What Are Pollen Allergies in Dogs?
Pollen is small particles or dust from flowers, trees, and other plants that are transported in the wind, on animals, and on insects to other plants. Pollen is very fine and almost invisible to the naked eye most of the time. It can coat your dog’s fur and feet after they go outside. It can also travel into your home on the breeze or your skin or clothing. While pollen is vital for plants to spread and flourish, it causes one of the most common seasonal allergies for dogs.
A seasonal allergy is an allergy that is worse during certain times of the year. Pollen is the classic example, but there are other seasonal allergies that flare up during specific times of the year.
There are many types of pollen, and the levels vary by season and region. Grasses and trees blooming in the spring differ from plants that bloom in the fall. While most trees start to bloom in the spring, ragweed is one of the most common fall pollinators in many parts of the country.
When dogs inhale or consume pollen by licking their feet or fur, they can have various allergic reactions. The tiny pollen particle is seen as a foreign substance by the dog’s immune system, which mounts an attack in response. The main cell type the immune system mobilizes during the attack is called a mast cell. Mast cells are responsible for the production of histamine, among other biochemicals. When histamine is released, it causes itching, redness, and swelling.
Symptoms of Pollen Allergies in Dogs
Itchy, watery eyes
Redness of the skin
Generalized itching, scratching, chewing skin
Sneezing or reverse sneezing
Clear nasal drainage
Causes of Pollen Allergies in Dogs
Pollen allergies in dogs are caused by an overzealous response by the dog’s immune system triggered by pollen. The immune system is designed to keep the dog safe from foreign substances like bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
With allergies, the immune system sees the pollen as a more formidable enemy than it actually is. The immune system mobilizes the troops, leading to inflammation in the skin and tissues that the allergen comes into contact with. This results in physical changes in the dog’s body as the inflammation leads to redness, swelling, itching, and an increase in the production of tears or fluids in the immune system’s attempt to get rid of the foreign substance.
There is a genetic component to allergies. Some dogs are more likely to have their immune system respond to pollen in this way because of their genes. However, the exact mechanism of why allergies develop in some dogs and not in others is not fully understood.
Breeds more prone to allergies include:
The U.S. is broken up into different allergy zones organized based on the type of plants and trees that bloom in those regions. Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas top the allergy charts every year. Cities in Florida, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina also have high pollen counts. The Rocky Mountain regions, like Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, all tend to have lower amounts of pollen compared to other states. Pet parents who move from one state to another may see a change in their dog’s allergies as they alter the dog’s exposure to the triggering pollen.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Pollen Allergies in Dogs
Pollen allergies are often diagnosed based on history and a physical exam. Your dog’s veterinarian may run some tests to ensure something else isn’t causing your dog’s itchy skin. They will thoroughly look your pet over for any signs of external parasites, such as fleas or ticks. They may also scrape the skin to look for mites.
The gold standard for diagnosing environmental allergies is intradermal (meaning “within the skin”) allergy testing. This is usually done by a veterinary dermatologist. To do this test, they will shave a patch on your dog’s side to see how their skin reacts to several different common allergens for that region. This is very similar to how allergies are diagnosed in humans, and allergy treatment can be designed for each dog based on those results.
In private practice, some veterinarians may elect to run blood work to look for antibodies to various allergens. While this method is not as accurate as intradermal skin testing, it is another test available for narrowing down which pollens may be more triggering to your pet’s immune system.
Treatment of Pollen Allergies in Dogs
Medications for Pollen Allergies
Pollen allergies are treated in different ways, depending on the severity of the reaction and the amount of exposure to the allergen. Mild allergies are often managed seasonally with antihistamines. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Benadryl® and Zyrtec® may be recommended, depending on clinical signs.
While there are several OTC allergy medications that are used in dogs, always talk to your vet about the appropriate dose and whether a medication is safe to start in your pet. Never give your dog medication meant for people without first speaking with your veterinarian.
Allergy Testing for Dogs
If you elect to have your pet tested to identify exactly which pollen species they’re allergic to, allergy injections can be made tailored to your dog. These injections work by a process called hyposensitization (or allergy desensitization), where your dog’s immune system is exposed to very small microdoses, increasing the amounts of the allergen to gradually increase their tolerance for it.
Supplements and Prescription Foods
Several supplements and prescription foods may be beneficial to dogs with allergies as well. Omega fatty acids aid in boosting the natural barrier function of the skin. Products like Vetoquinol® Omega, Nutramax® Welactin, and Dechra EicosaDerm™ all contain omega-3s and are easy to administer to dogs. Some prescription diets, like Hill’s® Derm Complete, are fortified with skin support ingredients to make pollen allergies more manageable year-round.
Topical therapy can also be useful for reducing pollen allergies. Medicated shampoos, like Douxo S3™ shampoo and KetoChlor® medicated shampoo, can help to reduce yeast and bacteria on the skin so that they don’t overgrow while the immune system is dealing with the pollen allergy.
An important component of allergy management is flea and tick control. Many dogs have allergies to fleas and ticks in addition to pollen. Keeping them on a high-quality prevention product can reduce overall inflammation and itchy skin that can make other allergies worse.
Recovery and Management of Pollen Allergies in Dogs
Pollen allergies are managed rather than cured. Once you’ve identified which season affects your pet the most, it is helpful to start allergy medications right before the pollen they’re allergic to starts blooming. Some dogs have year-round allergies and are allergic to various pollens that span multiple seasons. These dogs may need to be on regular allergy oral medications or injections for their entire life.
Untreated allergies lead to secondary skin infections and considerable discomfort. If you are waiting to see your veterinarian for prescription allergy medication, consider using a recovery collar in the meantime to prevent your dog from licking and chewing themselves when they are not under direct supervision, to avoid hot spots and other self-trauma.
Pollen allergies cannot be prevented without moving to a different region that lacks the pollen(s) that your dog is allergic to. Despite this, there are several things you can do to reduce the amount of pollen in your dog’s life:
If your dog is allergic to grass pollen, wipe down their feet and undercarriage after they come in from being outside.
Keeping your pet cool and indoors can reduce flare-ups.
Regular bathing every two to four weeks may reduce pollen on their skin and coat.
Using a high-quality HEPA filter may aid in reducing pollen count in the home that is brought inside on skin and clothing.
Wash all your pet’s bedding regularly to minimize accumulation on surfaces they come into regular contact with.
Pollen Allergies in Dogs FAQs
Are pollen allergies the most common type of seasonal allergies in dogs?
Yes, pollen allergies are the most common type of seasonal allergies in dogs. Tree, grass, and weed pollen are all among the more common triggers for dog pollen allergies.
What medications are prescribed for pollen allergies in dogs?
Common medications prescribed for pollen allergies include:
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