The telltale signs of seasonal allergies

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

seasonal pet allergies

Story at-a-glance -

  • If your dog or cat has seasonal allergies, the condition will typically manifest in the skin rather than the eyes, ears, nose and throat as it does in humans
  • Pets with seasonal allergies are typically very itchy, and the itch-scratch cycle creates irritated, inflamed skin, hot spots and secondary infections
  • There are many things you can do to relieve your pet’s seasonal discomfort, including daily foot soaks, eye rinses and frequent bathing
  • It’s also important to minimize indoor allergens, provide natural antihistamine support and review your pet’s diet and supplement protocol
  • You may also want to consider a desensitization protocol

If you sniffle, sneeze, rub your eyes and blow your nose every spring, then you're aware you have seasonal allergies. But did you know your dog or cat can also spend the spring season feeling miserable thanks to pollens and other environmental allergens?

You may not realize what's going on with your furry family member, because allergies in pets typically show up as a condition called allergic dermatitis, which is irritation or inflammation of the skin. Rarely, a pet (especially a cat) will develop symptoms similar to those of an allergic human, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing.

It's important to note there are only two types of allergies: food and environmental. Food allergies create year-round symptoms in pets, whereas seasonal environmental allergy symptoms flare intermittently depending on when triggers bloom, blossom and grow. Sensitivities to dust mites or fleas are environmental triggers that can be year-round, depending on your pet's exposure.

Itching and scratching and hot spots, oh my!

A dog or cat with seasonal allergies is usually very itchy, scratchy and a bit irritable because he feels miserable. He might bite or chew at just one or two areas of his body, or he may itch from nose to tail. Chances are you'll see him rubbing his head or body along your carpet or couch in an attempt to relieve the unbearable itching. And make no mistake — it is unbearable.

As the itch-scratch cycle progresses, the skin becomes inflamed and tender, setting the stage for secondary infections. There might be areas of hair loss, or open or crusty sores. He might also develop hot spots (cats get them, too), which are areas of inflamed, infected skin resulting from an overgrowth of normal bacteria.

Pets with seasonal allergies often have problems with their ears and feet, in particular. The ear canals become itchy and inflamed, and sometimes develop yeast or bacterial infections. Symptoms of an ear infection include scratching at the ears, head shaking, hair loss around the ears and a bad smell or discharge coming from the ears.

Because dogs and cats sweat from the pads of their feet, when they go outside, allergens cling to their damp paws. Those allergens get tracked back inside and all around your home — especially in areas where your pet hangs out — and are a major source of itchiness. Allergic pets often lick or chew at their paws and toes. The excessive licking and chewing can trigger a secondary yeast infection, so if your pet's feet start smelling musty, or like cheese popcorn or corn chips, chances are he's developed yeasty feet.

Recommendations for pets with allergies

The following are commonsense, all-natural steps you can take to help ease your pet's discomfort when she's dealing with seasonal allergies.

1. Rinse your pet regularly and do daily foot soaks and eye rinses — The first thing you can do is help rid your pet's body of allergens. Pets who go outside regularly collect millions of allergens. It's just commonsense to rinse them off, which can provide immediate relief for irritated, inflamed skin.

When it's time to actually bathe pets (when they're stinky, dirty or have a skin infection), I recommend using only grain-free and pH-balanced shampoos. Because oatmeal is a carbohydrate and carbs feed yeast, I don't recommend oatmeal shampoos. Follow up with a lemon juice or vinegar rinse to help manage yeast infections.

If your pet has been prescribed a medicated shampoo, rebalancing the skin's microbiome is a wise idea: mix a teaspoon of probiotic powder in a quart of water and pour over your pet from the neck to the tail, rub in and towel dry. Foot soaks are a great way to reduce the number of allergens your pet tracks into the house and spreads all over her indoor environment.

Daily eye rinses can also be very effective for pets who are pawing at their eyes. It's very important that you not use human medicated eye drops. There's a great all-natural over-the-counter eye drop that's made by Halo Pets that can reduce eye irritation and inflammation. Colloidal silver is also a great way to safely disinfect your pet's face and delicate areas around the eyes.

2. Minimize indoor allergens — Another thing you can do to help your allergic pet is reduce allergens and toxins around your home. Vacuum all carpets, rugs and upholstery, clean hard floors, and wash pet and human bedding in natural, fragrance-free detergent a minimum of once a week. Don't use dryer sheets.

Keep the areas of your home where your pet spends most of her time as allergen-free as possible. Use nontoxic cleaning agents instead of traditional household cleaners.

During allergy season, keep windows closed as much as possible, and change the filters on your heating or air circulation unit often. Invest in an air purifier to remove allergens inside the house. Also consider covering your pet's bed with a dust mite cover that can be frequently washed to help reduce allergen contamination that she may be bringing in from outside.

I also recommend eliminating all chemical air scenting products such as plug ins, scented candles, room sprays and pet odor sprays that contain toxic ingredients.

3. Give natural antihistamines — There are supplements I routinely prescribe to pets with seasonal allergic issues starting with quercetin, which is a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antihistamine properties. I call it "nature's Benadryl," because it's very effective at suppressing histamine release.

Bromelain and papain are proteolytic enzymes that increase absorption of quercetin, making it more effective. I like to combine bromelain and papain with vitamin C and quercetin, because they have a great synergistic effect. Herbs such as stinging nettle, butterbur, sorrel, verbena, elderflower and cat's claw have a documented history of helping animals combat seasonal allergic responses.

Plant sterols and sterolins, which are anti-inflammatory agents, have also been used successfully to modulate the immune system toward a more balanced response in allergic patients.

Locally produced honey contains a small amount of pollen from the local area that can help desensitize the body to local allergens over time. Usually the best place to find local honey is at a farmer's market or neighborhood health food store. Check with your veterinarian about the right dose for your dog or cat.

4. Address the diet — One of the first things I do for a dog or cat with allergies is review their diet and check for leaky gut syndrome. Often dysbiosis, which is also called leaky gut, is the reason seasonal allergies get progressively worse from one year to the next.

Your pet's gastrointestinal (GI) tract has the very important job of deciding what nutrients to allow into the bloodstream, and which to keep out. The job of the GI tract is to allow nutrients in while keeping allergens out. When the gut starts to "leak," it means it's allowing allergens into the bloodstream.

Often medications, especially antibiotics and steroids, cause leaky gut syndrome. Any pet on routine drug therapy should be assessed for a leaky gut. Another trigger for leaky gut is a processed diet containing genetically modified ingredients.

There's a canine dysbiosis test from Texas A&M GI lab you can use to check for this condition, but even better, have your pet's microbiome assessed through AnimalBiome. They also have a biome restoration program that can dramatically improve pet's quality of life that suffer from atopy.

Pets with allergies should be transitioned to an anti-inflammatory diet very low in grain content. It should contain no soy, corn, rice, wheat, organic whole wheat, tapioca, peas, lentils, chickpeas or potatoes.

By eliminating extra sugar and carbohydrates in the diet, you'll also limit the food supply for yeast, which can be very beneficial for allergic pets. It's also important to offer your pet clean, pure drinking water that doesn't contain fluoride, fluorine, heavy metals or other contaminants.

5. Supplement essential fatty acids and lauric acid — I recommend boosting the omega-3 fatty acids in your allergic pet's diet. The best sources of these fatty acids come from the ocean, including krill, salmon, tuna, anchovy and sardine oil, and other sources of fish body oils.

I also recommend coconut oil for allergic pets because it contains lauric acid, which has natural antifungal properties that can help suppress the production of yeast in the body. Omega-3 oils combined with coconut oil can modulate or even suppress the inflammatory response in allergic pets.

6. Consider a desensitization protocol — If you've tried the above suggestions with limited success, I recommend helping your pet's immune system quiet down through desensitization. This can be achieved through a technique called Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET) performed by practitioners trained to treat dogs and cats, or through sublingual immunotherapy.

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a relatively new variation on allergy injections to treat atopic dermatitis (skin allergies) in dogs, cats and horses. SLIT is common in Europe and is used to treat respiratory and skin allergies in people. Sublingual immunotherapy is given orally, which is much easier on both you and your pet than injections.

I've had good success using a sublingual product called regionally-specific immunotherapy, or RESPIT®. I like it because it doesn't rely on testing to determine what your dog or cat is allergic to. It uses a mixture of the most significant regional allergens instead.

If you decide to use sublingual immunotherapy, it's important to know that most pets require an "immediate relief" protocol (including therapeutic bathing, herbs and nutraceuticals that reduce inflammation), in addition to beginning a desensitization protocol of any kind.

Desensitizing pets is one of the best long-term solutions for managing allergies, and sublingual immunotherapy is a needle-free option.

7. Refuse all unnecessary vaccines, pest preventives and veterinary drugs — Because allergies are an exaggerated immune system response, it's important to avoid unnecessary vaccines and veterinary drugs, including chemical pest preventives, all of which interfere with the performance of the immune system.

If your pet is taking medication regularly or has taken a long-term course of medication in the past, talk to your veterinarian about instituting an intermittent detoxification program to help the body eliminate harmful byproducts and drug residues.

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Important: seasonal allergies often progress to year-round allergies

Allergic reactions are produced by your pet's immune system, and the way her immune system functions is a result of both nature (genetics) and nurture (environment). I often see some variation of the following history with allergic pets:

  • A young pup or kitten, maybe 4 to 6 months old, begins with a little red tummy, itchy ears and maybe a mild infection in one ear. His regular veterinarian treats him symptomatically — often with a round of unnecessary antibiotics — to appease the owner. Believe it or not, this is enough to set the stage for leaky gut.
  • The following year as soon as the weather warms up, the pet is brought back to his regular vet with very itchy feet, another ear infection and a hotspot or two. Again, the vet treats the symptoms (sadly, often with steroids) until the weather turns cold and the symptoms disappear.
  • Year three, the same pet suffers from May through September with red, inflamed skin, maybe some hair loss, more hotspots, frequent ear and skin infections, and a tendency to chew his paws or scratch until he bleeds.
  • By year five, all the symptoms have grown significantly worse and the animal's suffering is now year-round.

This is what commonly happens with seasonal environmental allergies. The more your pet is exposed to the allergens he's sensitive to, the more intense and long-lasting his allergic response becomes. That's why it's extremely important to begin addressing potential root causes at the first sign of an allergic response, no matter how mild it appears at its onset.

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