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Seasonal Allergies in Pets

Seasonal Allergies in Pets

               Spring brings beautiful flowers and green grass but pollen, grass and other things can also bring allergy symptoms in our pets (and ourselves!).  Pets can experience itchy skin, red ears and sometimes watery eyes and sneezing.  What can you do to help pets feel better during allergy season?

               Seasonal allergies are common in pets.  Both dogs and cats can develop allergies to plant pollen, trees, grasses and molds.  Symptoms are usually most severe during the spring and fall.  Cats and dogs who have symptoms all year long may actually have food allergies or be allergic to something inside the house like dust mites or fabrics.  Of course, flea allergies are also more prevalent in the spring and summer but can be seen any time of year if a pet is exposed to fleas.

               Itching is the most common symptom. Contact with plant material or pollen triggers an allergic reaction causing the pet’s skin to become red and irritated and will make your pet start to scratch.  Scratching causes microscopic breaks in the skin barrier.  The irritated skin is then prone to secondary infection with bacteria or yeast.  The entire body may be affected or it may be more focal such as just the pet’s paws, especially with grass allergies. Some pets also experience hair loss and others may have hay fever type symptoms with sneezing and watery eyes.

               It is not usually practical or possible to eliminate allergens from the pet’s home environment (except, of course, for fleas).  Treatment usually focuses on reducing itching to make pets more comfortable and treating secondary infections.  Pets can also be tested for specific allergens and a serum can be created to desensitize pets to environmental allergens, much like people who see their doctors for allergy shots.

               Antihistamines may be helpful for pets who experience signs like a runny nose and watery eyes, but are less effective for itching.  The mainstay of treating itchy skin in the past used to be steroids such as prednisone; while steroids still have their place in treating some allergies, prednisone often causes undesirable side effects such as increased drinking and urination and long-term use is generally not recommended.  Newer drug therapies like Apoquel tablets which work by blocking a protein from binding to a cell receptor to stop itching or Cytopoint, a monthly injection that stops itching are often safer and more effective at treating allergies.  Medicated or soothing shampoos and essential fatty acids/fish oil can also be helpful in treating allergies. And, of course, it’s important to use a good flea and tick preventative on your pets year-round.

               It is also important to take your pet to the veterinarian to diagnose and treat any secondary skin infections.  If not treated, serious skin damage can occur and failing to treat infection can also cause itching to persist. Your veterinarian should also rule out other causes of itching such as mange mites, autoimmune problems or rare forms of skin cancer. 

               Seasonal allergies are frustrating and tend to recur every year in affected pets.  But there are many ways to treat allergies and keep pets comfortable.  Talk to our vets if you suspect your pet may have allergies for treatment options that will keep your pet itch free and comfy this spring and beyond!

               This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.