Spring has arrived and pollen is starting to fly. But did you know that, just like people, our pets can suffer from seasonal allergies, too?

You may have heard the term atopy at some point. Or, maybe not. But this term refers to the overreaction of a pet’s immune system to an airborne allergen and is one of the most common causes of itching in pets. Any breed of dog or cat can suffer from atopic symptoms brought on by seasonal pet allergies, although some are more likely to have problems than others.

In people, inhaled allergens such as pollens, molds, and dust cause respiratory symptoms, such as hay fever. In pets, though, these allergens frequently cause dermatologic problems instead.

Most owners of atopic pets will notice these common symptoms:

  • Excessive itching or scratching
  • Biting or licking of certain areas (particularly the paws)
  • Head shaking
  • Discolored hair with saliva staining
  • A bad odor

Any area of the body can be affected, however the most frequently affected areas include the ears, armpits, face, paws, and underside. Symptoms are usually seasonal, however some pets may suffer from atopy all year round.

How Are Seasonal Pet Allergies Diagnosed?

Often a diagnosis is made based on clinical signs and by ruling out other causes of itching such as flea or food allergies or infection. In order to determine the cause of itching, allergy testing is often performed. Allergy testing may be done via intradermal skin testing, or through blood testing.

Some pets can benefit from allergy vaccines developed specifically for their individual needs, while others will do fine on a broad-spectrum allergy medication for pets.

How Are Seasonal Pet Allergies Treated?

Because atopy, like most human allergies, does not have a cure, it can be a frustrating problem to deal with. Luckily there are several things that can be done in order to help pets be more comfortable. These include:

  • Avoidance of allergens when possible
  • Topical therapies such as shampoos or sprays
  • Antihistamines
  • Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation
  • Oral or injectable steroids (cortisone)
  • Immunosuppressants including cyclosporine (Atopica) and oclacitinib (Apoquel)
  • Antigen specific immunotherapy (allergy shots)

How Can I Help My Pet Avoid Allergens?

Allergens are harmless to pets that do not have atopy. But for those that do, steering clear can be very helpful. Do the following for atopic pets:

  • Change your furnace filters often
  • Keep pets out of the room when vacuuming or dusting
  • Wash bedding often and avoid stuffed toys
  • Keep pets out of basements
  • Avoid dusty pet foods or litters
  • Use a dehumidifier
  • Keep your grass cut
  • Rinse your pet’s feet when coming indoors

Inhalant allergies in pets are often difficult to deal with because all pets respond differently to treatments. It is important to work closely with your pet’s veterinarian to a help your pet stay comfortable. If you think that your dog or cat may suffer from atopy, please let us know so that we can develop a personalized plan to deal with your pet’s inhalant allergies.