Hot, itchy eyes? Constantly runny nose? Yep, this is the misery that is hayfever.
Anyone who suffers from hayfever 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 we are all too familiar with.
But what about our fur friends?
Can Dogs Get Hay Fever?
However, there are strings attached. Dogs do indeed suffer from airborne allergies, but the resulting symptoms are different. Whilst 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.
Does My Dog Have Hay Fever?
Dog hay fever 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: This is a complication of the obsessive licking and scratching
Rust colored paws: This is saliva staining from all that licking
With any itchy dog, it's important to rule out other causes first, before jumping to conclusions about atopy. Causes of itchiness 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.
Atopy can be tricky to diagnose, and is often the last option left after extensive testing. To diagnose atopy your vet may:
Treat against parasites
Suggest cleansing the skin with washes and a course of antibiotics
Take skin biopsies
Run allergy tests (blood or skin)
Many of the conditions that get mistaken for atopy are totally treatable. Hence, don't assume an itchy dog can only have an allergy and always get them checked by a vet.
How Do I Treat My Dog's Hay Fever?
Home treatments include:
Bathing: This washes allergens from the fur and reduces their triggering effect
Essential Fatty Acid supplements: This conditions the skin and makes it a better barrier
Staying indoors: Reduces exposure to allergens
Antihistamines: Sadly, the results are often disappointing in dogs
Your vet may prescribe a range of different therapies such as:
Steroids: These are potent anti-inflammatories, and tone down the immune system's reactivity
New generation immunosuppressives: This is an exciting time, because new and more effective drugs that have fewer side effects are emerging all the time.
Medicated shampoos: To wash away allergens and reduce the bacterial population
Nutraceuticals: Food supplements which strengthen the skin as a protective barrier
Immunotherapy vaccines: Small doses of allergen by injection, to desensitize the immune system
How is Hay Fever Similar in Dogs and People?
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.
Hayfever can also cause a runny nose and eyes in dogs, although this is far less common than the 'itch'.
How is Hay Fever Different in Dogs and People?
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, costly, and frustrating.
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's constant scratching at night, keeps 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, but is able to stop them over the winter.