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Do dogs suffer from springtime allergies?

By Liz Palika

dog-biting-skin-due-to-allergies

Common Spring Dog Allergies

About the time my spring allergies would show up with sneezes and itching, watery eyes, Michi (pronounced MEE chee), my late husband’s German Shepherd, began scratching nonstop. We were both miserable due to the same thing, but our allergies showed up in different ways.

Most springtime allergies are caused by environmental conditions; the most common dog allergies include grass, weed, and tree pollens. These pollens are usually inhaled but can also be picked up via direct skin contact. Have you seen rain water running down the side walk with a bright yellow substance? That’s pollen. If you or your dog are sensitive to it, contact with that pollen can cause an allergic reaction.

Common Signs of Spring Allergies

Michi’s response to his spring allergies is very common. When exposed to the cause of their allergies, most dogs scratch more than normal. When the skin becomes inflamed, scratching increases. And as the dog continues to scratch, he may scratch to the point of damaging his skin; even causing wounds. As this continues, secondary skin infections may develop. Damaged skin may bleed, ooze, smell bad, and progress into horrible infections.

Shedding may increase due to allergic reactions too. Sometimes the allergy itself may cause the shedding, but often it’s due to the increase in scratching and licking. A skin infection can cause hair loss too.

An increase in paw licking can also be a sign of allergies. The paws may itch due to exposure to pollens or other allergic substances, or due to the histamine reaction in the body. Histamines are chemicals produced by the immune system in reaction to the allergic substances. Unfortunately, increased paw licking can result in skin damage and infection in the paws too.

The dog’s ears are not immune from allergic reactions, and ear infections can be painful. Watch for head shaking and scratching at the ears.

Atopy is an Allergic Skin Reaction

Previously, canine skin conditions caused by springtime allergies were known as allergic inhalant dermatitis, or skin conditions caused by the dog inhaling allergic substances. Today, however, the term atopy (or atopy dermatitis) is more commonly used.

When the dog (or other animal) inhales pollen (or other allergy-causing substances) the body initiates a response to that substance. When I inhale pollens, I get itchy eyes and begin to sneeze. When Michi inhaled pollen, his skin became sensitive and inflamed. He then began to scratch and lick himself. This response is very typical for many dogs, and the inflamed skin is called atopy.

Treating Spring Allergies in Dogs

If you see signs of springtime allergies that are getting progressively worse, especially if your dog is doing a lot of scratching and licking, don’t wait to call your veterinarian in hopes that it will all go away. These allergies make your dog miserable, and secondary skin, paw, or ear infections won’t go away without medical intervention.

Your veterinarian may diagnose your dog with allergies through your dog’s symptoms, medical history, or through testing. Sometimes it can be tricky though, as each dog’s allergic response is unique.

Treating allergies can be just as tricky. Avoidance is obviously the preferred treatment. If you can prevent your dog from coming into contact (or inhaling) an allergic substance, that is wonderful. However, if your dog is allergic to pollen, as so many are in the spring, avoidance is rarely possible.

Treating the symptoms sometimes works, especially if the allergies are limited by a short window of time during the spring. Antihistamines and medicated baths can sometimes ease the symptoms. Talk to your veterinarian before using any over the counter medications.

If a specific allergen can be identified through allergy testing, immunotherapy may be tried. This consists of giving the dog injections of a specific allergy serum, often called allergy shots. This process can take months, and sometimes years, to reduce the allergic reaction.

Medications are often used to reduce allergic reactions and subsequent skin infections. These may include antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics, depending on the dog’s specific allergy and reactions. These medications don’t eliminate the allergy but try to control the reaction instead.

Don’t Hesitate to Call Your Vet

As an allergy sufferer myself, I can testify to the fact that allergies make a body feel miserable. If you see any signs that your dog may be suffering from spring time (or any other) allergies, don’t hesitate to talk to your dog’s veterinarian.

If the two of you can get a handle on the allergies before secondary skin, paw, and ear infections result, your dog will be much more comfortable. His health will be better if he doesn’t have to battle the allergic side effects too.

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