From scratching to ‘hot spots’ and plenty of other irritating symptoms, seasonal allergies can cause a raft of problems for your furry friend.
Spring has sprung and while many of us rejoice at the onset of some warmer weather, there are plenty of people who dread the season for one simple reason: it signals the return of hay fever.
People aren’t the only ones who suffer the inconvenient and uncomfortable symptoms of allergic reactions at this time of year; many animals can also be affected. “Seasonal allergies are extremely common in pets,” explains Dr Angus Hayes, veterinary surgeon and Ivory Coat Companion Goods ambassador. “Over the summer months, it is one of the most common complaints that vets see in general practice.”
Not just a spring thing
If your pet suffers from seasonal allergies, spring usually heralds the arrival of many environmental allergens that they react to. However, negative reactions don’t occur only in spring.
“Most commonly, seasonal allergies start in spring and continue through the summer months,” Dr Angus says. “Depending on what the dog is reacting to, it may start later in the summer or flare up at multiple times.”
Unfortunately, the list of allergens your dog could be reacting to is a pretty extensive one. In fact, pinpointing the cause of your dog’s discomfort is often a difficult task. “Dogs can react to anything in the environment. These allergens can be grasses, weeds, pollens, dust mites or flea saliva, among many other things,” Dr Angus says.
What to look for
If a person suffers from hay fever, you will most likely be able to pick up on their symptoms before they even get a chance to sneeze all over you. For our canine companions, however, not all symptoms are as obvious. An allergen that produces a specific symptom in one dog, for example, may produce a different range of tell-tale signs in another.
“The signs of allergies are extremely variable between individuals,” Dr Angus says. “It may present as a sore ear, scratching, pimples, ‘hot spots’, dry scurf through the coat or any number of other problems. The severity will also vary markedly between individuals.”
For example, while one dog may sneeze and have discharge from its eyes, another may show signs of an allergy by excessively licking its paws to try to relieve an incessant itch. A different pooch may suffer from recurring ear infections or the raw-looking unpleasantness of a hot spot.
Dogs that have a severe allergic reaction can suffer from something known as atopic dermatitis. This affects between 10 and 15 per cent of all dogs, with most cases first appearing when a dog is aged between one and three years. It’s an uncomfortable condition caused by immunological hypersensitivity to a range of allergens commonly found in the environment, including dust mites, pollens, grasses, fleas and mould.
The immune system’s response to these allergens causes severe inflammation and irritation, resulting in intense discomfort for your pet. A dog’s response to the extreme itch is understandably excessive scratching, rubbing, and doing whatever else it can to bring relief to the affected area. This in turn leads to hair loss, greasy and flaky skin, hyperpigmentation, and the distinctive patches of raw, inflamed skin known as hot spots. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections can also be a problem.
Overcoming this painful problem
The first step to overcoming seasonal allergies is to take your dog to the vet, who can start the process of discovering what it is that’s causing the problems. Most allergies are diagnosed by your vet examining the dog and taking a thorough medical history from the owner.
“Sometimes the vet will need to look at some samples under the microscope to rule out certain complications. Blood tests and skin prick tests can also be used to determine exactly what allergens the dog may be reacting to,” Dr Angus explains.
Flea allergies, food allergies, fungal infections and a number of other conditions can all cause symptoms such as itching and hair loss. Depending on your pet’s condition, your vet may also need to exclude a range of other potential causes for your pet’s allergy symptoms.
Treatment and management
There is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for seasonal allergies. Instead, Dr Angus says every individual case will be managed differently depending on the severity of the disease. However, don’t expect your vet to come up with a magic cure for your dog’s allergy ailment. “It is rare that the vet will be able to make the problem go away permanently. Often you need to determine a management plan to keep it at bay and treat flare-ups when they occur,” he explains.
Treatment of seasonal allergies can involve a wide range of options, such as:
- The use of special shampoos to remove allergens from the skin, prevent itching and reduce the risk of secondary infections. There are plenty of products available designed for use on sensitive or inflamed skin
- Topical creams to strengthen the skin barrier and provide protection against allergens
- Antibiotic tablets and antifungal tablets to treat infection
“Cortisone tablets are often used, but they can have some undesirable side-effects. Newer classes of drugs are now available that have the ability to stop the allergy without some of these side-effects,” Dr Angus says.
In some cases, your vet may recommend that you take your dog to a veterinary dermatologist for intradermal skin testing. If this testing can successfully work out what the dog is allergic to, ongoing desensitising injections can be given to stop the immune system from overreacting. Owners can even be taught to administer these vaccines at home, but it’s worth pointing out that they do not work for all dogs.
As always, your vet is the best person to talk to regarding your pet’s condition. They will be able to advise you on the best management plan to help keep seasonal allergies under control.
Prevention wherever possible
As we all know, prevention is always better than cure. Happily, there are a few simple things every dog owner can do to minimise the risk of seasonal allergies. “These days, there is much more focus on maintaining a healthy skin barrier along with the other remedies mentioned above. By actively working on a healthy skin barrier, doses of drugs may be reduced and flare-ups may be less frequent or severe,” Dr Angus says.
“Using a good-quality, balanced, sulphur-free shampoo like that of Ivory Coat Companion Goods Sensitive Shampoos can help to maintain the natural oils in the coat. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements can help block inflammation and return some of the oils back into the coat.”
Staying on top of flea control for your dog is another must. Although we see a lot more fleas in the summer months, they can breed all year round and flea larvae can survive in the environment for a very long time — so year-round prevention is important.
“Many dogs with allergies will also react to flea saliva every time a flea bites them. We have so many good flea prevention products available now that can eradicate a flea problem. This means fleas should not be a problem in controlling a seasonal allergy,” Dr Angus advises.
So while seasonal allergies can be a source of irritation and discomfort for your pet, you don’t have to let them turn your dog into an itchy and inflamed mess. With help from your vet and a treatment program tailored to your pet, you can ensure that rather than dreading the arrival of spring, your dog is ready to embrace the warmer weather with open paws.
How do you help your pet with seasonal allergies? Why not tell us in the comments below?Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory