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canine health problems

A guide to seasonal allergies in dogs

What you need to know about identifying and treating seasonal allergies in dogs

Updated March 9, 2021

Created By

Kaitlyn Arford,
White and brown dog sitting in a field of flowers

Sniffling and sneezing are normal annoyances for humans during the spring and fall seasons, but your dog may be bothered by seasonal allergies too. If you’re noticing your four-legged friend scratching more than normal or catching them with a runny nose, it’s possible seasonal allergies are to blame.

Here’s how to identify seasonal allergies in dogs, and how to help your pup manage those annoying sniffles, sneezes, and itches.

Seasonal allergies in dogs

Seasonal allergies in dogs happen when they inhale or contact something they are sensitive to. Basically, allergies are caused by a hypersensitivity of the immune system to an allergen. So when the immune system encounters any allergen in the environment, it sets off an alarm through your dog’s body.

Seasonal allergies are caused by environmental allergies. While some environmental allergies are present regardless of the time of year, like dust or mold, others are only present during certain times of year or during specific seasons.

Most often, tree and grass pollen will set off your pooch’s allergies. But seasonal allergies can also be brought on by other factors like plants, weeds, flea/ mite bites, and fresh grass during the spring, fall, and summer.

Seasonal allergies often last for several weeks or months of the year. The way your dog reacts to allergies are slightly different than how humans react. The type of symptoms your dog shows depend on the kind of allergy they are experiencing.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies can range from mild to severe — seasonal allergies could be as simple as sneezing, or it could result in a trip to the animal hospital.

Itchy skin is the most common and obvious sign that your pet is experiencing an allergic reaction. You’ll often see your pup either itching all over their body or in one area, like the armpit, groin, or muzzle.

But allergies (most often food allergies) can even invade underneath the skin and affect your dog’s digestive system, which can cause gastrointestinal distress like vomiting and diarrhea.

Signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies

  • Red, watery, or swollen eyes
  • Runny nose, swollen muzzle, trouble breathing, coughing
  • Itchiness, flaky skin, scratching, red skin, fur loss
  • Biting, excessive licking
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Chronic ear infections

Allergies have even been linked to problem behaviors like mounting, hyperactivity, begging, attention seeking, and excessive grooming, according to a study from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine. This research suggests that more intense allergy symptoms can create psychological stress for dogs.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, about 15% of dogs with allergies develop inflammation inside their nose leading to asthma.

Allergies can also lead to secondary infections. As your dog licks or scratches their skin to stop the symptoms, there’s a chance that they could break through their skin. This can lead to opening up their skin to yeast and bacterial infections.

👉 These symptoms could be a sign of another underlying condition. Always speak to your veterinarian to get a diagnosis.

Brown pit bull sitting in grass. Bully breeds are more prone to seasonal allergies compared to other dogs.

Breeds that are susceptible to seasonal allergies

Allergies are common with dogs across age, breed, and background. Some dogs can inherit allergies. Some breeds that are more susceptible to allergies include:

  • Chinese shar-peis
  • Dalmations
  • Pitbulls
  • Pugs
  • Golden retrievers
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Setters
  • Shih tzus
  • Scottish terriers
  • West Highland white terriers

Other types of allergies in dogs beyond seasonal allergies

In addition to seasonal allergies, dogs can experience other kinds of allergies. Many kinds of allergies can be challenging for pups and dog owners, and the symptoms of different ones can overlap.

Skin atopy — These allergies are the most common. Skin allergies are also known as atopic dermatitis, and are estimated to affect about 10% of dogs, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Food allergies — If a dog has food allergies, it tends to be because they are sensitive to more commonly used types of protein sources in dog foods like beef, chicken, and pork.

Environmental allergies — Environmental allergies like pollen, dust, or mold can be either seasonal or constant. These cause atopic allergic reactions.

Medical allergies — Dogs can be allergic to certain kinds of medications. It’s also possible that the symptoms you think are allergies can be attributed to underlying medical concerns.

When to see a veterinarian to diagnose seasonal allergies

If your dog has an allergic reaction, you need to take them to the vet. Your veterinarian is the only person who can diagnose if your pup is facing seasonal allergies. Even if you think it’s just seasonal allergies causing your pup’s problems, some of the symptoms seen can be a result of a different underlying condition. It’s always best to check in with your vet so they can help your canine companion feel their best.

A vet will be able to identify the underlying cause of the allergy. Seasonal allergies may be to blame, but allergies can also be caused by food, fleas, and more.

Always see your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog’s health.

🚨 If you notice that your pup is extra itchy, experiencing skin conditions like dryness, or have opened up skin wounds due to excessive scratching, it’s time to take your dog to a veterinarian.

Small dog sitting on an inspection table at the veterinarian office for a checkup for seasonal allergies

How veterinarians diagnose seasonal dog allergies

Your veterinarian will rule out other causes for your dog’s allergy first. Be prepared to have a conversation with them about your pet’s history, any recent incidents, and when you first noticed the symptoms.

Your veterinarian has a variety of methods they can use to determine if your dog is experiencing a seasonal allergy. They will likely begin with a physical examination and check for any fleas, mites, or bugs that could be causing the problem. If your dog isn’t already on flea and tick medication, vets will likely recommend one for you. Your vet may consult specialists to perform laboratory tests.

They may recommend that you take your dog to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist for skin testing. Skin testing will determine what your dog is allergic to by testing their reaction to different allergens.

Your veterinarian may choose to do allergy testing to discover the specific allergen causing the reaction. Vets won’t typically choose to run an allergy test to confirm that your dog is experiencing seasonal allergies. Allergy testing is usuallya method used to narrow down the specific thing your dog is allergic to.

Your vet may attempt immunotherapy to help your dog better tolerate environmental allergens. They may give your precious pup an allergy shot (allergy vaccine) through either injections or drops. Allergy vaccine shots help, but don’t cure allergies so you’ll still need to deal with the occasional outburst of symptoms.

Vets may prescribe your precious pup an allergy relief medication to ease their pesky symptoms. For severe allergies, they may prescribe an antibiotic and antifungal or antibiotic medications. For more extreme allergic reactions, they may prescribe steroids.

With that said, keep in mind that dogs can be allergic to several different allergens at the same time. Your veterinarian knows your pup best, so chat with them about what the best course of action is.

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How to treat seasonal allergies in dogs

Managing seasonal allergies in dogs is very similar to managing them in people: you have to reduce their exposure to allergens. Your goal is to at least alleviate, if not eliminate, your dog’s symptoms. Treatment depends on what exactly is causing your dog’s allergy. In general, the following tips should help.

Tips for treating dog allergies at home

  • Change your daily routine — Avoid taking walks together early in the morning or in the late afternoon, since pollen will be at its peak then. If you can, avoid fields, parks, and other outdoor spaces that have more allergens.
  • Remove allergens after walks — When you get home from a walk, remove any pollen on your pup’s fur and face with hypoallergenic pet wipes or a wet washcloth.
  • Check your pup for a hitchhiking tick, flea, mite, or even mosquito bites — When bugs are more active outdoors, it’s easier for your dog to accidentally bring them inside. If you find ticks, remove them immediately. If you find fleas or flea dust, you’ll likely need to pick up some veterinary-grade products or even a prescription. Always keep your dog updated on their flea and tick medications.
  • Clean your home — The surfaces of your home can trap allergens. Regularly vacuum, replace air filters, and dust your home to prevent excess dust and other allergens from building up.
  • Give your dog a bath 🛁— Scrubbing your pooch down with a dog shampoo can wash away any built up pollen on your pup’s skin and fur. Keep the water warm as hot water will irritate and dry out their skin. Medicated shampoos are also a great option as they sometimes include antihistamines.
  • Moisturize their dried out skin — After that luxurious bath, try using a natural moisturizer like a DIY anti-itch spray to give their dry, itchy skin some relief. Simply rubbing coconut oil into your dog’s dry skin is one way to help their itchy hot spots, but there are also dog paw balms that contain antifungal and antibacterial properties to relieve their itchy skin.
  • Try a probiotic supplement Probiotic supplements don’t cure allergies, but the vitamins they contain (like zinc) can help your dog’s chronic itching and hot spots. Pet parents report that the Natural Dog Company multivitamin supplement has helped control their pup’s allergy symptoms.
  • Give them over-the-counter oral medicine — Dogs can take oral medication like Zyrtec and Benadryl for allergies, but you need to speak to your vet first. Keep in mind that allergy relief medication helps control symptoms, but doesn’t cure allergies. When administering OTC meds, be careful with the dosage and make sure it’s apt for your pet.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about steroids and anti-itch medication — If recommended by a veterinarian, steroids can help manage allergies. However, steroids can come with side effects, so they aren’t used long-term. Vets can also prescribe anti-itch medication like Apoquel and Cytopoint that come with fewer side effects.
  • Ask a veterinary dermatologist about prescribed allergy serums — If your dog is experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of seasonal allergies, a veterinary dermatologist may decide to prescribe an allergy serum as part of immunotherapy. These require at-home allergen injections, so you’ll need to have a veterinarian show you how to perform injections. For most dogs, over-the-counter oral medicine and other at-home remedies will be enough.

👉 Many medications — both prescribed and over-the-counter — have side effects, so always talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog something new.

Dogs can experience acute allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock

The most worrisome part of any dog allergy is the possibility that your canine companion can go into anaphylactic shock. This is when dogs have a severe allergic reaction and besides the symptoms listed above, could include your dog struggling to breathe. Since anaphylactic shock affects the liver in dogs, you can also expect to see gastrointestinal symptoms like excessive drooling, seizures, vomiting, sudden diarrhea, and shock.

This kind of reaction can happen after your beloved pup is stung by a bee on a walk. Thankfully, anaphylactic reactions are rare.

If your dog experiences anaphylaxis, it’s a medical emergency. These reactions can be fatal if left untreated, but as long as you seek treatment immediately (typically a vet would administer an antihistamine), your dog should fully recover.

👉 If your dog experiences an anaphylactic reaction, get them to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital immediately.

How to prevent an allergic reaction

There’s no cure for seasonal allergies, so you can’t prevent your dog from experiencing an allergic reaction. The best you can do is try to avoid any allergens causing the problem while paying attention to your dog to see if they have any symptoms. You’ll need to address their symptoms and work with a vet to identify the underlying cause.

While seasonal allergies are an unavoidable occurrence, you can try to increase your dog’s overall well-being. Implementing these prevention techniques, working with a veterinarian, and treating your dog’s symptoms at home will keep them more comfortable and help them live long lives.