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  • Writer's pictureMarina Veronica

Does your dog have seasonal allergies?

Like people, dogs can be allergic to various materials in the air. These materials are called allergens. And for dogs sensitive to these airborne allergens, they can experience signs of allergies.

Humans with seasonal allergies usually have runny eyes, a runny or stuffy nose, a scratchy throat, and other upper respiratory symptoms. But most dogs with seasonal allergies have itchy and irritated skin. Since the symptoms show up in dogs' skin, the condition is called atopic dermatitis or atopy.

Most dogs will show signs of irritation in their skin, but they can have other symptoms. 

Twelve common symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  1. Licking their paws

  2. Rubbing their face

  3. Shedding excessively

  4. Biting their coat or skin

  5. Licking their anal glands

  6. Rubbing their butt against the floor or carpet

  7. Chronic ear infections

  8. Red, waxy, smelly, or inflamed ears

  9. Red, inflamed, or infected skin

  10. Sneezing more than usual

  11. Unusually dark or thick elephant-like skin

  12. Discoloration of the itchy skin

The most commonly affected areas of a dog’s body are their:

  • Paws

  • Toes

  • Ears

  • Underarms

  • Groin

  • Muzzle

Dogs with seasonal allergies generally show symptoms between 1 and 3 years of age. If you notice these signs, make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian. Early detection and treatment are vital to managing canine allergies.

Seasonal allergies are triggered by something your dog is sensitive to in their environment. While many substances can trigger allergies in dogs, the most common allergens are:

  • Tree pollens, such as cedar, ash, and oak

  • Weed pollens, like ragweed in humans

  • Grass pollens

  • Mold spores

  • Mildew

  • Dust mites

  • Shed skin cells, like pet allergies in humans

Unlike humans who breathe in airborne particles, airborne allergens get into the dog’s skin. 

The skin is the first line of defense against foreign substances. If your dog’s skin can’t properly block the allergens, it triggers their immune system. Once the allergens enter your dog’s body, their overactive immune system becomes inflamed. The inflammation causes itching and scratching, a telltale sign of dog allergies.

Like humans, dogs experience allergies at different times of the year, depending on what triggers the allergic response. Some dogs have seasonal allergies that flare up once or twice throughout the year. Other dogs have year-round allergies. And like humans, some dogs’ seasonal allergies can develop into a chronic problem, becoming year-round allergies.

Allergies to tree, grass, and weed pollens are usually seasonal. So, you may only notice your dog showing symptoms at certain times of the year. 

If your pup is most affected during the spring and summer, allergies to weed, grass, and tree pollens might be to blame. Try wiping your pup’s coat and feet when you come inside. This will wipe off any pollen and allergens trapped in their fur. If your furry friend suffers year-round, molds, mildew and house dust mites might be the offenders. 

Since most seasonal allergies are environmental, there is no permanent cure. But, there are treatments available to control the symptoms. The best treatment depends on the seasons your dog is affected by allergies, what they are allergic to, and factors such as your dog's age and commitment to the treatment plan.

Treatments for canine seasonal allergies often involve one of more of the following methods:

1. Avoid allergens

The best treatment for seasonal allergies is avoiding allergens when possible. This might not be the perfect solution for your dog though. Pollen and other airborne allergens can travel in the air for miles.

But, there are some things you can do to limit allergen exposure in your home:

  • Wash your dog’s bedding weekly in hot, soapy water, and dry on a hot dryer cycle to kill dust mites.

  • Vacuum soft surfaces, such as carpeting and couches, often.

  • If possible, use hardwood or linoleum flooring and washable area rugs.

  • Vacuum floors and carpets weekly.

  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency air (HEPA) filter.

  • If possible, use air conditioning rather than open windows during pollen season.

  • Give your dog hard, washable chew toys rather than plush toys.

  • If plush toys are a favorite, wash them weekly in hot, soapy water.

  • Use air conditioners on recirculation mode to cut down on humidity.

  • Use dehumidifiers to prevent mold in bathrooms, kitchens, and other damp spots.

2. Antihistamine treatment

Antihistamine medications block allergy symptoms. Examples of antihistamines used to treat seasonal dog allergies include:

  • Clemastine (Tavist)

  • Trimeprazine (Temaril-P, Vanectyl-P) 

  • Astemizole (Hismanal)

These medications are widely used, but they are not as effective as other treatments in providing short- or long-term relief. Though, they may offer some relief when used with other therapies.

3. Anti-inflammatory steroids

Treatment with steroid medications can effectively block the allergic reaction and stop the itch. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications like:

  • Prednisone

  • Prednisolone

  • Dexamethasone

There can be negative side effects associated with steroids. Side effects may be more likely with higher doses or long-term use of these medications.

Some side effects include:

  • Extreme hunger

  • Extreme thirst

  • Weakening of the immune system

  • Rise in blood sugar

  • Infections, particularly upper respiratory tract and urinary tract infections

The goal is to use other treatments with steroids to lessen or eliminate the need for steroid medications.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can improve the response to steroids in some dogs. In some cases, omega-3 supplements can stop the skin from producing inflammatory chemicals. Supplementing with omega-3s can lower the steroid dose needed to control symptoms.

4. Shampoo therapy

Bathing your dog with a hypoallergenic shampoo can soothe inflamed skin. Bathing and wiping down their coat and skin often also washes out any allergens your dog may pick up. 

Ask your vet for recommendations on which shampoo to buy. Some are available over the counter (OTC) while others require a prescription from your veterinarian. Your vet can also tell you how often to bathe your dog. The recommendations may vary by breed and skin type.

5. Allergy shots 

Allergy shots — or allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) — can be very effective for dogs with environmental allergies. Allergy shots focus on retraining your dog’s immune systemThis treatment is a good choice for dogs who have not responded well to other therapies. And it tends to work better in younger dogs.

Before beginning this treatment, your dog must be allergy tested by a veterinary dermatologist to find which allergens cause the reaction. Your vet then creates a custom allergy shot for your dog. You or your vet inject your dog with gradually higher doses until you reach a maintenance dose.

Treatment with allergy shots requires a long-term commitment from the owner. Additionally, allergy shots are not a quick fix. Most dogs and pet parents don’t see improvement for 6 months to 1 year.

Is it safe to give a dog Benadryl?

Although Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is not FDA-approved for animal use, it is generally safe to give a dog Benadryl. But, before reaching into your medicine cabinet, talk to your veterinarian about appropriate dosage and possible interactions. 

The dosing between humans and animals is very different. Giving your dog too much Benadryl can hurt them, as with many human medications. And there are certain side effects you should watch for.

Common Benadryl side effects that dogs can experience include:

  • Drowsiness

  • Dry mouth

  • Trouble urinating

  • Salivating more than usual

  • Fast heart rate

  • Rapid breathing

If your dog takes any other medication or has another health condition, Benadryl might not be recommended. Make sure to ask your vet first.

When should you see a vet about dog allergy symptoms?

Generally, you should see your vet if your dog shows any signs of allergies, including:

  • Appearing itchy

  • Getting repeated ear infections 

  • Having inflamed, red, or irritated skin 

Environmental allergies don’t go away on their own and tend to worsen the longer they are left untreated. The earlier you begin a treatment program, the more likely it is to be successful.

No pet parent likes watching their canine companion suffer. But seasonal allergies don’t just get under our skin. They can get under our dogs’ skin, too! And like humans, dogs can react to seasonal allergens, like plant pollens, molds, mildew, and dust mites.

These allergens enter the dog’s body through the skin. So, while humans have more upper respiratory allergy symptoms, our dogs have more skin inflammation, itching, and scratching.

While there is no cure for seasonal allergies, many treatments are available. And the sooner the problem is addressed, the better the chance of controlling the symptoms. If you suspect your dog may have seasonal allergies, make an appointment with your vet so you can discuss available treatment options.

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