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By Caroline Fontein, Pet Lifestyle Contributor

Gnawing on their paws like you swear they were covered in peanut butter? Enough jingle jangle from scratching around their collar you’d think Santa was coming? Watery eyes, red ears and incessant sneezing (like what always seems to come when you’re at the quiet part of your movie)?

Sounds like it might be allergy season for your pup.

Just like in humans, seasonal and environmental allergies can cause discomfort and be a problem for dogs. Unfortunately, identifying these symptoms as allergies isn’t always easy.

Since your dog can’t exactly tell you what’s wrong, it’s up to pet parents to look for the signs. Yelp! Woof!

So, how can you tell if your precious pup might be suffering from allergies?

We consulted with Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and one of our Veterinary Advisory Board members Kim Carvalho to find out. Carvalho is a Board-Certified Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and is a Clinical Professor at Western University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, Calif. She currently serves as one of the Medical Directors.

First a little about allergies.

What are allergies?

Allergies are sensitivities to things found in our everyday environments like dust and pollen, according to the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). Typically, these things aren’t harmful to dogs (or humans).

Yet, your immune system may feel differently and react to an otherwise harmless substance as dangerous. Normally, the immune system protects your dog from infection and disease, but when it comes to allergies the immune system can actually be harmful to the body, according to the VAC.

When this happens the immune system responds by releasing histamines that can cause inflammation, swelling and itching. Inflammation then causes the various signs associated with an allergic reaction.

So what’s causing the allergic reaction?

Just like humans, a large number of substances can be allergens, and each dog is allergic to different things, according to Carvalho.

Some common environmental allergens are:

  • Pollen
  • Grass
  • Weeds
  • Mold
  • Fungi
  • Flea saliva

Also, just like humans, dogs can have food allergies too. In this article we’re focusing on seasonal allergies. However, if you notice any of the below symptoms, we always recommend seeing your vet for a proper diagnosis as both food and environmental allergens can cause similar reactions.

How common are allergies in dogs?

Whether it’s from the environment or food, allergies are common in pets. So, there’s a good chance your dog might have them.

What might cause an allergic reaction doesn’t tend to change with age, but certain breeds are more predisposed to allergies than other breeds, said Carvalho.

What are allergy symptoms?

Dogs often react to allergies by scratching or biting to try and relieve itching which can them lead to redness and inflammation.

Here are symptoms to look for:

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Respiratory congestion
  • Itchy flaky skin (pruritus)
  • Hair loss Itching Ear infections
  • Shaking their head and scratching one or both ears
  • Smelly and/or “dirty” ears
  • Licking of the paws and anus
  • Patchy skin or skin irregularities

Dog skin allergies

According to the American Kennel Club, skin allergies are the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs.

Environmental allergens are one of the main causes.

Dust, pollen, and mold are all environmental allergens (among other triggers) that can cause allergic reactions or atopic dermatitis. Often times, these are seasonal. So you may only notice your dog itching during certain times of the year.

The most commonly affected areas are the paws and ears, but the wrists, ankles, muzzle, underarms, groin, eyes and in between the toes may also be affected.

One concern with skin allergies is that they can lead to secondary infections.

Your dog may try to scratch, bite or lick his or her skin for relief which can then make him or her susceptible to yeast and bacterial infections.

How to tell if your dog has seasonal allergies versus food allergies?

“It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether a dog has seasonal vs food allergies,” said Carvalho. “Seasonal allergies tend to be a certain time of year, historically spring or fall. However with severe changes in our weather pattern, I'm seeing a continuation of seasonal allergies in southern California.”

Food allergies tend to be year round, but the sudden onset of symptoms, can make it hard to tell.

Plus, when it comes to food, even if you haven’t changed anything in your dog’s diet, there’s always the chance that your food manufacturer may have changed their formula. The new ingredients could be causing a reaction.

How are seasonal allergies diagnosed?

Identifying seasonal allergies can be difficult because both seasonal and environmental allergies can have similar symptoms explained Carvalho. Dogs with food allergies can have symptoms that manifest in the skin and in the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. diarrhea).

There are different ways that seasonal allergies can be diagnosed, according to PetMD. One common method is an intradermal skin test.

Very similar to allergy testing in humans, with this method, a small amount of test allergens are injected under your dog’s skin. Allergens are then identified by which injections cause redness, swelling and hives.

Using those results, your vet can create a specialized serum or immunotherapy shot that can be administered by the vet or at home.

Your vet may recommend other ways to diagnose the cause of your dog’s allergies depending upon their symptoms.

How to help your dog feel better?

If your dog has ongoing symptoms, you notice a change in their behavior and/or you just feel concerned, we always recommend taking your little one to the vet.

With environmental/seasonal allergens it can be difficult if not impossible to identify and remove triggers.

“Over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) have been used. Frequent bathing can help as well, and of course, for severe allergic patients, prescription medication is used for itching like Prednisone, Cytopoint, Apoquel and antibiotics/anti-yeast medication for secondary infections,” said Carvalho.

If you want to give your dog an antihistamine, like Benadryl, here are some things to consider:

  • While typically safe, every dog reacts differently to antihistamines, according to the VCA. They may cause drowsiness in some dogs and hyperactivity in others.

  • If you purchase an over the counter medicine for your dog, check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain any other ingredients like decongestants or pseudoephedrine, which are NOT safe for dogs.

  • It’s also important to note that dosage for humans and dogs will not be the same.

We recommend talking to your veterinarian before giving your dog any over-the-counter medication to ensure the dose is accurate and that there are no adverse reactions with any other medications they may be taking.

What are natural remedies to help relieve allergy symptoms for dogs?

Just like with humans, figuring out other ways to help relieve allergy symptoms for your dog can take some trial and error. 

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Fatty acid supplements: These can help soothe itchy and irritated skin, according to the NASC.

  • Regular bathing with hypoallergenic shampoos: This can help remove possible allergens like pollen and grass that your dog may come in contact with as part of your daily routine.

  • More ways to help: Some people use remedies like tea tree oil, coconut oil, fish oils or other omegas and oatmeal shampoo, according to Carvalho.

At SmartyPaws, our multifunctional health supplements include omega-3 EPA & DHA fatty acids (from fish oil) and organic turmeric. These ingredients support a normal inflammatory response and dogs with seasonal and environmental allergies.

We also use additional omegas, including omega-3 ALA from organic chia seeds and alfalfa, to help promote healthy skin, maintain normal moisture content and support animals with sensitive skin.

In addition to providing support for dogs with seasonal and environmental allergies and sensitive skin, our SmartyPaws chews support joint, gut, immune and urinary tract health - all in one easy serving.

How to help prevent an allergic reaction?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for allergies. You can’t prevent your dog from having allergies.

However, there are things you can do to help keep their symptoms and discomfort under control.

First, you have to identify the underlying cause, be it seasonal, food, flea, etc. From there you can help your dog avoid those allergens.

Carvalho explained that sometimes a prescription diet could be necessary along with using flea/ectoparasite control all year round. Pet owners should also keep an eye out for and treat any itches so that they don’t lead to inflamed and infected skin and ears.

Because good health for your canine companion is always in season (unlike pollen, thankfully).

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