Seasonal allergies in dogs: what you need to know

Spending time outdoors is one of the best parts of spring and summer for many pups, but like some people, seasonal allergies can interfere with the joy of the changing seasons.

Unlike we humans whose seasonal allergy symptoms tend to include sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes, dog allergies most commonly present as skin issues. While seldom dangerous, the itching and discomfort caused by allergies can cause a serious quality-of life concern. Left unmanaged, the itchy skin can turn into serious skin infections. Working with your veterinarian early to control the signs will help your pup be happier and healthier during the high allergen months.

What can dogs be allergic to?

Like people, dogs may be allergic to mold or pollen from grass, trees or plants, all of which tend to be present in the environment at high concentrations during spring and summer months. Seasonal allergies, sometimes called atopy in dogs, are an overreaction by the immune system to substances that are not actually dangerous to the body. Seasonal allergy signs often start with generalized itchiness. You may notice your dog scratching his skin or ears, which may include rubbing against surfaces for relief or scratching immediately after you pet an area on his body.


You may not notice a change in appearance of the skin initially. Visible changes, such as redness or hair loss, may come later due to progression of severity or self-inflicted injury resulting from your dog scratching his itchy skin. This may also result in subsequent infection of the compromised skin.

Hair loss or inflammation and redness are most common on the feet, groin, underarms and muzzle. Most exposure to seasonal allergens occurs directly through the skin, so areas with less fur (like the groin and underarms) and areas touching grasses and plants (like the feet) often have the highest exposure to the source. Another sign may be staining of the fur of the feet for dogs with lighter colored coats, as fur becomes exposed to saliva due to the pup licking and biting his itchy paws.

Itchiness and redness of the ears often accompanies seasonal allergies, and red inflamed eyes may occur in about 20% of cases. While it is possible to have wheezing, sneezing or nasal discharge, these signs are quite uncommon with seasonal allergies in dogs and should never be assumed to be associated with allergies without evaluation for other respiratory causes.


Clinical signs of canine seasonal allergies can look very much like other skin conditions in dogs, including skin infections, food allergies or parasites. Because there are no direct tests to determine whether a dog has seasonal allergies, determining whether a skin problem is due to seasonal allergies often requires ruling out other possibilities. The presence of fleas or mites are key rule-outs. Your veterinarian may also recommend a strict food trial to test for a food allergy as the cause. Skin testing for allergen reaction is sometimes performed as part of a treatment plan, but these tests are not accurate enough to diagnose whether a seasonal allergy is the primary source of a dog’s symptoms.

Proper diet and appropriate supplements and vitamins can protect your dog against allergies, despite the fact that allergy is often a congenital condition.Therefore, it is worth to do the elemental hair analysis in order to check what elements really lack our pet, or whether heavy metals, blocking the absorption of nutrients, have accumulated in its body.


Allergy medications for dogs focus on reducing seasonal allergy symptoms and discomfort by controlling the immune response to allergens. It is also critical that any secondary skin or ear infections that have developed as a result of allergies are treated as well (generally with antibiotic or antifungal medications) or improvement is unlikely. Steroid treatment can improve signs dramatically by reducing inflammation in the skin. However, steroids can have serious side effects and avoiding long-term use is desirable. More targeted itch-relieving medications have recently been developed which cause fewer side effects than steroids and are available as oral medication or monthly injections.

Additionally, antihistamine therapy may be helpful in approximately one third of cases, often helping to reduce doses of other allergy medications. Omega-3 supplements, such as those found in fish oil, improve the oily barriers of the skin and can reduce allergen absorption. Finally, allergy shots, which expose the body to gradually increasing amounts of allergen to retrain the immune system to stop overreacting to specific substances, can be administered by your veterinarian. There is a wide range of cost and efficacy between these options, and the best control for many dogs often involves a combination of treatments. Success often relies on some trial and error to find the best fit for you and your pet.

What you can do at home

In addition to medical management, reducing exposure where possible may be helpful for some dogs. While most seasonal allergens are ubiquitous and unavoidable in the environment, some measures may help limit exposure. Indoor air purifiers can reduce the amount of pollen and mold in your home. A dehumidifier may also help reduce indoor molds. Limiting your dog’s exposure to open fields or highly treed areas may be helpful. Additionally, washing your pups’ paws or bathing after playing in the grass may prevent some absorption, although bathing more than once a week can reduce important oils on the skin and actually increase allergen exposure.

With care and persistence, you and your veterinarian can find the right combination of treatments for your pup, so you and your dog can enjoy the great outdoors and all the fun spring and summer have to offer our four-legged friends.

Stacey Hunvald, DVM, (25.07.2018)




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