The much anticipated arrival of spring with the accompanying warm weather brings many blooming and growing things. This means that springtime allergies for pets are going to follow shortly behind. Pets are sensitive to the same grasses and pollens that trigger reactions in people. However, the manifestations of these allergies are quite different.
In people the major body system that most commonly reacts to allergens such as pollen, grasses and molds in the environment is the respiratory system. This is why symptoms of hay fever are sneezing and a runny nose. This is intuitive since that is the body system that comes into contact with the offending allergens in people.
However, in dogs and to a lesser degree cats, the major body system is the skin. Therefore the feet and lower part of the body will be typical areas that are itchy from seasonal allergies in dogs resulting from contact with the world around them. Unfortunately, cats tend not to follow the same rules as dogs when it comes to allergies. Their problems are usually around the head and face. If you consider how fastidious most cats are, the act of grooming focuses the allergen contact to the mouth and head. Over time the inflammation and self-trauma from licking and scratching can lead to secondary sores and infection. People will initially notice hair loss and then scabs and crusts. For some pets these can be pretty painful.
Treatment of milder allergies will consist of minimizing the time the allergens spend on the fur or skin and antihistamines to moderate the body’s ability to overreact. For dogs the simple act of wiping the feet when they come inside is a good start. A wet washcloth will help remove some the allergens before they have a chance to cause trouble and a weekly rinse with the hose or in the tub can help too.
Keeping cats who are sensitive inside or moving perches away from open windows will help as much as possible. Secondary infections will need antibiotics to fully clear the infection. Many times I find the infection is every bit as itchy as the original allergy and once the infection clears the overall itchiness declines dramatically.
Your veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines for the itching, but they tend to be most helpful if they are started before your pet’s allergies are in full swing. Other therapies that can help are fish-based omega-3 fatty acids which decrease the inflammation in the skin from allergies. Short term oral or injected cortisone-type medications may be useful in cases where allergies are severe. However, it is important to remember that these medications have serious long-term side effects including liver trouble, adrenal gland disease and diabetes.
For more serious allergies safer therapies are available and your veterinarian can help you decide which course of therapy is best for your pet. As with many problems, prevention is much easier than treatment so see your veterinarian before things get out of hand and remember that fleas can make a pet’s allergies significantly worse so stay on effective prevention.