A closer look: Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
Referring to an allergy as “seasonal” is quite literal: it occurs during a particular season of the year.
Dogs that are severely itchy cause damage to their skin from their scratching. In some cases, this damage results in skin infections.
In some cases, seasonal allergies cause ear infections.
Symptoms of ear infections include
- Head shaking
- Scratching at the ear(s)
- Dark discharge from the affected ear(s)
- Foul odor from the ear(s)
- Reddening of the skin of the ear canal
- Swollen skin inside the ear flap and canal with an orange-peel texture
Dogs presenting with any of these symptoms require prompt veterinary care.
Connect with a vet to get more information
While some breeds have been shown to have a predisposition to allergies, they can happen in any dog.
Seasonal allergies are very common in dogs and typically manifest with a variety of itchy skin symptoms. In severe cases, excessive scratching causes hair loss, reddening of the skin, skin damage, and skin infections. These dogs are uncomfortable and require prompt veterinary attention, but are not expected to experience life-threatening symptoms.
Removing the allergen from the environment results in complete resolution of symptoms, but this is only practical for dogs who are allergic to an easily removed allergen like flea saliva. The prognosis for seasonal allergies is usually good with aggressive, ongoing treatment. Since allergies cannot be cured, symptoms are expected to return whenever the dog is exposed to their specific allergens if they are not on medication.
As with allergies in humans, the cause is unknown. Some breeds have been shown to have predisposition to allergies, but there is no definitive cause for the immune system’s reaction to allergens.
The most common symptom of seasonal allergies is severe itch (pruritus). The most common itchy areas are the armpits, groin, muzzle, and paws.
Less commonly, dogs may develop ocular or respiratory symptoms of seasonal allergies, similar to people with hayfever.
Testing and diagnosis
Medical history and physical exam are often adequate to suggest seasonal allergies.
Useful diagnostic tests for ruling out other itchy skin conditions include:
- Skin scraping
- Fungal culture
- Flea combing
- Hair analysis
- Skin/ear cytology
- Skin biopsy
To confirm the specific allergens the immune system reacts to, an intradermal or skin patch test is used. In these tests, suspected allergens are placed against or injected into the skin to see how the dog responds. If the dog develops redness or itch, a diagnosis of allergy is confirmed.
Steps to Recovery
Allergies are a lifelong condition. Appropriate medical management and minimizing exposure to allergens are the best strategies for keeping allergic dogs comfortable and preventing secondary skin and ear infections.
Strategies to minimize allergen exposure include using flea preventatives, frequent bathing, air filtration, and thoroughly cleaning the environment through vacuuming and washing bedding and toys. Some dogs show significant improvement when they are trained to walk through a foot bath upon returning inside when pollen levels are high.
Allergy management medications are indicated for most dogs experiencing symptoms of seasonal allergies. These medications include:
- Steroids, either oral or topical
- Anti-itch medications
While they don’t cure the dog’s allergies, anti-itch medications (available as both oral medications and injectables) provide itch relief and prevent secondary skin infections.
When avoidance and symptomatic therapy don’t provide adequate relief of allergy symptoms, a more aggressive diagnostic and treatment plan is necessary. Intradermal skin testing is used to identify specific allergens for immunotherapy, where small amounts of allergens are injected into the skin repeatedly over several months. Over time, the immune system reacts less to the injected allergen(s).
Since the cause of allergies is unknown, there is no way to prevent them. Once allergies have been diagnosed, symptoms can be minimized or even prevented by avoiding the allergen completely. Having a complete assessment and diagnosis will help determine strategies to reduce exposure and symptoms in an allergic dog.
Are Seasonal Allergies in Dogs common?
Seasonal allergies are very common in dogs.
Typical treatment of any allergies, including seasonal, includes a combination of:
- Eliminating the allergen
- Anti-itch medications
- Allergen immunotherapy