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Spring Allergies in Dogs & Cats

April showers bring May flowers, pollen and mold! This just doesn’t sound as good as the old adage “April showers bring May flowers”, does it? While we look forward to Spring weather, it does bring us allergic reactions that can mean runny noses, puffy eyes, sinus pain, sneezing, and headaches. Did you know allergies and atopy can also be problematic for our dogs and cats?

Allergy is an immune response to a foreign antigen regardless of mechanism. Atopy is an exaggerated IgE-mediated immune response to common inhaled and food allergens, with a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Dog breeds genetically predisposed to atopy include Dalmatian, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, West Highland White Terrier, Shar Pei, Cairn Terrier, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, Boxer, and Pug.

Dogs and cats are less commonly allergic to inhaled allergens (mold, pollen, etc.), and more so affected when allergens are absorbed through the skin. Allergic reactions tend to be seasonal, with increased prevalence in Spring and Fall, but can be year-round and vary based on weather and geography.

If your dog or cat is exhibiting symptoms of an allergic reaction, a veterinarian can be consulted to better understand your pet’s sensitivity to various substances. The veterinarian may elect to do intradermal skin testing by injecting small amounts of the allergen (antigen) and watching for a skin reaction, usually swelling or redness. Serum antibody testing, which measures antibody levels in the blood to specific antigens, can also be done as part of the diagnosis. About one in four cats with allergies have more than one type of allergy.

For seventy percent of pets with atopy, symptoms initially appear in the first 1-3 years of life. The diagnosis of atopy is a clinical one, not based on testing, but on observation of itchy skin and behavior such as chewing or licking or rubbing their feet, legs, around their eyes, muzzle, arm pits, ventral abdomen, and anus.

Once a diagnosis has been made there are several options for mitigation and treatment of allergies and atopy.

  1. Mitigation: Mitigation means limiting your pet’s exposure to allergens; mitigation can be part of your normal pet parent activities. Bathing weekly can reduce allergens on your pet’s skin. Using a therapeutic shampoo containing phytosphingnosine takes the bath a step further, by helping rebuild the skin’s natural barrier, which is commonly compromised in pets with allergies. Washing bedding and stuffed toys regularly to decrease allergen exposure can also help, especially if your pet has a dust mite allergy. Using an air conditioner and a filter system decreases allergens in the home, and keeping pets indoors while mowing the lawn decreases exposure when outdoors, as pollens and other allergens in the outdoor environment increase when churned up by the lawn mower.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Nutrition is a key driver for skin and coat health. Omega-3 fatty acids in your pet’s diet help control inflammation, while supporting skin and coat health and appearance. Some dog and cat foods include ingredients rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, fish meal and flaxseed meal. Nutrena pet foods guarantee Omega-3 fatty acids on their labels. Our Loyall Life Sensitive Skin & Coat Formula is specially formulated with balanced levels of Omega-6 and Omega-3 providing extra support for healthy skin and coat.
  3. Veterinary Treatment: Atopy generally responds rapidly to steroid treatment, as directed by a veterinarian. Steroids can suppress the immune system and have short-term side effects of increased drinking, appetite, and urination. Other treatments for allergic reactions include antihistamines, which are generally effective in mildly affected patients, immune modulator therapies, desensitization, and anti-inflammatory therapies.

How to best treat your pet should be determined through a discussion between you and your veterinarian and be based on the severity and seasonality of your pet’s allergies. If there are secondary skin infections present because of your pet’s reactivity to allergens, these need to be addressed at the same time. Secondary infections can be from bacterial (Staphylococcus) and/or yeast (Malasezzia) that normally live on the skin penetrating deeper tissues through damage to the skin from chewing and scratching. These secondary infections can further the allergic response and the prevent resolution of symptoms until they are addressed.