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Can Dogs Have Seasonal Allergies?

Dog laying in a field of flowers
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Do you find yourself getting sneezy and sniffly during the change of seasons? You’re not alone—it’s estimated that more than 25 percent of adults in the United States suffer from seasonal allergies (1).

Naturally, you might be wondering if seasonal allergies can affect our canine companions, too. And if so, do dogs experience the same allergy symptoms as humans? Keep reading to find out.

Can Dogs Have Seasonal Allergies?

Dog standing on hindlegs

Yes, dogs can have seasonal allergies! Seasonal or environmental allergies are relatively common in dogs, but they don’t cause the same symptoms as they do in humans, says Emily Swiniarski, DVM, chief medical officer of PAWS Chicago. “The difference between dogs and humans is that dogs typically show seasonal allergies through skin and ear disease,” she describes. 

While any dog can experience seasonal allergies, they are more common in certain breeds. Shar-Peis, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Scottish Terriers, Shih Tzus, and West Highland White Terriers are noted as being more susceptible to developing seasonal allergies (2).

What Causes Seasonal Allergies in Dogs?

Dog standing in field with flowers having seasonal allergies

Seasonal allergies in dogs can be triggered by a wide range of irritants, including “different kinds of pollen, dust, grass, basically anything that a human may be allergic to outside,” Dr. Swiniarski explains. 

Dogs can also be allergic to fleas, which tend to come out during the spring and summer—just when plants start to bloom,” she adds. “As such, it can be difficult to determine whether an allergy is related to something like pollen or flea bites.”

Seasonal allergies most often manifest as skin and ear irritation in dogs. Unfortunately, these are also symptoms of food allergies in dogs. “Skin and ear disease are the most common symptoms of food allergies in dogs, but food allergies can also result in GI (gastrointestinal) disease,” Dr. Swiniarski explains. “So intermittent vomiting, soft stool, or occasional diarrhea all indicate a food allergy rather than a seasonal allergy.” 

Dog Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Dog itching ear as he has seasonal allergies

Again, the biggest signs that a dog is suffering from seasonal allergies manifest in their skin and ears. Possible symptoms of seasonal allergies in dogs include:

Non-ear related allergy symptoms can happen anywhere on a dog’s body, but you’re more likely to notice it in areas where the fur is thinner, like on the belly.

And, while sneezing isn’t on the list of common dog allergy symptoms, don’t rule it out entirely. “That doesn’t mean that there can’t be some clear nasal discharge because of seasonal allergies, but that’s not a common symptom,” Dr. Swiniarski says. 

Diagnosing the cause of an allergy in dogs can become complicated, Dr. Swiniarski says. “Any dog could be allergic to one of three things—fleas, food, or seasonal triggers,” she says. “You have to rule each possible allergy out. The biggest hint, however, is that seasonal allergies are seasonal. They don’t last all year.”

Diagnosing Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Dog looking up to camera

Suspected allergies don’t necessarily require that you jump in the car and rush Fido to the vet. If your dog has some of the above symptoms but seems comfortable, you can monitor them at home to see if the symptoms pass. 

“However, if he’s scratching so hard that he’s bleeding or is head shaking or scratching at his ears, something hurts and you need to go to the vet right away,” Dr. Swiniarski says. She adds that if your dog has thick, green nasal discharge or is coughing, you should make a vet appointment.

Once your dog is being examined, the vet will take a detailed history to try and determine the allergy trigger. However, since allergies can be difficult to diagnose, a history might not be enough to determine what your dog is reacting to. 

There are a couple of dog allergy tests that vets might use to help diagnose a seasonal allergy. The first is an intradermal allergy test. Intradermal allergy tests can only be administered by veterinary dermatologists, and they require shaving a patch of your dog’s fur and scratching their skin with allergens to see if there is a reaction. This is similar to how allergists make diagnoses in humans.

There is also something called a RAST (radioallergosorbent) test. RAST tests are blood tests that look for certain allergy antigens. A RAST test is much easier to administer than an intradermal allergy test, because your regular vet can do a simple blood draw. However, RAST tests are not as definitive as intradermal tests and are known for producing false positives.

How to Treat Dog Seasonal Allergies

Dog getting medication for seasonal allergies

There are several treatments available for dogs with seasonal allergies that your veterinarian may recommend.

Medicated shampoos could make a difference if the allergen sticks to the dog’s fur. You could also try supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have a positive effect on dogs with allergy symptoms. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend switching your dog to a therapeutic diet that is formulated to help manage skin problems and environmental allergies in dogs, such as Royal Canin Skintopic. This diet is scientifically proven to relieve itchy skin in dogs, improving their quality of life. It also features a unique complex of nutrients to support the skin’s natural protective barrier and immunity.

Royal Canin Skintopic dog food bag

If your dog is really uncomfortable, your vet may recommend antihistamines. Dr. Swiniarski notes that one of the most popular antihistamines, Benadryl, has fallen out of favor with a lot of vets. 

“Benadryl is a very weak antihistamine. We have much more effective options today,” she explains. “Also, Benadryl has a lot of side effects. It can make dogs very drowsy, and in rare cases it can have the opposite effect and make dogs hyper.”

Dr. Swiniarski frequently recommends cetirizine, which you probably know as Zyrtec. “You can buy it over the counter, you only need one dose a day, and it’s safer and more effective than Benadryl,” she says. 

While effective, antihistamines do take some time to kick in. Dr. Swiniarski says that you won’t see their full effect until your dog has been taking them for at least a month. For fast-acting relief, your veterinarian may prescribe Apoquel, an oral tablet for dogs that stops allergic itch at the source. It starts to relieve itch within four hours and controls it within 24 hours.

Apoquel medication bottle

And remember: NEVER give your pet any new medication or supplement without checking with your vet first. They will give guidance regarding dosage and possible drug interactions.

Preventing Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Dog standing in a field of wildflowers

While it’s impossible to guard your dog from all possible allergy triggers, there are ways to mitigate symptoms. For example, if your dog is allergic to dust or pollen, you might need to clean your house more frequently. You could also consider purchasing air purifiers or high-efficiency air filters. 
The best course of action is to work with your vet to find the right treatment option for your pet. It could be a combination of medication and additional grooming, or maybe omega-3 supplements will do the trick. Sometimes, finding the solution requires some trial and error.