What Spring Means to Your Dog

June 4th, 2014

Does your dog suffer from springtime allergies?

As with humans, springtime can cause discomfort in dogs because of allergies and other health issues, such as parasites infestations, infections, poisoning, injuries and reproductive problems. About twenty percent of dogs in North America suffer from allergies during the spring.

Pollen and other irritants from their surroundings such as trees, grass, smoke, molds, cockroaches and insect bites cause allergies in dogs. But instead of sneezing and watery eyes as is common in humans, skin irritation and ear problems are the result in dogs.  Red bumps, hives and raw weepy areas from scratching may appear on the skin. With flea allergies, hair loss and skin lesions occur on the back, on the back legs and tail. Insect stings result is facial swelling and hives on the body.

Inhaled allergens can cause hair loss on the legs, neck, feet and torso. If the allergens are present on something the dog is lying on, usually its belly will exhibit redness or hair loss, or whatever part of the body that is in contact with the allergen.

Some dogs - most common among retrievers - suffer ear problems due to allergies. The outer ear flap, called the pinna, or the ear canal becomes red and swollen. Foul-smelling yellow or brown can discharge from the ear. Due to scratching, moisture, darkness and warmth, bacteria grow and cause ear infections and this can be very painful for dogs.

To accurately diagnose allergies, the veterinarian will perform a series of tests, where they look for evidence of skin parasites, bacterial infection, yeast infection, and lesions.  These findings can suggest other conditions might be responsible for skin problems such as serious skin infections, mange, dietary allergies, and hormonal problems.

In dogs with ear problems, the ear canal and the discharge are examined, followed with the administration of several medications to determine what exactly causes the skin problem. Blood work or skin testing is done for those whose allergies are caused by inhaled irritants to find out exactly what the dog is allergic to.

Treatments vary according to what is causing the allergy. Most common are oral and topical flea medications, which are prescribed because flea infections can exacerbate symptoms. To treat a flea infection, all animals in a house must be treated monthly, and the surroundings cleaned and treated twice.

Soothing baths, antihistamines and steroids are given to those who suffer from inhaled allergies. If this doesn't work, dogs can go through a process called desensitization, in which injections of small amount of the irritants are given over time so the immune system gradually stops reacting to it.

The best treatment for contact allergies is to completely avoid the offending substrate. For insect bites, the dog is given antihistamines and if the symptoms are severe, epinephrine and steroids. For ear infections, daily cleanings along with steroids and antibiotics are needed. With secondary infections, antibiotic and antifungals are administered.

As dogs are re-exposed to the same irritants each spring, their symptoms can worsen over time.  Since allergies cannot be cured and can lead to secondary infections, it is important to be proactive with early detection and proper medical intervention, along with regular bathing and ear cleaning so that dogs can fully enjoy the spring season.