Understanding Seasonal Allergies in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatments, and Spring Precautions

Dog laying on a grass field

As the seasons change and flowers bloom, many of us eagerly anticipate the warmer weather and longer days (and longer dog walks!). However, for our canine companions, springtime may bring about an unpleasant downside – seasonal allergies.

Much like humans, dogs can suffer from environmental allergies, with spring being a particularly troublesome time for many. In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of seasonal allergies in dogs, exploring their symptoms, treatments recommended by veterinarians, and what dog owners should watch out for as we transition into spring.

What types of allergies do dogs have?

To start with the basics, allergies are an exaggerated immune response or hypersensitivity to a particular substance, called an allergen. Canine allergies tend to fall into two main buckets -  environmental allergies (like pollen or dust) and food sensitivities (usually to animal proteins). Environmental allergies occur more often than food allergies.

We have discussed food allergies at length on this blog in the past, but symptoms for both environmental and food-based allergies can look similar (itchy paws, inflamed ears, etc). Food allergies often include gastrointestinal symptoms (like diarrhea) and generally take a longer period of exposure before symptoms appear.

On the flip side, environmental allergies tend to be seasonal and the onset happens soon after contact or exposure. If you notice that your dog has a sudden onset of allergy symptoms in warmer weather, that is a helpful clue to share with your veterinarian to explore treatment.

While not a focus of this blog post, dogs also experience allergic responses to fleas and ticks. Flea populations go up in warmer weather, and it only takes a few flea bites for dogs to experience an allergic response. Flea bites tend to be localized by the tail and back legs, so look for signs of scratching and hair loss in those areas if you suspect fleas may be the culprit. 

Signs & symptoms to monitor

Humans and dogs often have similar allergies (like grass pollen), but the most common reactions show up in dogs and cats in their skin. If you notice that your dog starts itching or biting their paws more when flowers and trees start to bloom, your pup may be grappling with environmental allergies. 

  1. Excessive scratching and chewing: It's normal for dogs to occasionally scratch and bite their paws, but incessant scratching, biting, or licking their skin and paws could be in response environmental allergens. 

  2. Skin irritation: Allergic reactions can manifest as redness, inflammation, and hot spots on the skin, particularly around the paws, ears, face, and belly.

  3. Hair loss: Persistent scratching and rubbing may lead to patches of hair loss or thinning in affected areas. This is an indication that their scratching is excessive and may be time to seek treatment.

  4. Runny nose and sneezing: Dogs may exhibit symptoms reminiscent of the common cold, such as sneezing and watery eyes. This is less common in dogs than in humans but can occur. 

  5. Ear Infections: Allergens can exacerbate ear inflammation, leading to discomfort, odor, and discharge from the ears. You may notice your dog scratching their ears more or shaking their head.

  6. Gastrointestinal Issues: In some cases, dogs may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or other digestive disturbances as a result of allergies. This is less common with seasonal/environmental allergies. 

Common treatments

If you notice allergy symptoms and discomfort, call your veterinarian or schedule an appoinment for your dog to be examined. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, veterinarians may recommend some basic treatment for relief or may want to conduct further testing.

  1. Antihistamines: These medications help alleviate itching and reduce inflammation caused by histamine release in response to allergens. Common antihistamines for dogs include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), but dosages should be determined by a veterinarian.

  2. Steroids: In more severe cases, corticosteroids may be prescribed to provide rapid relief from inflammation and itching. However, long-term use should be approached cautiously due to potential side effects.

  3. Topical Treatments: Shampoos, sprays, and creams containing soothing ingredients like oatmeal or aloe vera can help alleviate skin irritation and provide temporary relief.

  4. Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots): For dogs with persistent or severe allergies, allergen-specific immunotherapy may be recommended. This involves administering gradually increasing doses of the allergen to desensitize the dog's immune system over time.

  5. Fatty Acid Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids can help support skin health and reduce inflammation associated with allergies. There are numerous vegan options available that use omega-3 sourced from marine algae. 

Depending on your dog's symptoms and severity, your veterinarian may recommend a combination of treatments as well as preventative flea and tick medication. We always recommend staying vigilant to signs of discomfort in your dog and making a note if you observe any patterns (like extra paw biting after walking on grass, for example). 


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