Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Ask The Vet

It's seasonal allergy time for the dogs and cats in our area. For some pets it may seem like the itch season never goes away. This is true for many dogs, but most will only be affected during warm weather, which brings with it pollens, grasses, mold spores and insects that turn on a licking, chewing, scratching and itching response. That not only leaves the pet in agony, but drives the caring dog owner crazy.

Some owners may believe there is no relief for their pet, but in my experience that is rarely the case. A cure may not be likely, but comfort and remission of signs are usually possible. Cape May County residents should be aware that the #1 cause of dog itching is fleas. So make sure you are using a product that has been proven to work.  

All household pets need to use the appropriate product. Many products used for dogs can make your cat deathly ill. READ THE LABEL!  Use dog products on dogs and cat treatments on cats. A mix can be fatal!

If your dog is flea-bite hypersensitive, the allergy is often so severe that one flea bite can cause your dog's skin to be covered with red sores that ooze and itch. The hair will fall out and crust, and malodor will cover your pet. Many dogs develop a "Christmas tree" pattern of hair thinning over the tail area with the top of the hair-loss tree pattern pointing at the head.

The other condition that is famous for bringing itching and discomfort to dogs in Cape May County is atopic dermatitis (aka Cape May County rot). This is another hypersensitivity (allergy) reaction to inhaled or skin-absorbed environmental antigens in genetically susceptible dogs. Dogs that develop this common allergy problem do so between the ages of one and three and are bothered seasonally for the rest of their life. Dogs rarely develop this problem for the first time after they are five years old.

Signs start with itchy skin that may have no lesions or sores at first. Later the skin is covered with itching sores. For many, the first sign is during warm weather when an itchy red area on the skin develops. Remember that itchy condition means skin is being licked, chewed, rubbed or  scratched. The areas involved include the feet, flank, groin, face and ears. 

The trauma this creates leads to secondary skin infections, staining of the hair from saliva, hair loss and skin color changes, often to black. To top off these lesions, natural body oils are secreted that go rancid and smell terrible. The condition of atopic dermatitis needs to  be separated from other sensitivities like allergy to other parasites, yeast infections, mite infections and certain skin neoplasias.

The use of history and lab tests makes it possible to determine which of these conditions is at work. Allergy testing, both dermal and serologic, are available. Sometimes response to treatment helps us determine what is causing the problem. We can treat almost every pet and make them comfortable. Although allergies are a seasonal problem for a lifetime, treatments exist to help make your pet feel better. Some dogs are so sensitive they need all of the treatment options to be comfortable, while others need very little to make them stop scratching.

We use immunotherapy to desensitize pets against specific antigens, as well as broad spectrum medications to target a wider itch reaction to bring on rapid relief. Topical medications placed directly on the skin, such as sprays, washes, baths and ointments are all additive in effect. These meds work together to increase the relief your pet feels. There are new medications and diagnostics available that make a trip to your veterinarian worthwhile when your pet is suffering.

The prognosis is good for almost every patient. Working with your vet to communicate what helps and what does not work for your dog will quickly direct this health care professional to get your pet better fast.

Source: Robert K.Fitzpatrick, DVM, Abri Animal Hospital, Cape May Court House, NJ. If you have a pet-related question, please use our contact page and select the category Ask The Vet.