Pets suffer from springtime allergies too
As spring makes itself felt, and pollen counts rise, it’s important to remember that it’s not just humans who can suffer from seasonal allergies. Our pets are vulnerable too, but they have slightly different triggers.
Dogs are more prone to allergies than cats – generally because they’re ‘nose-deep’ in grasses and the outdoors. In fact, only one in 20 animals attending vet clinics with allergy symptoms are cats. The rest are dogs.
While most clinics see an average of one dog a day with irritated skin or a stomach upset due to allergies, in spring, this number can jump to five or more cases a day with pollen in the air.
The chief culprits
The most likely seasonal allergy triggers are pollen, plants, and insect saliva and stings. On the rare occasion that a cat presents with allergies, it’s usually a reaction to flea saliva or something they’ve eaten.
Dogs don’t get hay fever, but they can get a very uncomfortable springtime itch, and even red, watery eyes. Dogs like to explore, get up close, sniff, and roll in stuff. In spring, pollen is everywhere a dog wants to go. Not many cats react to pollen as they don’t explore outdoors in the same way.
Cats and dogs may react to some plants and grasses. Every animal is different. If your dog seems itchy or a rash appears after a daily walk, try a different park and see if a certain kind of grass is to blame.
The silver inch plant (below) is the number one skin-offending plant in Australia. It’s commonly found in back yards and is guaranteed to upset your pet’s skin if they come into contact with it. If you find this in your garden, you may want to get rid of it or keep your pet away. Keep an eye out for a raging red rash.
Cats and dogs can react to the saliva of some insects. Dust mites, fleas and ants are the worst perpetrators. Then there are the usual suspects like bee stings or mozzie bites.
In the warmer months, flea allergy dermatitis can rear its ugly head. It’s important that pets are protected with a suitable flea treatment if they are allergic, so they don’t suffer awful skin conditions. Only expose your pet to the lowest dose needed. Check that the treatment doesn’t have unnecessary ingredients that could trigger a reaction.
Most clinics will give dogs a chew rather than a topical treatment if they have sensitive skin, which provides up to three months of protection from fleas, depending on the preventative of choice.
The breeds most likely to suffer
While one would expect the brachycephalic breeds (those with snub noses) to feature prominently on any list of breathing complications, there are a number of other breeds that are predisposed to developing allergies that should be monitored more closely.
These include Chinese Shar-Peis, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Scottish Terriers, Shih Tzus, and West Highland White Terriers. However, any dog of any breed (or mixed breeds) can be allergic.
What are the symptoms of an allergy?
Be on the lookout for excessive scratching and licking, especially around the belly, ears and paws. Your pet might start to focus on an area of their body where they usually don’t.
Look for inflamed and broken skin, little pimples, moist dermatitis that leads to hair loss, excessive licking causing a brown stain around paws, areas of thickened, leathery skin, and repetitive ear infections. A lacklustre coat and flaky skin are also potential allergy symptoms.
Infection often follows excessive scratching as broken skin can let bacteria in, exacerbated by saliva from licking.
Gastrointestinal signs of allergies can be vomiting, diarrhoea, soft poo, excessive gas, or a change in toileting habits. Remember that a digestive problem doesn’t always mean it’s a food allergy.
Suspect an allergy?
Unexplained skin problems, odd scratching and licking behaviour, or a change in eating or toilet habits, are all potential signs of an allergy. Take your pet to the clinic and they will do some sleuth work with you to figure out what’s going on.
Act early to manage your pet’s allergies
Humans can tweak their environment if they feel uncomfortable. Our pets rely on us to do it for them.
Sometimes it’s hard for owners (and health professionals!) to connect the dots. Know your pet’s habits. Be on the lookout for changes in behaviour (scratching, licking, eating, toileting) or decline in the condition of their skin and coat. If you notice obvious, unexplained changes, book your pet for a check-up.
Don’t wait until a mild skin condition becomes a full-blown infection which triggers other health problems. Early intervention is key.