What Spring Means to Your Dog
Photo credit: Peter Mooney / Flickr
Everybody loves spring! After being cooped up in the winter months, dogs cannot wait to get outside to smell the balmy air, let the sun kiss their fur, and see all the new life that is emerging. Unfortunately, dogs can suffer more problems in the spring as a direct result of being outdoors.
Allergies, infectious illnesses, parasite infestations, poisonings, injuries, and reproductive problems are much more common in the spring than during the winter months. Allergies in particular cause many dogs discomfort this time of year and can affect up to 20 percent of dogs in North America.
Springtime Allergies in Dogs
Dogs suffer from allergies to inhaled pollens and irritants just like humans do, and even to a similar extent. They can be allergic to trees, grasses, molds, cockroaches, fleas, insect stings, smoke, and a host of other allergens. But while people sneeze and have watery eyes, dogs usually have skin or ear problems.
The skin will turn red and may have bumps, hives, or raw weepy areas from scratching. Hair is usually lost in affected areas. In flea allergies, hair loss and skin lesions often occur along the back, down the rear legs, and around the tail. Insect stings commonly produce hives over the body and facial swelling.
Inhaled allergens can cause hair loss on the feet, legs, neck, and torso. Allergies to something the dog is lying on can cause redness and hair loss on the belly and points of contact with the offending substrate.
Ear Symptoms of Allergies
A number of dogs suffer from ear problems related to allergies. Retrievers commonly encounter these in the spring. The pinna (outer ear flap) swells and reddens, as does the ear canal. The ear secretes more waxy liquid. The combination of scratching, moisture, darkness, and warmth causes bacteria to grow in the ear eventually causing an ear infection.
At this stage, the ear is itchy, painful, very red, and contains a foul smelling yellow to brown discharge. Allergic symptoms with secondary infection are much more common in adult dogs than ear mites.
Diagnosis of Allergies
An accurate diagnosis of any allergy normally takes an examination and some testing at the veterinarian’s office. The vet looks for evidence of skin parasites, bacterial infection, yeast infection, and lesions that suggest other conditions, like serious skin infections, mange, dietary allergies, hormonal problems, and systemic diseases that can cause skin problems.
Inside the ear canals and the ear discharge must be examined. Sometimes a trial of medications is ordered to help differentiate the causes of the skin problem. If inhaled allergies are determined to be the cause, blood or skin testing to find out what the dog is allergic to are done.
Allergy treatments depend on what the dog is allergic to. Oral and topical flea medications are used no matter what other allergies there are, since flea allergies are incredibly common and always make the symptoms of other allergies worse. In flea treatment, all the animals in the house must be treated monthly, and the environment must be cleaned and treated at least twice as well.
For inhaled allergies, a combination of soothing baths, antihistamines, and steroids are used to decrease skin irritation. Dogs that don’t respond to these treatments can go through desensitization injections, receiving small amounts of the allergen over time so the immune system stops reacting to it.
Avoiding the offending substrate (grass, metal, plastic) is the best treatment for contact allergy symptoms. Insect bites are generally treated with antihistamines, progressing to steroids and epinephrine if the reactions are severe. Dogs with ear symptoms undergo regular ear cleaning, with steroid plus antibiotic ear medications put in daily. It is common to treat allergy sufferers with antibiotics or antifungals as well, for secondary infections.
If allergies are noticed in the early stages and treated promptly, affected dogs can enjoy the springtime weather without itching and pain. Since allergies cannot be cured, early and aggressive treatment is important to prevent secondary infections.
The symptoms will worsen with each spring as the dog is re-exposed to the irritants, causing more severe lesions and more intensive treatment to be needed. But careful attention, early veterinary intervention, and adherence to a schedule of bathing, ear cleaning, and medication treatment can make the allergic dog much more comfortable.