Spring is here, which means that your pet will get to enjoy more time outside, rolling in the grass, and breathing the fresh air. Unfortunately, the spring grass and air contain substances that many pets are allergic to, so spring also brings them red bumps, itching, and skin infections. If your pet is plagued by springtime allergies, your family veterinarian is probably expecting to see her soon, for the usual treatments to help her through the season.

For some pets, however, their allergy symptoms become so severe that they will suffer horribly for the next several months. Constant itching, scratching, and skin infections can make your pet—and you—tired, cranky, and downright miserable. Fortunately, our board-certified veterinary dermatologist has experience working with the most severe allergy cases, and will partner with your family veterinarian to help get to the bottom of your pet’s allergies, and start long-term treatment. 

What are allergies in pets?

Like people who suffer from hay fever, some pets are sensitive to environmental substances, such as plant pollens and mites, that are referred to as allergens. When a pet absorbs an allergen through the skin, respiratory system, or gastrointestinal tract, their immune system is stimulated, and inflammatory chemicals are released, causing effects such as skin redness, swelling, and itching. 

Airborne allergies, or atopic dermatitis (i.e., atopy), can be caused by a variety of allergens, and allergic pets are typically sensitive to many different substances. Pets who have seasonal allergies are typically allergic to plant pollens that are released during only certain times of the year. Pets who are allergic to dust and storage mites, which are present in all homes, typically have year-round (i.e., non-seasonal) allergies. 

What are allergy signs in pets?

Pets with allergies rarely develop respiratory signs, such as sneezing and itchy eyes, like people.  Rather, pet allergies cause skin problems, with signs that include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Bumpy skin
  • Hair loss
  • Ear infections

Skin traumatized from scratching is vulnerable to secondary bacterial and yeast infections, which cause further itching, leading to a vicious cycle of severe itching and discomfort.

How are allergies diagnosed in pets?

Allergies are diagnosed by your pet’s history and physical exam however, intradermal allergy testing can be used to determine which environmental substances cause your pet’s allergic reactions. During intradermal allergy testing, an area of hair on your pet’s side is shaved, and a grid of dots drawn on her skin. A small amount of allergen is injected into each spot, and your dog’s skin is observed for a reaction. A swelling, or hive, will appear at the injection site of substances your dog is allergic to, with the reaction severity correlating to the sensitivity level, and likely the clinical signs your dog develops, from allergen exposure.

Our dermatology team will compose a serum specifically to treat your dog’s condition and to help us best manage her allergies.

How are allergies treated in pets?

Apoquel®, antihistamines, and steroids are often used to manage allergy flare-ups, but the goal of allergy testing and treatment for severely affected dogs is long-term immune-system desensitization, so the response to allergen exposure is not so intense. This is accomplished with immunotherapy in the form of allergy injections or sublingual drops, both formulated specifically for your pet with the combination of allergens she is sensitive to, and administered according to a specific schedule to gradually desensitize her. Our dermatology team members will teach you to administer her allergy injections at home, or you may administer sublingual drops under your dog’s tongue. Immunotherapy, while the best allergy treatment available, may not completely resolve your pet’s symptoms, and she may still need other medications. She may  have flare-ups at peak times, but her symptoms should be significantly less severe. Immunotherapy is not a cure, and must be continued throughout your pet’s life. 

If your pet has already started itching and scratching, or if you want to head off a particularly bad allergy season, contact us to schedule an appointment with our dermatology team.