When we think of seasonal allergies we generally conjure up images of itchy eyes, an endlessly runny nose, and frequent sneezes. For our dogs, however, seasonal allergies often present in a somewhat different way. Most commonly, with seasonal allergies, we see dogs with itchy skin. While dogs can have many different causes of allergies that might flare up at any time of year, we do notice a seasonal pattern for some of our canine companions. In our area, we often experience an increase in dog allergies during early spring, but the majority of our seasonally allergic patients present during late August, September, and October.
Dogs can become itchy and allergic for many reasons: fleas, mites, food allergies, infection, and autoimmune disease just to name a few. It is important to rule out other causes, especially food allergies, before assuming a seasonal allergy is at play. Allergic dogs might lick, chew, rub or scratch their paws, face or hind end. Most dogs will also have a concurrent skin or ear infection that is secondary to the allergy. These secondary infections can cause redness, hair loss, odor, dandruff, scaling, discharge, and pain.
Seasonal allergies in dogs, also called seasonal allergic dermatitis, fall into the medical diagnosis of Canine Atopic Dermatitis. This is a very complex condition for which some of the pathways are still not completely understood and continue to be studied. In Canine Atopic Dermatitis we do know that allergens are absorbed through a compromised skin barrier and are identified by the immune system where several significant reactions occur. This includes itchy skin. In addition to being itchy, the skin becomes inflamed and the natural skin barrier becomes further compromised often leading to secondary skin infections that require treatment.
What can we do about it?
- Bathing is usually a good first step to try at home. Use cool or tepid water (not too cold or warm) to wash the allergens off of the skin and coat and calm the skin. Be sure to use a shampoo formulated for dogs as the pH balance of their skin is different than that of people.
- Include your veterinarian in the conversation. Your veterinarian can likely help by prescribing supplements, shampoos, and conditioners, as well as antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics if necessary. Also, there are very effective medications that have recently become available and can be prescribed. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend allergy testing, allergy shots or other long-term management strategies for seasonal allergic dermatitis.
- Remember, often the goal with allergic conditions in dogs is to effectively manage rather than to cure.
Fortunately, we have many options for easing the discomfort of seasonal allergies in dogs. While treatment may not be as simple as we’d like for it to be, an attentive and thoughtful partnership between you and your veterinarian is sure to get your canine companion through this itchy season and back to his or her carefree and tail-wagging self.
Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at [email protected].
Thank you for choosing us to be part of your pet's healthcare team!
With warmest regards,
Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital