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Can Dogs Get Hay Fever? A Vet Explains

Hay fever in humans, also known as seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, is common and includes symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and sneezing, with itchy skin often being a primary symptom. It is caused by an allergic reaction to substances like tree, grass, or weed pollen. Since spring and summer are peak times for hay fever, many clients ask if dogs can also suffer from it. The answer is a resounding "yes," though vets refer to it as atopy or atopic dermatitis. For ease, this article will refer to it as hay fever.

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Hay fever in humans vs. dogs

When spring arrives and the rapid growth of vegetation begins, the pollen count rises. Along with it, there is a rise in human and dog hay fever. Hay fever in both is a result of an allergic reaction to pollen. An allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to substances that are normally harmless to most people. However, to allergic people, their immune system sees these substances, such as pollen, as a threat and an allergic reaction occurs. The symptoms are very different in dogs and humans.

The reaction in humans usually affects the upper respiratory system and involves sneezing and runny eyes. Most often, people take antihistamines and that is all that is needed.

Dogs tend to show their reaction to tree, grass, or weed pollen in their skin, referred to as atopic dermatitis. It presents as extremely itchy skin but can progress into the symptoms discussed below.

Dog hay fever symptoms

As mentioned, hay fever in dogs involves intense itching. That alone makes the dog uncomfortable, but the scratching can lead to other more serious symptoms.

  • Excessive itching around their face, ears, paws, and belly, can make your dog scratch, lick, or bite constantly. In medical terms, this is called pruritis. They may also lose hair.
  • Red, inflamed, and irritated skin can be caused by an allergic reaction. The excessive scratching can cause skin infections, marked by scabs and pustules.
  • Hot spots, areas of acute, moist dermatitis, may occur.
  • Ear infections may cause your dog to shake its head or scratch its ears. There may be a foul odor and possible discharge from the ear.
  • A runny nose and watery eyes may occur, although this is more common with people.
  • Sneezing and coughing are rare but can happen.

How to tell if your dog has allergies

If your dog has the above symptoms, they are most likely caused by allergies. It is not necessarily hay fever. Your canine companion can have other allergies, including food and flea allergies.

Unfortunately, all allergies have the same symptoms. That is why taking your dog to the vet is essential if these symptoms appear. The vet will want to know about your dog's behavior at home and will perform a thorough exam. They may also do tests like skin scrapings, cytology, cultures, bloodwork, and even a skin biopsy, to look for other causes of the skin issues. There can be some slight differences in allergy symptoms or characteristic such as flea allergies commonly cause issues at the base of the tail, environmental allergies may have a seasonal component, and food allergies may also cause some intestinal symptoms. Your dog may also have more than one type of allergy, making it difficult to diagnose at times. Your vet may recommend allergy tests. The two main allergy tests are a skin prick test and a blood test.

There are other things besides allergies that could cause similar symptoms, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's Disease, external parasites, and skin infections. That is why your vet may do the skin scrapings, cytology, culture, bloodwork, and biopsies.

Diagnosing hay fever in dogs via testing

The skin test for allergies is similar to the test that humans get. A small amount of allergens are injected under the top layer of the skin and monitored to see if there is an allergic reaction. Dogs won't sit still for this test unless they are sedated. It is generally a very safe procedure and more sensitive than the blood tests. A dermatologist usually does this procedure.

A blood test can test for antibodies produced in response to specific antigens. This test is less revealing than the skin test, which will give a more accurate diagnosis. However, most dogs do not have to be sedated for the blood test. It is also less costly, so some pet parents elect to start with the blood test. The blood test is not the way to test for food allergies. If you have pet insurance for illnesses, the tests are covered. Also, many pet parents elect to try symptomatic treatment first, and only if it doesn't take care of the problem do they go on to allergy tests.

Dog seasonal allergy treatment

The blood and skin tests we discussed are the most accurate way to determine what your dog is allergic to. However, your vet and most pet owners may start with symptomatic therapy first. This can include:

  • Medication including antihistamines or steroids plus antibiotics if needed for infection
  • Topical treatments such as shampoos, sprays and ointments
  • Omega fatty acid supplements that improve skin health
  • One of two reasonably new specific allergy treatments, one in pill form, Apoquel, and the other injectable, Cytopoint.
  • A food elimination trial, to check for food allergies
  • Year round flea and tick preventatives

Dog hay fever treatment for pets at home

Other dog hay fever treatments involve maintaining the environment.

  • Walking your dog in the morning or evening to avoid the midday high pollen counts
  • Wiping your dog's fur down or washing them to remove excess pollen after a walk
  • Washing bedding routinely
  • Using an air filter system
  • Vacuuming frequently
  • Administering your dog's flea and tick medication as directed by your vet

These actions can help a great deal, but they will likely not completely eliminate your dog's allergy reactions.

Immunotherapy for dog allergies

If the above-mentioned treatments don't work or you're looking for a possible cure, you may be interested in immunotherapy — allergy shots. If you're willing to be trained, you or your vet will inject small amounts of the allergen into your dog, increasing the amount slowly over time so your dog's body can learn to tolerate the allergen.

The goal is to get off of all other medications once there's no need for symptomatic treatment. The allergens in the injection are selected based on the skin test results. This treatment method only treats hay fever (environmental allergies such as pollen, molds, and mites) and flea bite allergy. It doesn't work for food allergies.

Hay fever (atopy) prevention in dogs

It's not possible to prevent atopy in dogs, but there are preventative measures you can take to try and keep down the severity of the allergic reaction. These steps are identical to the environmental suggestions we mentioned above and include wiping your dog down after an outing, vacuuming more, washing bedding, and regular grooming, among others.

Fortunately, most cases of atopy in dogs can be effectively managed by your vet with topical, oral, or injectable medications. If these treatments aren't sufficient, allergy tests can provide the necessary information for creating allergy shots. There are multiple ways to help ensure your best friend can be comfortable, happy, and healthy.

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