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Hot, itchy eyes? Constantly runny nose? Yep, this is the misery that is hay fever. Anyone who suffers from hay fever will quietly dread the downside of sunny weather, which is an increase in airborne allergens such as tree, grass, and flower pollen.
The uncomfortable signs of irritated eyes and a constant sniffle are all down to an over reaction on the part of the immune system. This triggers the histamine release that causes the classic symptoms humans are all too familiar with.
But what about our fur friends?
However, there are strings attached. Dogs do indeed suffer from airborne allergies, but the resulting symptoms are different. While it's true that doggy hay fever can show up as inflamed eyes and a runny nose, by far the commonest symptom is an itch.
Dog hay fever is synonymous with a condition that goes by a different name, 'atopy'. The classic symptoms include:
Itchy skin, especially the paws, armpits, and groin
Seasonal itch (the dog is fine over the winter but life becomes a misery in the summer)
Thickened, greasy skin is a complication of the obsessive licking and scratching
Rust colored paws result from saliva staining due to excessive licking
With any itchy dog, it's important to rule out other causes first, before jumping to conclusions. Causes of itchiness can include:
Atopy : Allergens may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin
Parasites : Fleas, mange mites, lice, and ticks are all common causes of itchiness
Yeast overgrowth : A heavy bloom of yeast on the skin's surface causes an intense itch (the doggie equivalent of athlete's foot)
Bacterial infections : These are also itch-inducing
Doggy hay fever can be tricky to diagnose and is often the last option left after extensive testing. To diagnose the condition, your vet may:
Treat against parasites
Suggest cleansing the skin with washes and a course of antibiotics
Take a skin biopsy
Run allergy tests (blood or skin)
Many of the conditions that get mistaken for atopy are totally treatable. Don't assume an itchy dog can only have an allergy. Always get them checked by a veterinarian to rule out other health conditions.
Home treatments include:
Bathing washes allergens from the fur and reduces their triggering effect
Essential fatty acid supplements condition the skin to make it a better barrier
Staying indoors reduces exposure to allergens
Antihistamines can produce varying results in dogs
Your vet may prescribe a range of different therapies such as:
Steroids are potent anti-inflammatories that tone down the immune system's reactivity
New generation immunosuppressives are effective drugs that have fewer side effects
Medicated shampoos wash away allergens and reduce the bacterial population
Nutraceuticals are food supplements which strengthen the skin as a protective barrier
Immunotherapy vaccines are small doses of allergen by injection, to desensitize the immune system
Hay fever in dogs, just as in people, is an overreaction of the immune system to allergens such as pollens. The symptoms, therefore, tend to be seasonal. Indeed, dogs often react to the same or similar allergens as people, such as grass pollen. Hay fever can also cause a runny nose and eyes in dogs, although this is far less common than the 'itch'.
Another name for hay fever in people is 'allergic rhinitis'. This reflects the main effect which is on the nose and eyes, causing all those sniffles. In dogs, however, atopy is more of a skin problem and causes an irritating itch. Whereas antihistamines can make a world of difference in people, they often disappoint in dogs. Treatment for canine atopy can be complex and costly. Dealing with the condition requires care and patience.
Each summer, Winnie the West Highland White terrier, can't stop licking her paws. Indeed, constant licking has stained her white-fur a rust color. This year the itch is worse than ever, and Winnie is scratching all night, keeping her owner awake.
Winnie's owner is already using a deflea product regularly. Her problem only happens in the summer, making a dietary allergy less likely. Given that the owner has a limited budget, rather than undergo extensive tests, the vet agreed to trial Winnie on a medicated shampoo and one of the new anti-inflammatory drugs.
Winnie's itch disappeared almost overnight, giving her an itch-free summer. Now she takes medication in the warmer months, and the medication is not required over the winter.
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