Humans aren’t the only ones experiencing a brutal spring allergy season this year: Our dogs are also feeling the impact of high pollen counts. “It’s actually very aligned with people,” says Ashly Smith, regional medical director for Bond Vet’s DC-area animal hospitals. “The grass, the trees, the flowers—those are going to be your biggest environmental [allergens].” We spoke to Smith about springtime symptoms and different solutions for treating allergies in four-legged patients.
How common are allergies in household pets?
It is one of the most common illness appointments that we see, from environmental allergies to food sensitivities. We can see it happen geographically: We’ll have pets in Virginia with every clinical sign for allergies, and then they move somewhere out west and their allergies are gone. It’s definitely much worse [this year].
What symptoms should dog owners look out for?[Allergies] can manifest as skin conditions, so they can get rashes. Typically, it’s on the hairless areas like their armpits and their bellies, but it definitely can happen on the skin underneath fur. Their paws can get really red in between or swollen from them licking and chewing at them. They can get very itchy. They can get chronic ear and eye infections.
What can pet owners do to minimize those symptoms?
For mild ones, just wiping them down. Using wipes or a moist towel to run it over their skin, cleaning in between their paws after they go outside for a walk. We can also use over the counter antihistamines: They can get dosing for Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin, being careful not to use any of the ones that have decongestants. Very similar to people, you can get personalized immunotherapy where [veterinarians] will create injections or oral drops to be given a certain number of times a week to get the body used to those allergens so symptoms are less severe.
Should you keep your dog inside more during allergy season?
If they do respond well to the allergy medication, I say get those on board and make sure you’re pretty religious about giving them on time and as directed, so that way your pet can actually enjoy the outdoors. But if they are more difficult to manage, then explore other opportunities. Can they benefit from going to an indoor playground or a doggy day care? It’s very similar to how people would be treated: If we’re going to be outside, I tend to take my medication a day or two before to let that kick in. And then if it is really bad, sometimes you just need to stay indoors for quality of life and wellbeing.
Are there specific breeds that are more susceptible to environmental allergies?
I would definitely say the bully breeds, so your pit bulls, bulldogs, staffies. Something in their genetic makeup makes them more prone, and you can see signs manifest as early as puppies. The first appointment, they will have played in the grass, and their belly will break out.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.