Cats and dogs aren’t immune to the itchy slings and painful arrows of mother nature. Just like humans, pets can suffer from seasonal allergies. Read on to learn which allergies pet parents should be aware of this fall, how to recognize the symptoms, and how you can help your four-legged friend feel better.
What Causes Fall Pet Allergies?
Seasonal allergies in cats and dogs tend to manifest as atopic dermatitis, AKA atopy, a skin condition marked by itching and inflammation. Respiratory symptoms can occur as well. Here are the major pet allergens to be aware of this fall:
Plants, trees, and grasses produce pollen grains in order to fertilize other plants. That’s great for the circle of life, but it can wreak havoc on canine and feline immune systems. (Human ones, too.) From August to November, ragweed is the primary pollen pest.
Common Symptoms of Pollen Allergies
Excessive licking and scratching
Puffy eyes/eye discharge,
Red and/or stinky ears and ear infections
Red or irritated skin
Rashes and hives
Hot spots (areas of hairlessness and oozing/inflamed skin)
How to Defend Against Pollen Allergies
The most important thing is to avoid exposure. That's easier said than done, of course. But you'll minimize your pet’s exposure to pollen if you limit their time outdoors during allergy season, especially during high-pollen days. (Weather services often forecast pollen counts, so it's easy enough to look it up.) Also important to know: Ragweed pollen levels are at their highest in the morning through the mid-afternoon. If you're worried about allergies, late afternoons and evenings are the best times for your pet to be outside for longer stretches.
Dust Mite Allergies
These eight-legged arthropods can find their way onto your pup’s skin, or even get inhaled directly into their lungs. They’re also microscopic, so you won’t see it happening. (Yikes!) Dust mites tend to be most common between May and October.
Common Symptoms of Dust Mite Allergies
Red/watering eyes and nose
How to Defend Against Dust Mite Allergies
Dust mites thrive in, well, dust. That means a clean home is your pet’s best friend during the fall allergy season. Stick to a regular cleaning schedule, and consider deploying a damp microfiber cloth to target dust. A standard dry cloth can simply disperse dust into the air without actually removing it from your home. Vacuuming and thorough carpet/rug cleaning can also work wonders.
You should also pay attention to your home’s temperature and humidity levels. Dust mites don't fare as well in temperatures under 70° Fahrenheit or under lower humidity (less than 50%, ideally). Dehumidifiers, fans, and air conditioners can help.
Oh, and be sure to pay close attention to your pet’s stuff — and to your pet, for that matter. You should bathe a dog at least weekly, ideally with an anti-allergen shampoo. (You can do the same for a cat if you think they’re at risk, even if you’re not used to giving your feline friend baths.) You can also stave off dust mites by regularly washing your pet’s bedding; several brands even make anti-allergen laundry detergents.
Mold thrives in wet and rotting leaves, so mold allergies are particularly prevalent in fall. Mold uses spores to multiply. These spores can easily stick to your pet’s skin or find their way into your pet’s respiratory system.
Common Symptoms of Mold Allergies
Chewing and licking (especially of the paws)
How to Defend Against Mold Allergies
Your best bet is to keep mold spores from clinging to your furry friend’s coat or skin. You can accomplish this by wiping your pet with a damp cloth after they’ve been outside, or even giving them a bath. Also try to keep them away from any damp or humid areas of your home where mold can grow, like your basement or garage.
Fleas tend to be out in force from roughly July through October. These maddening critters can cause several different health conditions. One of them is flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a severe allergic reaction to a flea’s saliva. FAD can cause serious skin problems.
Common Symptoms of Flea Allergies
Bleeding/irritated areas on the body
Small pink/red bumps
How to Defend Against Flea Allergies
First of all, you should use flea prevention medication year-round. (Even though fleas are more prevalent in certain months, they can live and reproduce indoors all year.) Both topical and oral preventative flea meds are available without a prescription.
Since fleas often thrive inside, some enthusiastic indoor cleaning can go a long way. Wash your pet’s bedding (and yours!) with warm water and detergent. Vacuum your rugs, carpets, and furniture with gusto and regularity. And when you empty the contents of your vacuum cleaner, make sure to do it outside. If you want to get really aggressive, you can even use flea spray on rugs, carpets and furniture.
Can My Veterinarian Test for Environmental Allergies?
They sure can. There are two types of allergy tests that vets com use for dogs and cats:
The RAST test (short for “radioallergosorbent”) is a simple blood test that your vet will use to determine which antigens your dog is allergic to. RAST tests are moderately effective, but they have been known to result in false positives from time to time.
Intradermal skin testing is widely considered the gold standard in veterinary allergy testing. Performed under sedation, this procedure involves the subcutaneous injection of dozens of different allergens into your pet’s skin. While an intradermal skin test is more accurate and comprehensive than an RAST test, it's generally only performed by a veterinary dermatology specialist — and it’s a bit pricey without pet insurance.
How to Treat Your Pet's Allergies
If prevention and precaution haven’t proven effective, it’s time to take more aggressive measures. A number of different treatments can help alleviate or cure your pet’s allergy symptoms.
Baths/Shampoos: Bathing your pet with cool or lukewarm water can do a great deal to relieve skin-related allergy symptoms. (Just remember that hot water can actually exacerbate symptoms.) Make sure to use a hypoallergenic shampoo that’s made specifically for pets. Shampoos containing oatmeal and/or aloe can be especially effective at relieving itching and inflammation.
Use an anti-itch spray: Certain sprays are perfect for relieving itchiness and inflammation stemming from allergic reactions. As with allergy-fighting pet shampoos, many of these contain oatmeal and aloe.
Wipe their coat and paws. Wiping your pet down with a damp towel or a grooming wipe will help remove allergens, especially right after they’ve been outside
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements: Fish oil supplements have been known to relieve — and even help prevent — inflamed and itchy skin.
Ask your vet about antihistamines: Allergy medications like Benedryl, Zyrtec, and Chlor-Trimeton — as well as the generic versions of these medications — can all be safe for pets, but only if administered at the right dosage. Claritin can be safe too, but never give your pet Claritin D: Even small amounts of pseudoephedrine, a chemical found in Claritin D, can be fatal to pets. (Don't forget: You should always, always, always consult your veterinarian before giving your pet allergy pills. Dosing requirements vary based on your pet’s weight and other factors.)
Then there are the big guns:
Prescription allergy meds: Veterinarians can prescribe meds like Apoquel, Cyclosporine, and other heavy-duty allergy fighters. Corticosteroids (aka steroids) are sometimes used to treat particularly acute skin symptoms, like severe itching related to flea allergy dermatitis.
Immunotherapy: Allergen immunotherapy (AIT), also called “hyposensitization," involves a series of allergy shots (or oral drops) that gradually expose your pet to greater amounts of allergens, bolstering their immune system over time. This process has proven extremely effective, but it can take a long time to see results — and it’s costly.
When it comes to your pet’s allergies, you’ve got plenty of treatment options available. Comprehensive insurance and preventative care coverage can help you pay for many of them.