During the glorious weather we were lucky enough to enjoy last week, my one-year-old Samoyed was sneezing constantly on walks and her skin seemed to be irritated causing her to scratch. When indoors she was fine, but I noticed on the weather report that the pollen count was high. Could Angel be suffering from hayfever? If so, how can I ease her symptoms?
Kate Jeffries, by email
Dogs are just as susceptible to hay fever as humans. Dogs can inhale pollen granules in exactly the same way as people, but the resulting responses are different. While we tend to react with a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing, a dog will show his reaction on his skin. This is because the histamines released by the body in response to pollen in animals are mostly released in the skin rather than in the nose and eyes. It’s not just by inhaling pollen that a dog can suffer hay fever either. Direct contact with the skin can also trigger these responses.
If your dog’s suffering from hayfever, he’s likely to start to scratch and bite his body, lick his paws, shake his head, and rub his face along the carpet for relief from the itch when pollen grains are swirling in the air. Skin irritability and the prolonged scratching caused by hay fever can also cause hair loss and coat damage, as well as making a dog feel very uncomfortable and miserable.
Top tips for reducing dog hayfever
1. One simple way to guard against the irritating symptoms of hay fever is to make sure your pet’s natural skin defences are in tip-top condition. By adding Yumega to your pet’s diet, pollen and other allergens will find it more difficult to get into the skin, so it no longer requires scratching. The omega 6 and 3 oils contained in Yumega improve animals’ skin health by increasing essential fatty acids that are lacking in their diet.
2. Consider bathing your dog with a shampoo designed to sooth irritated skin, but not too frequently as you don’t want to dry out their skin. If bathing more regularly becomes necessary, include an omega 3 and 6 supplementation in the diet to make up for lost oils from the skin and coat.
3. Keep up to date on flea control. Flea allergies can cause skin eruptions and should be treated immediately.
4. Brush the coat daily and carefully comb or cut out matted hair which can hold dirt and debris and from which bacteria can enter the skin causing bacterial dermatitis.
Dr John Howie, Co-founder Lintbells Ltd
I quite agree with Dr John Howie’s comments, that dogs do suffer from inhaled pollen allergy or hayfever just like us. In addition to his suggestions, it would be worth asking your vet about giving antihistamines. Again, just like the situation in humans, one antihistamine may provide one particular individual with relief from the annoying clinical signs but be ineffective in another person or dog. There are, however, at present no antihistamines specifically licensed for use in dogs.
Do bear in mind that a dog showing signs of atopy or an inhalant allergy is likely to be allergic to other substances. It is therefore worthwhile trying to minimise exposure to them as well, so that your dog stays below the so-called ‘itch threshold’. This is why Dr Howie has emphasised the need to keep on top of flea control – an allergy to flea saliva is very common, and easily avoided with strict attention to flea control on all pets and the environment.
Dietary hypersensitivity is also worth addressing. You may well find that your dog is less itchy on foods which do not contain certain proteins. An actual food trial is best undertaken under veterinary supervision, in order to avoid creating dietary imbalances.
An allergy to forage mites is another common allergy. Although there is the economy of bulk-buying food in large sacks, there is an increasing risk of forage mites the longer the food is exposed to the environment after opening the bag. I have had patients who have shown increasing itchiness as the bottom of a food sack is approached. Switching to smaller bags of food has been a simple answer.
Itching in response to inhaled pollens will show a seasonal pattern, depending on the allergen to which your dog is allergic. Over the years, I have noticed that my daughter’s hayfever starts in early March, a month before my son’s. It is worth remembering that there can also be a later peak in September or October.
Alison Logan, vet