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'Tis The Season!

Itching, sneezing, wheezing, coughing and watery eyes ... allergies are in full swing for our pets, too

Spring has sprung early in our region thanks to an unusually mild winter. That's great for the flowers, bees and birds, and lawns, but not so much for those of us with seasonal allergies. The signs of the times are all around us. Co-workers, friends and family with runny noses, and you may be sneezing your head-off. But did you ever wonder if and how allergens affect our pets? Well, it turns out potentially quite a bit.

With the warm, sunny days and longer daylight hours comes grass and pollen. Just in time to replace the leaf mold and ragweed! It also means more time outdoors for cats and dogs. Long walks, playing at the dog park, or, for many fun-loving pets, rolling in and eating grass. 

You may have noticed your dog or cat sneezing more or perhaps scratching much more. Maybe your dog or cat has started licking his or her paws constantly. These are all potential signs of allergies. 

According to veterinary dermatologist Dr. Heather Peikes, pets fall victim to the same allergies as people. They can even have similar symptoms such as runny eyes, running noses, itchy skin or ear infections. Peikes is a vet specialist at New York City's Animal Allergy and Dermatology and is board-certified.

Just like you and I, our pets can suffer from seasonal allergies or year-round allergies. The difference between a seasonal and a year-round allergy is the amount of time your pet shows symptoms. Most pets with seasonal allergies have reactions in the spring and fall, just like humans. Typically, seasonal allergies break down into two main categories: flea allergies and atopic allergies.

Flea allergies are the most common type in both cats and dogs, and can flare up with the bite of a single flea. Atopic allergies are the second most common. These allergies are skin-based and are a reaction to an inhaled allergen such as pollen or dust. Symptoms can include excessive scratching, recurring ear infections, skin sores also known as "hot spots," and hair loss. Spring allergens can include flowering plants, grasses, insects and fleas. In the fall, allergens are more likely to come from mold and ragweed.

Several years ago, Flip began to have an allergic reaction in the fall, and was constantly licking and chewing on his hind paw pads until they were inflamed and nearly hairless. That was my first introduction to pet allergies. My vet prescribed antibiotic for the inflamed pads, a betadine (similar to iodine) foot soak (a bit tricky with a hyper dog!), and an antihistimine such as Benadryl. It took several weeks of treatment to completely clear-up, but it definitely provided Flip with much needed relief. He has since had this recurring allergic reaction nearly every fall, and I am prepared for it. 

If you suspect your pet has a seasonal allergy, be sure to discuss with your vet for the correct diagnosis and treatment. Once you know the cause of your pet's seasonal allergy, you can begin treating it with the help of your veterinarian. Among the short-term treatment options are antihistamines, steroids or topical medications that help ease skin irritation and swelling.There may also be long-term solutions to your pet's allergy problem, which your vet can advise you of.

In the meantime, if you want to keep track of the allergen situation in your area, such as pollen and grass, and try to stay ahead of the seasonal allergies, checkout Pollen.com and enter your zip code. Oh, and pick up another box of tissues.

Special thanks to Charlotte Baskerville for sharing her springtime photos!

Robin Baxter April 02, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Very helpful information. And great photos!
Linda April 02, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Good information. I didn't know that pets could take human medicines for allergies (per vet recommendation.) One of my dogs has begun sneezing, frequently and repeatedly! I don't doubt that it is in response to seasonal allergens. Great photos!

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