Seasonal and environmental allergies are the most common type of allergies in dogs. These two categories are like squares and rectangles. If it's been a while since your high school geometry class, let us jog your memory: All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Similarly, all dog seasonal allergies are environmental allergies, but not all dog environmental allergies are seasonal.
Seasonal allergies come and go depending on the allergens in the air. So, your dog may be allergic in the springtime but symptom-free the rest of the year.
Here's a look at how seasonal allergies compare to other types of allergies, plus how to recognize the symptoms and find relief for your furry friend.
What Causes Dog Allergies?
Like in humans, allergies in dogs are caused by an overreaction of the immune system. Your dog's immune system mistakenly identifies an allergen, like dust or pollen, as a threat. Then, it reacts by releasing histamine, which causes inflammation and other allergy symptoms.
Allergies can affect any dog, but some breeds are more prone to allergies than others. This includes golden retrievers, Labs, boxers, Dalmatians, Boston terriers, Scottish terriers, wire-haired fox terriers, Westies, shih tzus, and shar-peis.
Types of Allergies in Dogs
In a study by Banfield Pet Hospital, 3.6% of observed dogs had environmental allergies, and this number was on the rise. The same study found that 1.8% of dogs had a flea bite allergy, and just 0.2% had a food allergy.
A dog with environmental allergies can be allergic to anything in their environment.
Environmental allergens can include cleaning solutions, perfume, dust mites, mold spores, grasses, and tree pollen. The latter three — mold spores, grasses, and tree pollen — fluctuate with the seasons and the weather, which leads to seasonal allergies.
For example, most households use the same cleaning solutions year-round. So, if a dog is allergic to household cleaners, they will show allergy symptoms any time you use the product throughout all seasons.
If your pet only has allergy symptoms at certain times of the year, then they're more likely allergic to pollen, grass, or mold that's most prevalent at that season.
Flea Bite Allergies
It's easy to mistake flea bite allergies for seasonal allergies. If you live in a climate with harsh winters, fleas will only be around in the spring and summer, which is also the most common allergy season.
Until you start to see fleas on your dog, you may assume the symptoms are a result of seasonal allergies. But, it's easy to check for and treat fleas. So, if your dog suddenly develops skin allergy symptoms, run a flea comb through their fur, close to their skin. Pull the comb up to see if there are any fleas on it.
If there's any sign of fleas, treat your pet with home remedies or over-the-counter or prescription flea medication, and see if their symptoms resolve.
Food allergies are extremely rare in dogs, but they're easier to test for and avoid than environmental allergens. If your dog is allergic to an ingredient in their dog food, they will constantly have allergies until you find a food that works for them. If your dog is allergic to a treat or a whole food such as safe fruits you feed as a sometimes-snack, then their allergies may come and go, causing you to confuse them with seasonal allergies.
To rule out a food allergy, follow the instructions in this guide.
How to Recognize Dog Seasonal Allergies
The clearest indicator of seasonal pet allergies is that they will start at a specific time of year. Your pet's allergy season will probably be the same each year unless you move, in which case seasonal environmental allergens can change. Otherwise, if your pet has allergies from March to June, they will usually consistently have allergies at that time of year, every year.
Allergy testing can help identify specific allergens, but there isn't a test that says "yes, your pet has allergies" or "no, they don't." So, allergies have to be identified by symptoms, and the symptoms are similar across different types of allergies.
If your dog has allergy symptoms, the best way to differentiate seasonal allergies from flea or food allergies is to rule out flea and food allergies using the strategies mentioned above.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
If your dog has seasonal allergies — or any allergies — they'll show a mix of these signs and symptoms:
- Atopic dermatitis, or allergic dermatitis, leading to itchy skin and skin lesions
- Other forms of itchiness, including itchy eyes, ears, or paws
- Red, irritated skin
- Scooting, often caused by itchy hindquarters
- Repeatedly shaking the head and ears
- Excessive licking or biting of the skin or paws
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Some dogs have stronger allergic reactions than others, so symptoms can range from mild to severe. If symptoms become severe, your dog's excessive licking can lead to hair loss and secondary infections, including skin infections like hot spots.
Remedies for Your Dog's Seasonal Allergies
By preventing or decreasing the severity of your dog's allergy symptoms, you can offer them relief and prevent secondary infections. But, finding the right remedy for your pet can take time.
Unless your dog's allergy symptoms are causing serious discomfort, we recommend starting with natural remedies. They tend to have fewer side effects than medications. If your dog does have severe symptoms, work with your vet to find an over-the-counter or prescription medication that can offer relief.
Here are the holistic and medical treatment options for a dog's seasonal allergies:
Fish oil made from wild-caught salmon or pollock is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. According to research into omega-3s and omega-6s, a diet that has too much omega-6 fatty acid in proportion to omega-3 fatty acid can lead to increased allergies. Supplementing with fish oil can help improve the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s and may decrease the incidence of allergies.
Adding fish oil on top of your dog's food is an easy way to get more omega-3s into their diet.
Researchers have become increasingly interested in the effect probiotics have on the immune system. Recent research into humans with allergies found that patients treated with a probiotic showed a significant decrease in allergic rhinitis symptoms, which include sneezing and runny nose.
Add a probiotic supplement to your dog's diet to see if their symptoms improve.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that's rich in antioxidants. It has a natural anti-inflammatory effect, and research has shown it’s an effective allergy treatment. In a study on human patients with allergic rhinitis, spirulina significantly improved allergy symptoms, including sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and itching.
To add spirulina to your pet's diet, look for an allergy supplement that includes it as a primary ingredient.
The go-to veterinary option for treating pet allergies, there are both prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines for dogs. You can even give your dog some antihistamines designed for humans, like Benadryl and Zyrtec.
But, you should never give your pet a human medication without consulting a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) first. Dogs metabolize medication very differently from people, so you will need your vet's help to determine the proper dose.
While antihistamines are considered one of the safer medications, they do have side effects, including drowsiness and dry mouth.
Immunotherapy is one major reason to do allergy testing for dogs. Allergy testing can help you identify the specific allergens that affect your pet. Then, you can treat your pet with allergy shots, which contain a small amount of the allergen your dog reacts to. Over time, your pet's immune system learns not to react to that allergen.
The downside to allergy shots is that they can be slow to work. Your dog will need shots every 1-4 weeks, and if you choose to go to your vet's office for the shots instead of doing them at home, this therapy can be costly.
Help Your Dog With Their Allergy Season
If your pet is suffering from dog seasonal allergies, their life can be overrun by uncomfortable allergy symptoms at recurring times of the year. But, as pet parents, we can take steps to free our dogs of symptoms like sneezing, itchiness, runny nose, and watery eyes.
Start by supporting your dog's immune system with natural remedies. Fish oil, probiotics, and all-natural allergy supplements with spirulina are promising, science-backed remedies. Your family veterinarian can also help you navigate the medical options for dog seasonal allergies, including antihistamines and immunotherapy.We hope your furry friend finds the relief they need. For more information on your pet's health and wellness, visit the Native Pet blog.