Ah, spring! The birds are chirping, the blossoms are blooming, the grass is greening, and the dog? The dog is sneezing every five minutes.
According to Dr. Bryan Gelman, DVM, dogs of all ages and breeds are susceptible to seasonal allergies, just like the rest of us. The uptick in free floating pollen at this time of year can cause our dogs all sorts of discomfort, from itchy paws and runny eyes to irritating skin infections.
We sat down with Dr. Gelman to get the deets on our sneezy best four-legged friends.
OLLIE: What are the most common signs of seasonal allergies in dogs?
Dr. Gelman: Seasonal allergies, also known as environmental allergies or atopy, affect all breeds of dogs and dogs of all ages. Signs can vary greatly, but are best described as an "itchy dog." They include licking or chewing of the paws, chronic ear infections, red, runny eyes, and chronic skin infections. Atopy is normally seasonal, but as the disease worsens, can become year round.
OLLIE: How do they compare to human seasonal allergies? Is it worse for them when it's worse for us?
Dr. Gelman: Symptoms can be similar, but generally the severity of symptoms correlate with the amount of exposure to the underlying allergen.
OLLIE: How are seasonal allergies treated?
Dr. Gelman: There are generally two types of treatments: medicine, including OTC antihistamines and stronger prescription options, and immunotherapy, which includes allergy shots as well as a new treatment called Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT for short), which is an alternative way to treat allergies without injections. The dog is given a small dose of an allergen orally to boost tolerance to the substance and reduce symptoms.
OLLIE: Aside from medicine and immunotherapy, is there anything else a pet parent can do to alleviate symptoms?
Dr. Gelman: There are medicated shampoos and conditioners, as well as topical treatments that can help. They are generally prescription only, so consult with your vet to find a good one for your dog.
OLLIE: Are there any foods that help treat or reduce symptoms?
Dr. Gelman: In general, food can not be used to treat atopy.
OLLIE: Any other tips to help reduce symptoms?
Dr. Gelman: Reducing exposure to any allergen is the key to decreasing the symptoms, but with environmental allergies, it can be very tough, or nearly impossible to remove the exposure to the allergen altogether.
OLLIE: Are there certain trees, plants, pollens that are best to avoid during allergy season?
Dr. Gelman: No one type of pollen or plant is more likely to cause allergies, as each individual is sensitive to his or her particular allergens. There are allergy tests that will help identify the specific causes, which include a blood test and a skin test—an allergy skin test is the gold standard.
OLLIE: Is it possible for a dog to develop allergies even if they've never had them before?
Dr. Gelman: Dogs can develop an allergy at any point. It is not an age specific disease.
OLLIE: Any dangers or warning signs related to seasonal allergies that warrant urgent care?
Dr. Gelman: In general, environmental allergies are a chronic disease that rarely require emergency treatment. An allergic reaction resulting in swollen eyes, swollen tongue, raised welts on the skin (or any other fast, dramatic physical change) is more likely due to a bug bite or direct exposure to a plant. If this happens, contact your vet immediately to determine the best treatment and to relieve symptoms.