Approaches to Allergies

Spring is in the air, which means seasonal allergies…and not just for humans. Did you know that your pet can also suffer from seasonal allergies? A recent survey conducted of pet owners revealed over half of the owners weren’t even aware that their pets can also spend Spring feeling miserable thanks to environmental allergens and local pollens.

What causes allergies?

Whether we are talking people or pets, the culprit is an overactive immune system. The immune system is designed to protect us, but when it mistakes non-harmful environmental substances (allergens) as threats, then allergic reactions occur. For example, if your dog comes across grass or ragweed pollen, and the dog’s immune system views it as a threat, an allergic reaction occurs.

What are the common symptoms of Allergies in our pets?

Itching, hot spots, ear infections, runny eyes, and sneezing are classic symptoms of allergies. Dogs exhibit itching either by licking or chewing the skin or scratching with their feet. Common areas affected are the face, ears, feet, belly, and armpit region.  As the itch/scratch/chew cycle continues, the skin will become inflamed and tender to the touch. You may also see hair loss, open sores and scabbing.

Hot spots can develop in dogs and are an area of inflamed infected skin that becomes overwhelmed by the dog’s natural bacteria of the skin. Dogs with allergies also often have issues with ears being itchy and inflamed but not necessarily a lot of wax or debris. You may see some scratching at the ears and/or some head shaking with mild hair loss around the ears. If the allergy in the ear persists, your pet may get a bacterial or yeast infection in the ear. This is more common in chronic allergies. Lastly, a lot of dogs with seasonal allergies can have seasonal anal gland issues or itchy rear syndrome.

How can allergies be treated?

Treating allergies can be frustrating for all involved from the itching and uncomfortable pet, the distraught owner, and finally to the me as your Veterinarian.  It is important to keep two points in mind. The hard part is finding out what the allergy is and the even harder part is treating it.  Allergies can be managed but not cured, treatments need to be assessed, modified and changed as time goes on.  And finally, allergies almost always require a multimodal approach. This is especially true when pet owners want to keep long-term medication to a minimum.

What are some treatment options for managing allergies?

Treatment for managing allergies involves limiting exposure to allergens or the immune system’s reaction to the allergens.  The classifications are limit exposure, desensitization and medication.  As always with each group there are advantages and disadvantages for each group.

Limit exposure
Wipes: One of the easiest ways to limit exposure to allergens for your pet is to wipe down their body and paws daily.  This removes a major source of allergens on the skin.  We recommend a damp cloth to clear the skin of pollens.

Shampoos, Rinses, Conditioners: All of these can be a vital part of therapy.  These products help remove the allergens on top of the skin, while helping to rebuild and sooth the skin barrier.  They may also contain antibiotics and fungal medication to prevent any skin infections created by the constant licking, chewing and scratching.


Allergy Vaccine: Allergy vaccines can help reduce the symptoms in patients over time, from months to years.  Vaccines can come in injectable or oral forms.

Raw Local Honey: Honeybees will collect pollen from local plants and the pollen will be present in small amounts in honey that was gathered by bees.  In honey, the allergens are delivered in small, manageable doses and the effect over time is very much like that from undergoing an entire series of allergy injections. The major difference though is that the honey is a lot easier to take and it is certainly a lot less expensive.

Omega 3 – Omega 3’s are a group of fatty acids that help to produce chemical signals that reduce inflammation.  They also help to replenish the coat of fatty oils that help to protect the skin barrier.


Corticosteroids (i.e., prednisone, triamcinolone): Very effective for dogs suffering from atopy. Injectable products such as Depo-Medrol® are long-lasting and should be used cautiously. Long-term continual use is not recommended.

Antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin): Can help in some cases, but histamine is only one of many causes of itchiness.  Antihistamines block the release of histamine which causes itching, and inflammation.

Immune suppression (e.g. Atopica, Apoquel, Cytopoint): Effective in most cases, typically with fewer side effects than corticosteroids but can cause GI upset and bone marrow suppression in rare cases. Expensive compared to most other medications.  Usually involved in immune suppression that blocks cytokines (chemical signals) that are responsible for inflammation and the itch sensation.

Managing allergies involves many approaches which is why it’s important to visit your veterinarian as soon as you suspect that your dog may have an allergy. By discussing the treatment options and ways to manage your pet’s allergies, we can hopefully minimize the stress and progression of allergies in your pet.

Do you have an itchy pet? Schedule an appointment with us today!