If your pet is suddenly biting, scratching, or chewing on their skin, you may first suspect fleas. But if you find no trace of those heinous hitchhikers, you likely scratch your head, wondering what could be going on?

While fleas are notorious for causing intense itching and scratching in pets, seasonal allergies are equally to blame. Be your pet’s superhero by recognizing their seasonal allergies and learning how to respond, with this guide from Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital.

Pets are sensitive to many common environmental allergens

Dogs and cats are sensitive to many of the same environmental allergens as humans. The most common environmental allergens include:

  • Grasses
  • Weeds
  • Tree pollens
  • Dust
  • Mould
  • Mildew 

Pets with allergies have an overly sensitive immune system, and when they encounter these substances, their immune system responds by releasing histamine. This triggers widespread inflammation (e.g., irritation, redness, swelling) and affects their quality of life.

As your pet’s superhero, you’ll need to neutralize this threat. The body’s inflammatory response makes your pet intensely uncomfortable, and may continue as long as your pet is exposed to the substance—meaning all season long.

Pets are more likely to scratch than cough or sneeze

While humans experience allergy-induced inflammation through the upper respiratory tract, pets most often suffer from skin-related irritation, which, unfortunately, can often be misleading, and delay diagnosis and effective treatment. 

Pets with seasonal allergies (i.e., atopic dermatitis, or atopy) typically experience a sudden onset of signs between 1 and 3 years of age. The signs are cyclical, meaning they increase in the spring and summer and disappear during the colder months, and can vary depending on the pet, but may include:

  • Intense itching 
  • Hair loss
  • Unusual body odor
  • Scabbing, hives, or visible skin irritation
  • Recurring skin or ear infections
  • Facial rubbing or pawing
  • Biting, chewing, and licking, especially on the paws, forearms, and belly
  • Respiratory signs (e.g., watery eyes, sneezing, coughing)

Untreated allergies can significantly impact your pet’s quality of life. Allergic pets can suffer from poor sleep, reduced immune health, physical pain and discomfort, behaviour issues (e.g., anxiety), and secondary infections. Chronic inflammation can weaken the body, and make your pet more vulnerable to other health issues.

Professional diagnosis is necessary for pet relief

If your pet is experiencing seasonal allergy signs, contact Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital for an appointment. While many topical over-the-counter products promise to stop your pet’s itching, they act like band-aids, and do not address the root of your pet’s discomfort. They’re also ineffective against secondary bacterial skin infections or self-inflicted wounds from biting and chewing. Veterinary care is the best—and often the most economical—assurance that your pet receives fast, effective, targeted relief. 

Allergy testing in pets can be performed by blood or skin testing

Diagnosing seasonal allergies in pets can be a challenging and lengthy process. Depending on your pet’s condition, your veterinarian may recommend empirical treatment, which involves  selecting specific medications based on your pet’s signs and exam findings, and confirming a seasonal allergy according to your pet’s response, or they may pursue advanced testing to isolate your pet’s exact allergens.

Diagnostic options for allergy diagnosis include:

  • Cytology — A microscopic review of your pet’s skin for secondary infection or parasites (e.g., mites)
  • Blood testing — A blood analysis, to identify circulating allergen antibodies 
  • Skin testing — Skin testing is typically reserved for severely allergic pets, and requires referral to a veterinary dermatologist, who will inject small amounts of allergens beneath the pet’s skin, to assess for an inflammatory response (e.g., hives, irritation, or wheals).

Seasonal allergies in pets can’t be cured, but they can be managed

Dog getting his immunization shot

Because environmental allergens are inescapable, seasonal allergies cannot be completely cured. However, many effective treatments can minimize your pet’s immune response, block the body’s “itch receptors,” and promote a healthy, strong skin barrier. Depending on your pet’s condition, treatment options may vary throughout their life, and may include:

  • Medication — Corticosteroids are not preferred for long-term allergy treatment, but may be prescribed to provide fast-acting inflammation relief. Safer, more effective allergy medications for pets work by breaking the itching cycle. These oral and injectable medicines block the signals that trigger allergic itching, thereby improving pet comfort and preventing skin damage. 
  • Flea and tick prevention — Year-round preventives can stop fleas from biting your pet.
  • Topical treatments — Shampoos, sprays, leave-in conditioners, and ointments can help relieve itchy skin and remove allergens from your pet’s hair coat.
  • Desensitization therapy (i.e., allergy shots) —  Custom-made injections retrain your pet’s immune system, and decrease their body’s natural reaction to allergens.
  • Protective gear — Boots to reduce allergen encounters and keep feet dry may be recommended for dogs with chronic foot irritation.
  • Grooming — Routine grooming, including bathing and brushing, can help promote healthy skin and hair coat, and help catch early irritation signs.
  • Environmental management — For pets with dust or mould allergies, indoor maintenance, such as keeping windows closed, changing furnace filters regularly, and keeping indoor humidity below 50%, may reduce exposure levels. 

Other allergies in pets

If your pet is experiencing allergy signs but doesn’t fit the seasonal profile, they may be sensitive to their food, insect bites, or a specific material (e.g., plastic). Help your pet find effective and fast relief from their misery by scheduling an appointment at Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital. Dr. Ashby can design a strong defense for your pet—including measures you can take at home—so you can evade enemy allergens and keep your pet happy, healthy, and comfortable.