(by Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM)
With the colorful gardens and blooming trees, you might be tempted to get back out in the Great Outdoors with your furry friends now that spring has sprung! But, with the first signs of spring, the first signs of your pet’s allergies appear - red eyes, runny nose, and generalized itchiness that never seems to stop.
Many times dog or cat owners do not even realize that their pet is dealing with springtime allergies, because the symptoms disappear with the removal of the triggering allergen. So, just when you start to realize your pet might be uncomfortable, the pollen bloom ends, and everything seems back to normal again.
The most common allergies in pets with the arrival of spring are those caused by fleas, dust mites, pollen, or mold. It is said that 10% of the world’s dog population has an environmental allergy.
Veterinarians recommend that when spring comes, owners should pay more attention to changes in their pet’s behavior and go with their pet to a medical checkup as soon as possible. If allergies are discovered in time, they can be easily treated (without complications) and even prevented for years to come. Also, there are now several modern methods of diagnosis and treatment that alleviate itching.
What is an allergy and how does it occur?
Whether we are talking about humans or pets, an allergy or allergic reaction occurs when the immune system detects certain compounds in the environment as a threat. For example, if a dog has played more in the grass and his immune system "sees" this grass as a threat, it will react with redness on the skin, itching, red eyes, etc. Some dog breeds are more prone to allergies, such as the German shepherd and the Golden Retriever.
Flea allergy in pets
Let’s get really specific about the medical situation that’s going on with flea allergies. Fleas are hematophagous ectoparasites (they feed with blood) that parasitize dogs, cats, foxes, rats, humans, etc. They cause pruritus (itchiness) and dermatological lesions, sometimes severe.
When it comes in contact with the host, it attacks intensely to feed and complete its biological cycle.
Both dogs and cats can be allergic to flea bites, but it is more common in dogs.
Fleas’ salivary antigens, which are found in its salivary glands, combine with the dermal collagen, and induce a hypersensitivity reaction.
In allergic pets, at the site of the bite, hives - pink and swollen spots - will occur. The most affected areas are the popular places of fleas, such as:
- The inner side of the thigh;
- Tail, especially the base of the tail;
- Lower abdomen;
- The groin region;
- The forearm
- The base of the ear;
- Around the anus.
Clinical signs for flea allergic dermatitis include:
- Intense itching, which can lead to self-injury - for example, dogs scratch their ears or tail until they bleed;
- Loss of hair especially in the tail area and on the sides of the animal;
- Red and irritated skin, especially at the base of the tail;
- Dirty fur appearance due to flea feces (small black spots on the skin).
In situations where the allergic reaction is intense, it is necessary to start treatment of both the area the allergies are causing issues, as well as a general treatment for the whole body. Check with your veterinarian for his/her recommendation.
In order to prevent this allergy, it is recommended to regularly administer topical solutions for the treatment and control of ectoparasites (fleas, ticks) to your pet, also, disinfection and disinfection of the place where the dog sleeps, in the yard, etc. is required.
Pollen allergies in pets
Pollen allergy is associated with canine atopic dermatitis (CAD). Clinical signs include conjunctivitis and runny eyes, rhinitis, redness of the skin, rash, and generalized itching. However, allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis are not as common as in people with allergic disorders. (1)
For an allergic dog, the pollen that reaches the surface of the skin is very irritating; the dog will scratch intensely. As in the case of flea bite allergy, there may be areas of hairless skin with open lesions after scratching – auto-mutilation.
The paws are some of the most sensitive regions of the body. They can easily come in contact with pollen scattered on the sidewalk or in the grass. The dog will lick and bite his paws slightly, more intensely than usual. Irritation of the paws can bother him while walking.
Unfortunately, seasonal allergies can turn into year-round allergies. The more exposed the animal is to allergens, the more sensitive it becomes and the more allergic its response becomes and the longer it will last. Atopic dogs can undergo immunotherapy with injections, which have favorable results for most dogs. (2)
Respiratory allergies to pollen
Respiratory allergies are caused by inhalation of the allergen (pollen, dust). These are also called atopies. They can also cause generalized skin allergies as a reaction of the whole body to the inhaled allergen.
Respiratory allergies occur as a result of contact of the inhaled allergen with the respiratory tract, of its various levels. The dog will sneeze, cough, and have difficulty breathing (gasping, wheezing, and whistling).
The dog allergic to pollen will be kept during this period, more indoors. In the room where it spends the most time, there should be an air purifier. When taking your pet for a walk, dress the dog with a T-shirt to protect its skin from the potential danger of pollen. Avoid areas with many blooming/flowering trees, flowering meadows, or dusty spaces.
Dust mites allergy in pets
Dust mites are not actually considered parasites because they do not bite, sting, or harm the host. They feed on dead skin cells (humans and animals) and mold, which they break into small pieces to ingest. They are found in clothes, bedding, carpets, furniture, on the skin, etc.
They cannot be seen with the naked eye but under a microscope. Dust mites are related to ticks and spiders (they have 8 legs).
Allergy to dust mites is due to the intestine of the mite, which contains strong digestive enzymes (peptidase 1) that persist in the feces, but also the exoskeleton of the mites can contribute to the appearance of allergy. (3)
In pets, dust mites allergy consists of red skin, hives, excessive grooming, watery eyes, runny nose, and intense scratching. If your pet has a severe reaction, it can also cause inflammation of the airways (anaphylaxis) and constriction, which will make breathing difficult. For this reason, if you notice your pet sneezing, coughing, hissing, etc. you should go to a veterinarian immediately because it could be a medical emergency.
Mites and their feces get on the skin and are breathed into the lungs. It doesn’t matter whether the mites are dead or alive. Therefore, killing them is not the answer. You will need to get rid of them all over the house, which is almost impossible because mites are everywhere. Stop by your local pet store for a crash course in treating your home and yard for mites.
Mold allergies in pets
Mold allergy is caused by spores or fungal filaments of mold that rise into the air and reach the body through inhalation, digestive tract, contaminated food, or skin contact.
Mold spores can appear as both indoor and outdoor allergens.
Indoor molds are most often present in poorly ventilated rooms, in dust, under the wallpaper, in air conditioners, in ornamental plants, refrigerators, bathrooms, saunas, in basements, in contaminated food (bread, pastries, vegetables, fruits, waxes). And more homes have mold than you might think! Sometimes a perfectly clean home can have mold lurking behind the wall, under the tub, or in the ventilation system!
Outdoor mold (spores), as well as pollen grains, is carried over long distances, being found on the ground, meadow, lawn, foliage, hay, etc. The most common allergens involved in mold allergy are the following: Aspergillus (April - October), Cladosporium (May - October), Penicillium (April - September), and Stachybotrys (black mold).
In pets (as in humans), mold exposure is achieved in 3 ways: ingestion, inhalation, and contact.
The symptoms of mold poisoning by ingestion are characterized by gastrointestinal changes: vomiting, decreased appetite, soft stools (sometimes with blood), tremor, and seizures.
What you can do is prevent your pet from eating moldy food (this is the main cause of mold poisoning if ingested).
The symptoms of mold poisoning by inhalation are characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, bleeding nose and/or mouth.
In order to prevent the appearance of mold, it is recommended to control the air quality in the house and the humidity; the humidity level in the house should be 30-50%. Many air duct companies will do a mold test to let you know if mold is the culprit for your pet’s allergies.
Mold allergy in pets is characterized by excessive grooming, irritated and inflamed skin, depilation (areas without fur), dry and flaky skin, bad skin odor. This symptomatology can appear and disappear depending on the environmental conditions (humidity of the outside and inside air). This type of allergy can affect pets throughout the year. (4)
Tips for preventing mold from appearing inside your home:
- keep an adequate temperature in the houses (20 - 21℃/68-70℉);
- remove visible mold;
- check the sanitary installations to prevent or remedy leaks;
- ensure good ventilation of bathrooms and kitchens;
- do not dry clothes inside the house;
- ensure proper cleaning of air conditioning systems;
- do not store biological waste inside;
- perform thermal insulation of homes.
Spring allergies are reactions of the immune system to various allergens, such as pollen, mold, or dust mites. The immune system perceives these allergens as enemies and triggers defensive reactions against them, causing a wide variety of symptoms.
Remember that you cannot completely eliminate allergens from the environment in which you or your pet live, but that you have at hand effective and preventing solutions.
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic at her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.