Fall allergies are those that occur from pollen released exclusively in the fall season. In reality, the environment teems with allergens year-round, and thus can be problematic for sensitive dogs. In geographical areas that do have freezing temperatures in winter, allergens may build up and cause yearlong suffering.
“Spring through fall are busy allergy seasons for dogs,” says Domenico Santoro, DVM, MS, DrSc, PhD, DACVD, DECVD, assistant professor of veterinary dermatology at the University of Florida. “It all depends on what type of pollen to which a dog is allergic. Generally, spring is the season for tree allergens, summer for grasses, and fall for weeds. Many weeds are very allergenic, and many dogs are sensitive to them.”
The immune system of most dogs will adapt to the pollens of the changing fall season and resolve any clinical signs. Dogs with an over-reactive immune system — or hypersensitive immune system — to a particular allergen may experience an allergic reaction.
Dr. Santoro advises that it is much better to prevent the clinical signs of allergies in the first place. If allergy signs occur, it is best to intervene sooner than to wait and see if they go away.
“The most common signs are skin-related,” he says. “The majority of dogs scratch and rub more than usual. Some dogs may also have runny eyes.”
According to Dr. Santoro, allergies tend to become more severe over time. “A manageable situation without veterinary intervention one season may not be possible the next year. You should check with your veterinarian as soon as you see any worsening of clinical signs,” he says.
Environmental allergens, absorbed mainly through a dog’s skin, orally or from breathing, can cause atopic dermatitis. This disorder is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that results from an inappropriate immune reaction. Dogs that are hypersensitive lack skin barrier protection against allergens, which allows them to penetrate the skin and trigger their allergies.
About 60 breeds, as well as mixed-breed dogs, are predisposed to atopic dermatitis. The disorder is the second most common allergy in dogs after flea bite allergy. A flea-bite sensitivity can dramatically increase a dog’s clinical signs of allergy.
Dogs can have concurrent allergies with overlapping clinical signs, making it challenging to diagnose atopic dermatitis. For example, scratching, rubbing, chewing and excessive grooming occur in dogs with flea bite allergy as well as atopic dermatitis.
When allergens trigger an inappropriate immune response, it results in the production of allergen-specific IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies. These antibodies bind to mast cells and then become cross-linked by specific allergens, leading to mast-cell degranulation and the development of a hypersensitivity reaction. When this occurs, it causes pruritus, or itching, and inflammation.
Factors that impact whether a dog can adapt to environmental allergens include the dog’s overall health and whether any underlying diseases compromise immune system function, such as cancer, autoimmune disease, Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism. Dogs on steroid or chemotherapy treatments could be more susceptible. Sometimes the degree of exposure to allergens is a factor.
These management tips can help you to combat fall allergies for your dog:
• Carry a damp cloth in an airtight bag when working with your dog outdoors, so you can wipe pollen off the paws, face and body before traveling home
• Frequently bathe your dog with a mild shampoo
• Keep your kennel clean and regularly vacuum the house or any area where your dog may frequently stay
• Make sure to feed a complete and balanced dog food for optimal nutrition
• Practice a routine exercise program to support overall health
Allergies can be challenging at first. “Once you know the specific allergens your dog is allergic to and what treatment works best, it becomes routine,” Dr. Santoro says. “When you become familiar with signs of allergies, such as more-than-usual scratching, itching or rubbing, you will know it’s time to call the veterinarian for assistance or a medication.”
Successful management of allergies means you don’t have to miss an opportunity to be outdoors. Being knowledgeable about the potential for fall allergies and recognizing the signs of a reaction will help you stay on top of your dog’s allergy.