We love sharing everything with our pets, but seasonal allergies aren’t what usually comes to mind when you think of things you might have in common with your dog. In fact, many owners are unaware of whether dogs can get hayfever or not.
However, humans are not alone when it comes to allergies caused by pollen. Our pooches can also suffer from seasonal allergies. But what causes hay fever in dogs, and how can you treat it?
Here’s how to recognise if your dog has hay fever, what to expect, and how to treat hay fever in dogs.
Yes, dogs can get hay fever.
Just like humans, hay fever in dogs is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen. This may be caused by breathing in particles of tree or grass pollen, but most reactions come from pollen coming into contact with a dog’s skin. This could be airborne particles settling on their fur, or from direct contact with the plant itself.
Hay fever in dogs is surprisingly common and it’s estimated 10% of dogs in the UK are affected. Typically, most cases of canine hay fever appear during peak pollen season, just like humans.
Although some dogs with hay fever can show symptoms such as sniffling and sneezing, the most common symptom is itchy skin.
This is because the pollen can penetrate the skin’s barrier, irritating it and making the dog itchy. So if you’re dog has been scratching a lot recently, and isn’t being bothered by other allergies or pests like fleas, it might be caused by hay fever.
Common symptoms of hay fever in dogs include:
If your dog shows any signs that they are suffering from hay fever you should contact your vet for advice. Most dogs do not show symptoms we humans associate with pollen allergies, and the majority of canines will only suffer from skin irritation.
There are several behaviours that indicate your dog has irritated and itchy skin, including scratching. For example:
Chewing their fur
Licking and biting their paws
Rubbing their face and body
Your dog might rub their face and muzzle either with their paws or against the floor and furniture in your home. They may also roll on their back or side and rub their body against the carpet or furniture in an attempt to scratch themselves. These are all signs that your dog’s skin is irritated, and you will need to check their fur and skin for signs of the cause and contact your vet for advice.
There are many causes for itchy skin other than hay fever, which is why it is important to rule other conditions out before diagnosing a pollen allergy. For instance, your dog might have fleas or an allergic reaction caused by something in their diet. Your dog’s food plays an important role in their dermatological health after all.
Not only can an allergic reaction to a dietary ingredient cause skin irritation, but most recurring skin conditions in dogs are caused by poor nutrition. However, if you regularly treat your dog for fleas and ticks, and give them a good quality diet, then you can probably rule these causes out. In which case, hay fever is the likely culprit.
Physical signs that your dog is suffering from hay fever include areas of sore, red skin. This will be particularly noticeable in the skin between their toes, their armpits, and belly. However, all areas of your dog’s body can be affected.
Another symptom of hay fever in dogs is lethargy. If you notice your dog seems jaded on days with high pollen counts, it could be because of hay fever.
Less commonly, some dogs show symptoms more familiar with human hay fever sufferers. These include a sniffly nose, sneezing, and sore eyes. Not only can a dog become congested and sneezy, but they can also “reverse sneeze”. As the name suggests, a reverse sneeze is when a dog sharply inhales air into their nose, the opposite to a regular sneeze where the air is rapidly pushed out the nose.
As for sore eyes, this can be a symptom of a pollen allergy but it can also be caused by another condition called Dry Eye. If only your dog’s eyes seem to be affected they may be suffering from Dry Eye instead.
Dry Eye, or Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca, is a common condition in dogs. It is caused by the eye being unable to produce enough tears to lubricate the eye. This results in a literal dry eye, which causes irritation and inflammation of the cornea. Dry Eye has a number of causes, and many breeds are at an increased risk of the problem.
Signs of Dry Eye will include red, irritated eyes. Your dog might also be blinking and squinting more often. You might notice their eyes aren’t as shiny as usual, as there is less liquid on them. There may also be signs of discharge at the corners of their eye.
Hay Fever season lasts for several months across spring and summer. Dogs can be affected by hay fever earlier and later than humans as much of their allergic reaction is caused by pollen being in contact with their skin. Because pollen doesn’t need to be airborne to affect them, their allergies could be caused by something as simple as running through grass.
However, just like humans, dogs are more likely to be affected by hay fever when the pollen count is at it’s highest between March and August. In addition, pollen counts vary daily and by the time of day. It is usually highest in the early morning and in the evening. Rather annoyingly, that’s at peak dog-walking time, especially in the hot summer months when you will be avoiding walks in the midday heat.
There are a few methods of trying to prevent allergic reactions and to soothe your dog’s skin. If your dog has been diagnosed with a pollen allergy, these treatments may help to soothe their itchy skin and relieve them from hay fever.
If your dog is prone to pollen allergies, it can be useful to get into a habit of rubbing them down with a damp towel after their walk. This will help to clean off any pollen particles that are trapped in their fur. You can also give your dog a bath to wash off any pollen that may be stuck to them but never bathe your pooch too often, as this can dry out their skin and make skin problems worse. Brushing your pup’s fur after a walk will also help to remove any trapped pollen in their coat.
You can buy medicated shampoos to help relieve itching and combat allergies and their effect on the skin. The shampoos usually contain ingredients like tea tree oil and oatmeal, meant to be gentle on the skin and help to soothe irritation. If used regularly throughout the hay fever season, many owners find baths with medicated shampoos help successfully relieve itching for their furry friend. Just remember not to bathe your dog too often as it can worsen irritation.
As well as brushing your dog’s fur after walkies, you should trim your dog’s coat to minimise the amount of debris that can be caught in it. Keeping fur trimmed will also help to keep your dog cool and clean in the summer. If you have a breed like a border collie or a springer spaniel, you should pay attention to cleaning and trimming their feathers and washing long ears to make sure they are kept clean to help prevent irritation.
Just like people, our pooches can be prescribed medication to help soothe their hay fever symptoms. Your vet will advise you on any medication to give your dog based on the severity of their allergies.
One of the best ways to help a dog suffering from hay fever is to limit their exposure to pollen. This could mean walking on paths rather than grassy trails during high pollen count days.
It can be a good idea to keep a diary tracking what plants your dog has been exposed to, the time of day, and the pollen count. A pattern may emerge, and you may find they are only reacting to specific plant pollen, meaning you can avoid that plant or the weeks when it is in flower.
Additionally, walking your dog at times when the pollen count is lower can help to reduce the amount of pollen your pup is exposed to. At home, limiting their exposure to pollen will include minimising their time in the garden and keeping windows and doors closed.
Maintaining a clean environment can help to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions. This will include regularly hoovering, and washing your dog’s bed and toys to prevent pollen and other allergens building up on the surface. Although expensive, purchasing an air purifier to help clean the air in your home could benefit both humans and pets who suffer from hay fever.
Fatty acids like Omega 3 are brilliant for keeping your dogs skin and fur healthy. Making sure they eat a nutritional diet with plenty of fatty acids will not only improve the condition of their skin and fur, but it will help strengthen and maintain their skin’s barrier.
A stronger barrier means allergens, such as pollen, are less likely to be able to pierce the dog’s skin. This then means that skin irritation will be reduced or prevented.
Our recipes are fully personalised, which allows us to avoid allergens that could be upsetting your dog’s skin.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.