of sneezing and other upper-respiratory symptoms. But in dogs, seasonal allergies tend to show up in allergic dermatitis, or skin irritation, according to VCAHospitals.com. For dogs that have them, seasonal allergies start manifesting in puppyhood, when the dog is 6 months of age. Here’s what pet parents need to know about this common occurrence and what can be done to make the warmer months more bearable.
Signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies in your dog
If your dog comes in from outside with one or more of these symptoms, and it’s happening only at certain times of year (i.e., spring and summer), that’s an indication your furry friend is experiencing seasonal allergies:
- Licking paws to excess (and increased fur staining in light-colored dogs).
- Frequent scratching and rubbing, especially around the ears and face.
- Red inflamed skin around the muzzle, underarms, ankles, between the toes, eye area and groin. Since most dogs lay on the grass, check the tummy as well.
- Hair loss, sores and scabbing.
- Increased occurrence of ear infections.
- Redness and wateriness in the eyes, runny discharge.
What causes seasonal allergies in dogs?
First, let’s look at what’s happening in the environment. In the spring, as the trees leaf out and grass sprouts up around the lawn, they release pollen into the air. In late summer and early fall, the proliferation of ragweed brings more of the same. Then, a spate of rainy weather can kick off rapid plant growth, releasing mold into the air later in the season.
When our pet’s skin comes into contact with the mold or pollen, the immune system in our allergic pets has an overreaction as it identifies the substance as harmful and fights it off by activating the body’s antibodies. To get technical, allergens trigger mast cells found in your pet’s tissues into releasing chemicals called mediators. Mediators help the body fight off infections and pathogens, but they also target allergens. One common mediator is called histamine, which sets off red, inflamed skin that itches, but histamine can also launch a sneeze attack.
Unlike an insect or food allergy, environmental allergies don’t come with the danger of anaphylactic shock and death. But they can cause severe discomfort for your best friend. Not to mention, the excess clawing, scratching and rubbing can damage your pet’s coat, and lead to infections. Which is why staying on top of your dog’s seasonal allergies is important to their comfort and well-being.
[Learn more about your pet’s insect allergies by listening to episode 46 of the Raising Your Paws podcast and reading the accompanying article.]
How to treat your dog’s seasonal allergies
If you suspect your dog is suffering seasonal allergies, make an appointment with your dog’s vet (or the professional that provides health care treatment and guidance). Through skin or blood testing, a vet can confirm the presence of seasonal allergies. Here are three approaches to relieving the allergic itch.
A vet may recommend prescription or over-the-counter medicines to treat your pet’s scratch-inducing flareup. Most often, these include an anti-inflammatory medication (some containing a small amount of steroids) paired with antihistamines.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Some health professionals recommend a dietary approach. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon as well as grass-fed beef, can reduce allergy-induced skin inflammation. You can provide this through canine supplements (about 1,000 mg per day for each 10 pounds in body weight) that you can purchase at your favorite local independent pet retailer.
If your dog’s scratchiness is on the rise, more frequent bathing can remove and rinse away any residual allergens clinging to the hair and skin. Shampoos with anti-itch ingredients like oatmeal or therapeutic concoctions recommended by your vet can leave your pet feeling much better in her skin. Whatever you use, use gentle formulas and lukewarm water to keep your dog’s skin from getting drier and even more itchy.
[Read more to find great tips about bathing your dog.]
In addition to more frequent bathing, when your pet comes in from outside, perform a quick wipe-down using a clean, damp cloth or pet-safe wipes. Focus on the coat, ears, paws and face to minimize the number of irritants that get under her skin.
If irritation around the paws and toes is an issue, put booties on your dog’s feet before letting her out into the yard.
As anyone who has dealt with seasonal allergies knows, finding the right treatments to maximize relief takes a bit of trial and error. What works like magic on one dog may do little for yours, and vice versa.
Healthy skin starts with a healthy diet
When your dog’s coat loses its luster and she feels itchy in her skin, that’s always a sign of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Ruling out seasonal allergies is one solution. Switching to a better diet can also yield great results. At NutriSource, we formulate all our foods with our innovative Good 4 Life® system. The probiotics and prebiotics facilitate mineral absorption, prevent yeast overgrowth, and support production of natural antibiotics and antifungals in the gut — where health begins. Find NutriSource at your local, independent pet retailer.