Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Updated Apr. 16, 2024
Dog itching

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In This Article

Summary

What Are Seasonal Allergies in Dogs?

Dogs can be allergic to various things in the environment, such as pollen from trees and grass. If a dog displays allergy symptoms only during certain seasons, such as spring and fall, a seasonal allergy rather than a year-round allergy is suspected. This means that the dog is allergic to allergens that are in the environment only during certain times of the year.

Dogs with seasonal allergies can be itchy in specific areas, such as their paws, or be itchy all over. They can also have recurring ear infections and skin infections when they are exposed to various environmental allergens at certain times during the year.

Seasonal allergies are different from year-round environmental allergies and food allergies because symptoms are observed only during specific times of the year, depending on what the dog is allergic to and when the specific allergens are prevalent in the environment. In contrast, dogs with year-round allergies will have skin issues all year long.

Most dogs with seasonal allergies have symptoms during the spring (March through May) and fall (September through November), but this can vary based on weather and location. 

Types of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

The following allergens commonly cause seasonal allergies in dogs:

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Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Symptoms will vary depending upon the dog, but may include:

  • Excessive licking, usually of the paws, but the licking can be anywhere on the body

  • Saliva staining of the fur where the dog is licking the skin excessively

  • Chewing/gnawing

  • Scratching

  • Hair loss

  • Redness of the skin

  • Crusts

  • Moist skin

  • Darkening of the skin (black pigmented skin)

  • Thickening of the skin (elephant skin)

  • Odor to the skin or ears

  • Head shaking

  • Pawing at the ears, eyes, or face

  • Recurring scooting or licking of the anus due to anal sacs becoming problematic secondary to allergies

  • Watery eyes

  • Reverse sneezing 

The most common areas of a dog’s body that are affected by seasonal allergies are the paws (especially between the digits), limbs, mouth, ears, abdomen, groin, armpits, tail, and around the eyes.

Causes of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

A dog that suffers from seasonal allergies has an immune system that is hypersensitive to specific allergens in the environment. When the levels of the allergens become high, the dog’s immune system becomes triggered, leading to an allergic response and the development of symptoms.  

How Veterinarians Diagnose Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Seasonal allergies are diagnosed based on physical exam findings, symptoms, and a history of having recurring symptoms and infections during the same seasons annually.

Other skin conditions that can cause similar symptoms must also be ruled out, such as skin mites, fleas, or a food allergy, to reach a diagnosis of seasonal allergies. If fleas are found on a dog with symptoms of severe itchiness, redness, and hair loss, then a flea allergy is diagnosed and the dog is started on effective flea and tick prevention and anti-itch medication to see if symptoms resolve. 

Treatment of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Seasonal allergies are a chronic condition, which means there is no cure. However, there are ways to treat and manage symptoms to keep your dog comfortable, including:

  • Year-round flea and tick prevention such as NexGard®, Simparica®, Bravecto®, Seresto® collar, and K9 Advantix II

  • Anti-itch medications such as Apoquel®, Cytopoint®, and prednisone are prescribed to alleviate any current itchiness and to manage the itch during flare-ups. If the itch can be controlled, the dog will remain comfortable and be at less risk for secondary skin infections.

  • Once the allergy seasons are determined for a dog based on prior history, the anti-itch medication is started one month prior to the start of the allergy season and continued one month past when the allergy season ends.

    • If the itch is not fully controlled with anti-itch medication, a recovery cone should be worn to prevent the dog from licking and chewing at their body.

  • An omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplement, such as Welactin®, Vetoquinol, or Dermaquin®, will protect the skin barrier and minimize allergy symptoms.

    • An omega-3 fatty acid supplement can also help with anal gland issues for dogs that tend to need their anal glands expressed more frequently during allergy season. It takes four to six weeks for an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to become effective, so it is best for a dog with seasonal allergies to be on this supplement year-round.

  • Routine ear cleaning can help clear a current ear infection and reduce the frequency of future ear infections. If an ear infection is present, treat the infection and clean the ears based on recommendations from your veterinarian. When there is no infection, clean the dog’s ears with a routine ear cleaner, like EpiOtic® Advanced, on a routine basis throughout the year (typically every two to three weeks for maintenance).

  • Ear medications, such as Mometamax®, Posatex®, and Tresaderm®, are prescribed to treat bacterial and/or yeast infections in a dog’s ears. After treatment, make sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with your veterinarian to recheck that the infection has resolved.

  • Oral medications are often needed when a dog has a skin infection on multiple areas of the body. Antibiotics, such as clindamycin and cephalexin, are prescribed to treat bacterial skin infections, and anti-fungal medication, such as ketoconazole, is prescribed to treat fungal skin infections, such as yeast infections.

  • Topical therapy can be used to soothe the skin and help with treatment of skin infections. There are many topical therapy options, including anti-bacterial and anti-fungal ointments, shampoos, conditioners, mousses, sprays, and wipes. Ask your veterinarian which topical therapy would work best based on your dog’s allergy symptoms and current skin condition.

Immunotherapy for Dogs With Seasonal Allergies

Immunotherapy consists of either allergy shots or allergy oral drops that are formulated based on allergy test results. To determine what environmental allergens a dog is most allergic to based on where the dog lives, a blood test can be performed by your veterinarian using a specific blood test (Heska’s Allercept® or Nextmune’s Pet Allergy Xplorer) to screen a dog for environmental allergies.

In addition to the allergy blood test, a veterinary dermatologist will also perform intradermal testing, which involves injecting small amounts of various environmental allergens into a dog’s skin in specific locations. The injection sites are then monitored over a period of time for signs of a skin reaction. If a reaction is seen, then the dog is likely allergic to the allergen that was injected at that site.

It is important to note that the allergy (blood) testing and the intradermal testing are not performed to provide a diagnosis of seasonal allergies. Rather, they are used to aid in creating immunotherapy treatment for a dog that has been diagnosed with seasonal allergies. The goal with immunotherapy is to desensitize a dog to the environmental allergens that trigger the allergy symptoms. Immunotherapy is usually given long-term at a maintenance dose.

It is difficult to limit a dog’s exposure to certain allergens. Pollen from trees, grass, or weeds can be tracked into the house easily. Wiping a pup’s paws when they come inside can sometimes be helpful. 

Recovery and Management of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

Seasonal allergies are not only frustrating for dogs but also for pet parents, because they are not curable. Fortunately, though, with seasonal allergies, symptoms can be managed by knowing what seasons trigger a dog’s symptoms and initiating treatment prior to the start of each allergy season. Anti-itch medication should manage the itch throughout each season so that the dog is not scratching, licking, or chewing at the skin, which can lead to secondary skin infections.

Cleaning your dog’s ears every two to three weeks year-round with a routine ear cleaner is important to minimize the risk of an ear infection to develop. The ears should also be cleaned after your dog has a bath or partakes in a water activity, such as swimming, to remove any water from within the ear canals. Giving an omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily year-round can provide skin support as well. Management of seasonal allergies is usually lifelong unless a dog is able to move to an area where the allergen that is causing the reaction is no longer present.

Monitor your pet for the following symptoms throughout the year:

  • Itchiness (scratching, licking, gnawing, chewing)

  • Head shaking or pawing at the ears or eyes

  • Any skin lesions (such as redness, crusts, thickened or black pigmented skin)

  • Odor to the skin or ears

If you see any of these symptoms, schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. Your dog’s skin condition can worsen quickly if allergy symptoms are not controlled. If your dog is licking or chewing, have them wear an e-collar until the appointment to prevent further worsening of the skin. Your veterinarian will prescribe treatment to make your dog more comfortable and treat for any skin or ear infection, if present. Managing a dog’s allergy symptoms with therapy and reporting to your veterinarian any skin issues as they arise are the most effective ways to help a dog with seasonal allergies.


Michelle Diener, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Michelle Diener, DVM

Veterinarian

I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I obtained by BS degree in Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 and my DVM degree at NCSU in 2006. I have...


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