Spring has finally sprung, and with it comes warmer weather, longer days, leafing trees and blooming flowers. It’s a wonderful time of year — unless you or your dog suffer from environmental allergies.
Common and not-so-common causes of environmental allergies in dogs
Like us, dogs can be sensitive to a long list of indoor and outdoor substances, known as allergens, present in their environment. The most common environmental allergens include pollens from trees, grasses and weeds; molds; dust mites; house dust; certain fabrics such as wool or cotton; chemicals (often associated with fragrances); and tobacco smoke.
Less common causes of environmental allergies include other animals such as the family cat — and even you. That’s right! Just as people can be allergic to dogs (and cats), your canine companion can be allergic to your cat, another family member or you. And although veterinary dermatologists are quick to note that cases of dogs being allergic to cat or human dander are rare, they do test for hypersensitivity to cat dander when performing skin tests.
Watch for these signs and symptoms
The most common symptom of environmental allergies in dogs is itchy skin, which your dog may relieve by frequently — even non stop — scratching, licking or chewing. Allergies are also frequently the underlying cause of recurring ear infections.
If your dog seems to be scratching, licking or chewing at his or her skin excessively, or has smelly, reddened and sensitive ears, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Diagnosis of environmental allergies is based on your dog’s history of skin problems, lack of response to flea treatment, lack of response to a hypoallergenic or limited-ingredient diet, and results of allergy skin testing. Skin testing for allergies in dogs involves injecting small amounts of allergens into the skin to test for reactions, just like in human allergy testing. Depending on where you live, your veterinarian may perform skin testing or refer you and your dog to a veterinary skin specialist (veterinary dermatologist).
Managing your dog’s signs and symptoms
While allergies can’t be cured, their symptoms and signs can be managed to make your dog more comfortable. Managing canine allergies is similar to managing allergies in people and may include any of these options:
- “Allergy shots,” or immunotherapy, to improve your dog’s tolerance of specific allergens
- Medications and topical products to control itching
- Reduced exposure to allergens
- Nutritional support
Environmental allergy itchiness for some, but not all, dogs may be reduced by feeding a diet that supports healthy skin and an optimally functioning immune system. Foods formulated specifically for dogs with sensitive skin, such as Diamond CARE Sensitive Skin Formula for Adult Dogs, often have only one or two sources of protein and carbohydrates and an appropriate ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Limiting the number of different protein sources can help lower your dog’s overall exposure to allergens, including environmental ones, and decrease stress on the immune system. Dog foods that control the quantity and ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids provide the essential fatty acids needed by the skin and immune system while helping to reduce the effects of the substances responsible for itching. Before making any diet change, be sure to talk with your veterinarian.
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