Fall Allergies in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions
Fall allergies are common in dogs, causing a variety of symptoms from watery eyes to skin problems. While spring and summer are common culprits for seasonal allergies, the cooler months of the year also carry allergens that may affect some pups more than others.
Here are some things to know about fall allergies in dogs.
What are the Symptoms of Fall Allergies?
Common symptoms of environmental allergies (also called atopy) at any time of the year, including autumn, are...
- Itchy skin (especially the paws, belly, and inner thighs) or ears.
- Red skin, rashes, scabs, or skin infections.
- Chronic ear infections or smelly ears.
- Watery or red eyes.
- Possibly sneezing, coughing, or digestive upset. These symptoms are much less common, although dogs with a collapsing windpipe (a genetic condition common in small dogs) may be more likely to exhibit coughing.
These symptoms may be present just for one season or progress to year-round, depending on what a pup is allergic to and how severe their symptoms are. Dogs of any breed can be affected.
Causes of Fall Allergies in Dogs
Environmental allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a foreign substance, such as pollen or dust mites. These substances, called allergens, could be inhaled, ingested, or simply come into contact with the skin.
The body then reacts with inflammation, which can lead to itchiness, redness, hives, or swelling. Often, a dog will lick or chew at the affected area, which results in secondary skin infections with bacteria or yeast. This causes a vicious cycle of even more itching.
In the fall, there’s not an abundance of blooming plants. However, that does not mean that autumn is free of allergens...
There are some plants (especially ragweed) that release pollen during this season, when the weather starts to get cooler. And fall winds can spread the pollen over long distances.
Mold is also common in the fall, both indoors and outdoors. Rainy conditions and piles of fall leaves can be ideal for mold growth.
Dust mites are also common allergens. Pups and humans alike may have an increased exposure to both dust and dust mites when the heating system is turned on for the first time during the fall season.
Even fleas can flourish in the fall in more temperate climates, when the weather is still fairly warm and moisture in their environment is increased.
Is It Fall Allergies or Something Else Causing My Dog’s Symptoms?
Though environmental allergies are common, there are many other health conditions that cause similar symptoms. It’s important to know which one is causing your dog’s itchy skin or ear infections.
Knowing the cause of your dog’s symptoms will help determine the best course of treatment.
For example, a red eye could be a sign of seasonal allergies. But it could also be due to an infection, an eye injury, or even glaucoma—all of which require different treatments compared to allergies.
Flea allergy dermatitis (an allergic reaction to flea bites) is extremely common. Food allergies, though less common, are also possible. And skin mites (some of which are contagious to people and other pets) can mimic allergic skin lesions. These things all require different or additional treatments compared to fall allergies.
Also, other respiratory infections, such as kennel cough, could be mistaken for allergies.
For all these reasons, it’s important to bring your pup to the vet, to determine exactly what’s causing their symptoms.
Diagnosing Dog Fall Allergies
New allergy-like symptoms warrant a veterinary visit. Allergies generally aren’t considered an emergency, unless there is a severe allergic reaction (also called anaphylactic shock, like the reaction some sensitive people or pups might experience after a bee sting).
However, seasonal allergies can cause discomfort due to itchiness and skin wounds or infections that occur secondarily to a dog scratching or licking themselves. So it’s better to see a vet sooner rather than later, before symptoms get worse.
Your vet will start by asking questions about possible allergen exposures and doing a full physical exam. Depending on your pup’s symptoms, that might be followed by simple skin tests (looking for bacteria, yeast, or microscopic skin mites) or ear infection check.
If your veterinarian suspects an underlying condition other than allergies, additional tests would be recommended. This may include eye tests, infectious disease testing, or other diagnostics like bloodwork or x-rays, if indicated.
If allergies are determined to be the cause, a food trial may be recommended to rule out food allergies. Blood or skin testing can be done for environmental allergies, although this is most often used for pups with severe symptoms.
Treatment for Fall Allergies in Dogs
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for allergies. But symptoms can be managed so your pup stays happy and comfortable.
For some dogs, over-the-counter antihistamines (like Benadryl) might be enough to manage their fall allergy symptoms. But it’s important to talk to your vet first, to determine if it’s right for your furkid, and to receive instructions on safe doses and formulations for them.
Many dogs can also benefit from a medicated shampoo to relieve itching. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Dogs with more severe symptoms may need steroidal medications or other prescription medications for allergies. These could be used on an “as needed” basis, or given long-term, depending on how often a pup’s symptoms arise and how much their symptoms affect their comfort or quality of life. Desensitization allergy shots are also available based on allergy testing results, for severely affected pooches.
In any case of allergies, pups who develop a secondary skin or ear infection need medications to get the infection under control.
Additionally, there are a few things you can do at home. Wipe off your dog’s paws and belly with a clean, wet cloth after their walks — this physically removes pollen. Bathe your dog up to once a week, and after outdoor excursions, with a gentle dog shampoo. Vacuum your home and wash linens (including dog beds) frequently to limit dust mite exposure. And follow all general health recommendations for your pup, such as using parasite prevention and a high quality dog food.
Each individual pup has their own unique needs. If your dog is affected by fall allergies, talk to your veterinarian about creating an allergy management plan. That way, your adorable pup can enjoy the lovely fall season with you in total comfort!