Spring is in the Air! Pollen Everywhere! 

Did you know that spring occurs earlier, and the allergy season lasts longer in most climates than what occurred decades ago? People are suffering earlier and earlier from itchy eyes, runny noses, and scratchy throats. Our pets are not immune and are also suffering. But instead of the sinus and respiratory symptoms that people show, most pets’ allergy symptoms manifest as red and itchy skin. They scratch incessantly which can lead to sores, redness, hair loss, and infections. Many pet parents feel their dogs and cats are protected from allergen exposure by living largely indoors, however, this is unfortunately not true. Our homes are not constructed as tightly sealed plastic bubbles. The air quality inside our homes mirrors almost exactly the air quality outside. There is nowhere for our pets to hide!

But be encouraged there is hope! With the help of your family veterinarian or local veterinary dermatologist, you can find the right treatment plan for your pet. Most dogs and cats with environmental allergies, a genetic condition also referred to as atopy, will start having symptoms at a young age, usually between 1 and 4 years. You may notice biting the paws, licking the belly, rubbing the face on the carpets, couches, or even your pant legs. Some dogs will do the “carpet shuffle” and rub their backs along your favorite rug. While others scratch until they create sores on their bodies with hair loss. Cats can also have more unique skin issues when they are allergic and get fine, pinpoint scabs or large plaque-like lesions on their bellies, legs, lips, or even inside their mouths. The more severe the itching is, the more likely your pet is to create sores on the skin and hair loss which can lead to infection and an often-unbearable smell if untreated. If any or all of these symptoms occur, it's time to call your friendly veterinarian for help. 

Your vet will develop a treatment plan that will include ruling out some commonly missed itchy skin conditions that are often mistaken for environmental allergies, such as a contagious mite infestation (called scabies), flea allergy dermatitis, and food allergies. Once these diseases are eliminated, they will focus on creating your pet’s specific protocol. The best management for your pet will be individualized specifically for them and will be centered around the following three things: 

  1. Decreasing itchiness to make your pet more comfortable
  2. Preventing allergic flare-ups
  3. Restoring the barrier function of the skin

1. Decreasing Itching in Pets

Each is important in providing the best care for your dog or cat. First and foremost, the itchiness must be reduced or eliminated to provide relief for your pet. There are prescription medications specifically for dogs and cats to help with this including steroids. Your veterinarian will help choose the best one for your pet, however, keep in mind that allergic disease is genetic and incurable. Once the anti-itch medication wears off or runs out, the itching will return. Consistency is key in preventing the itching from ramping back up and symptoms such as hair loss and infection recur.

2. Preventing Allergy Flares in Cats & Dogs

The next step is in preventing the allergic flare, which cannot be done by simply “avoiding” environmental allergies as remember there is no plastic bubble. Anti-itch medications only treat the symptom of itchy, without reducing the allergic flare. Instead, in order to reduce allergic flare, we must use immunotherapy (allergy vaccines) to decrease the allergic flare by desensitizing your pet to what they are already allergic to, making them less reactive when they are exposed to these allergens in the real-world environment. Immunotherapy in dogs is a great tool to reduce the need for chronic medications and prevents worsening of the allergic symptoms over time. It is safe and homeopathic as it is made up of exactly what your pet is allergic which is determined by intradermal or serum allergy testing. Anti-itch medications can be used while waiting for the immunotherapy to take effect. Improvement can often be seen within the first few months but can take up to 9-12 months in some pets. 

3. Controling Pet Allergies

Thirdly, allergy control necessitates repair of the skin barrier. The skin barrier is responsible for keeping allergens and microbes out. It is inherently defective or damaged in allergic animals causing them to be more susceptible to infections and allowing allergens to penetrate the skin. This leads to even more inflammation and increases the level of itch. Restoring the barrier function of the skin can be done topically and by oral supplementation. Oral supplementation follows an “inside-out” approach and works to add back the healthy building blocks of the skin while topical therapy removes allergens from the skin, restores moisture and fatty acids to the skin surface, and reduces the presence of microbes. 

Although allergies in your pets can be frustrating, the good news is that by working with your veterinarian and veterinary dermatologist you can get to the root cause of the issues and come up with a plan to improve it. They can recommend both prescription and over-the-counter solutions to help your furry friend feel great again!

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Dr. Joya Griffin | Vet Board Bio


Dr. Joya Griffin is an Ohio native and graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has a special interest in fungal and immune-mediated skin diseases as well as feline and equine dermatology. Dr. Joya always strives to care for her patients as if they are her own pets and loves building long-lasting relationships with their pet parents. Dr. Joya also stars in the Nat Geo WILD television series, “Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya,” which highlights the challenging and mysterious cases she encounters in veterinary dermatology.