Pets have Seasonal Allergies Too!
by Dr. Allison Flynn, DVM, DACVD
The most common cause of skin problems in dogs is allergy. There are several different kinds of allergies, and these include environmental, food, contact, and flea or insect. The most common allergy in dogs, by far, is environmental, also known as seasonal or pollen allergy. However, some poor dogs suffer from multiple allergies, with environmental and flea allergies being the most common combination.
What causes allergies in pets?
Allergy season has arrived and many people and pets are suffering. Although there are many things in the environment that can trigger allergies in pets, pollen is a very common culprit. The pollens from grasses and trees float through the air, land on the skin and in the airways of allergic pets, and trigger signs such as scratching, licking, chewing, and rubbing.
Many pets with pollen allergies will also have allergies to other things in their environment, such as house dust mites, wool, dander, mold, and insects. These poor guys usually show signs of itching and/or recurring infections all year round, and it may get worse in the spring and fall. The treatment options and prognosis are the same for pets with seasonal allergies.
What signs do pets show when they have allergies?
Pets with environmental allergies most commonly rub their faces, lick their paws and bellies, and scratch under their shoulders or front limbs. They often have watery, runny eyes and nose. Sometimes you will see a bumpy red rash and hair loss—these can be signs of a bacterial or yeast infection, which may develop from the combination of self-trauma and changes in the inherent structure and function of the skin that is seen in allergic pets.
Some pets will develop ear infections as well because the skin inside the ear canal also becomes inflamed when the skin is exposed to environmental allergens. Ear infections typically cause a pet to shake its head or scratch at its ears. Sometimes you have to look inside the ear to know if your pet has an ear infection; you may smell a foul odor or see a lot of brown, waxy material or even yellow-gray soupy material inside the ear. It is never normal to see this kind of material inside the ears of your pet!
Skin and ear infections do require specific treatment to alleviate signs and prevent progression to more serious disease. In addition, the underlying allergies should be treated to prevent the infections from returning.
What can I do to help my pet?
The good news is that there are many treatment options available to alleviate your pet’s symptoms. The most appropriate treatment is usually determined by the severity of your pet’s symptoms and the specific details of your lifestyle. A dermatologic exam and open conversation with your veterinary dermatologist will help find the right solution for you and your pet. Most pets do very well once the right treatment plan has been determined. Although some type of lifelong therapy is usually needed, the intensity of treatment is almost always reduced over time. Allergy shots, also known as “immunotherapy,” have been shown in some cases to cure allergies after one to two years of treatment. Although uncommon, immunotherapy is the only treatment option that has the potential to cure allergic signs without lifelong therapy.
There is no need for your pet to suffer. Speak with your family veterinarian about referral to a dermatologist. Your pet can be comfortable during allergy season!
Dr. Alison Flynn is a boarded veterinary dermatologist with extensive experience and success helping pets in the Monterey area with skin and ear disorders. She practices at The Pet Specialists of Monterey www.thepetspecialists.com.