Seasonal allergies in dogs have become a much more readily recognized problem in recent years as we have begun to learn more about what causes them. While they can be aggravating, allergies are rarely life threatening and they can usually be managed relatively easily. The key is identifying the specific allergen and avoiding it if possible, or figuring out an effective treatment, which you should always do with the help of your vet.
Allergies in dogs are similar to those in humans. Like us, dogs can be affected by pollen, grass, mold, dust and other airborne pollutants. When an allergen is present, the body reacts by creating substances called histamines to fight it off. When the histamines are produced they can cause a number of irritating reactions. The difference between dogs and humans is the way the allergies manifest.
Where we tend to get watery eyes, runny noses and sneezing, the main symptom of seasonal allergies in dogs is usually itching. The histamines cause the skin to become irritated, particularly in the extremities, including the ears, paws and anus. Skin becomes red and itchy, which can in turn lead to incessant itching, rubbing and even biting as the animal desperately tries to get relief.
In dogs, allergies can be caused by airborne irritants such as pollen and dust or by parasites, the most common of which is fleas. Allergies can occur as early as six months of age but they can also manifest initially in adult dogs. In most cases, though, dogs will show signs of allergies by the time they are two or three years old. No matter what their age, the sooner allergies can be diagnosed the better off your dog will be.
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Since itching is the primary symptom of seasonal allergies in dogs, excessive scratching and biting is usually the first sign of a problem. Other symptoms can include inflamed or infected skin, excessive shedding, frequent licking of the paws, scooting or licking of the anal region, chronic ear infections and sometimes respiratory issues. If your dog is showing any of these signs you should take him to the vet for a diagnosis rather than just trying to treat the allergy yourself.
Your vet can diagnose an allergy in much the same way as doctors do for people, with a "skin test" in which small amounts of allergens are injected under the skin. If the skin reacts, that means there is an allergy to that substance. Once the allergen is identified your vet can suggest treatment, which may include the use of antihistamines or steroid based medications. Other possible ways to manage allergies include regularly washing bedding, cleaning your home thoroughly and bathing your dog with mild shampoo.
While seasonal allergies in dogs can strike any breed, it can be a particular issue for active and working breeds like the Australian Shepherd that spend a great deal of time outdoors, where they can be exposed to allergens. It may not be possible to completely protect your dog from the allergens he encounters on a daily basis, but it is certainly possible to mitigate the problem with careful management.
There is no reason why allergies should affect your dog's quality of life. If you suspect that your dog may have an allergy, a vet visit is the first step you should take. Together, you and your vet can get to the heart of the problem and figure out a treatment regimen that can have your pet back to his regular routine as quickly as possible, with allergies a thing of the past!
For more information about Aussie health issues see the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute (ASHGI).