By Jodi Reed, DVM

Pet AllergiesIt’s that time of year again when spring flowers start poking up through the still-cold ground, first buds on trees start blooming, and seasonal pet allergies start kicking in. But while their humans get stuffy noses, watery eyes, and achy heads, our pets experience a different type of reaction to the change of the season—itching. Thump, thump, thump, lick, lick, lick…if your pet has allergies, you know the telltale sounds all too well.

Understanding Seasonal Allergies in Dogs and Cats

So, what are seasonal allergies and what can dogs and cats become allergic to? Allergies are an overreaction of the body’s immune system to substances in the environment that would otherwise be harmless, such as:

  • Pollen
  • Grass
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Flea saliva

Tree pollen allergies occur most often during the spring, and these allergies can be intense, since tree pollen can spread everywhere. Grass and weed pollen are more warm weather allergens, as these plants pollinate in the warmer months of summer and early fall. Environmental molds can be seasonal, but they can also be a year-round allergen depending on where you live.

Flea Allergies in Dogs and Cats

Inconsistent freezing temperatures and often shorter, warmer winters mean fleas don’t ever give us a break. In fact, veterinarians and pet owners see some of the worst flea infestations in the late fall or early winter when people feel it is safe to stop preventives.

Just one flea bite can set off a severe reaction in a pet with a flea allergy. The good news is that itching is a problem we can control with treatment, unlike many other allergies.

What Causes Seasonal Allergies in Pets?

Just as in people, all of the causes of allergies are not known, but genetics play a role. Some breeds are more allergic than others, and most will present with their first bout between the ages of 2-4 years. This is because it normally takes repeated exposure to an allergen in order for the immune system to react.

Identifying what a pet is reacting to is often difficult and sometimes requires allergy testing. Classic “seasonal allergies” in pets tend to be caused by flea and environmental allergens.

Signs of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs and Cats

An allergic pet is usually an itchy pet who may also lick the skin or feet, have ear infections, and even hair loss as signs of their allergic disease.

Upper respiratory disease (i.e. sneezing, reverse sneezing, coughing, and runny nose) is also a possible sign of seasonal allergies, but this is not nearly as common as itchiness.

Treating Seasonal Pet Allergies

What can be done for seasonal allergy sufferers? First and foremost, especially here in the southeastern United States, all animals and particularly those who suffer from allergies, should be on a flea preventive program year-round.

Treatment for Flea Allergies

Fleas multiply quickly, and a flea allergic pet is often your first sign of fleas in the home. After feeding on an animal’s blood, adult female fleas typically can lay hundreds, and possibly even thousands, of eggs at a rate of around one per hour over several weeks or months. This is why it’s crucial to find a flea control product that works.

If you still see live fleas a week or two after you apply a topical, either the fleas are no longer susceptible to the product or you have an overwhelming flea population. Let your veterinarian know this so that he or she can provide an effective product and advice on environmental clean up.

Apoquel and Cytopoint

Apoquel and Cytopoint have changed allergy management for most dogs suffering from seasonal allergies. Steroids are still commonly used for treating seasonal allergies in cats; however, cats can also receive Apoquel.


Apoquel is a treatment for seasonal allergies for both dogs and cats. This is an oral allergy treatment that provides allergy relief quickly and is non steroidal. Apoquel targets the cytokines, or proteins, that cause itching and inflammation. This treatment relieves allergies for 24 hours and is given to pets daily.

Cytopoint Injections

Cytopoint injection is a leading treatment option for pets suffering from allergic itch. One of the key advantages of this allergy treatment is that just one injection can start controlling itching typically within a day, as well as providing itch relief from four to eight weeks. The cytopoint injection treatment is an antibody that blocks the itch signal in a pet’s nervous system and is safe to use in pets of any age.

What the Vet Will Do for Seasonal Pet Allergies

If you think your pet has allergies, it’s important to make an appointment before their symptoms worsen. When you bring your furry family member to the vet, your veterinarian will first take a medical history (i.e., asking questions about lifestyle, diet, medications, etc.) to try to find the problem.

Your vet will go over your fur-baby, literally, with a fine tooth comb, and will likely recommend basic skin testing to find the right approach to tackling the misery caused by seasonal pet allergies.

Skin Testing for Secondary Issues

Skin testing can also determine if secondary issues need to be addressed to speed recovery. Depending on the type and severity of the secondary skin issue, oral and/or topical medications may be prescribed to resolve bacterial, fungal, or mite infections. It is imperative that secondary infections be COMPLETELY cleared before treatment is discontinued. This will likely include recheck examinations and possibly repeat testing.

Although this may be inconvenient and seem unnecessary, incompletely resolved infections mean that your pet’s symptoms will return. True recurrence of a completely resolved allergic symptom is a sure sign that your pet is an allergy sufferer and may need a different approach to manage allergies long term.

Blood Work

Your veterinarian may recommend blood work depending on your pet’s age and symptoms. This will rule out a low functioning thyroid as a contributing factor in your pet’s itchiness and help with prescribing medications, if indicated.


Vets today primarily turn to Apoquel or Cytopoint to treat allergies in dogs before turning to steroids, however, steroids may be necessary in severe or refractory cases. Your veterinarian may alternatively prescribe a low-dose, short-course steroid; or an oral antihistamine. Since side effects of steroids are less common in cats than in dogs, steroids are still often used to treat cats with seasonal allergies.

Treating Allergies in Dogs and Cats at Home

There are several ways to help treat your pet’s seasonal allergies at home, such as:

  • Weekly baths: Bathing your pet weekly will help relieve itching and remove environmental allergens from their skin.
  • Flea medication: To help prevent allergy symptoms caused by fleas, start your pet on a recommended flea medication.
  • Cleaning pet bedding often: Cleaning pet bedding once a week and vacuuming at least twice a week should help with dust allergy symptoms.

Bathing your pet in a veterinary-formulated, soap-free, medicated shampoo will help your pet feel better immediately, help the skin issues clear more quickly, and prevent seasonal allergies from progressing if instituted early and often. This is paramount in the initial, as well as long term, management of allergic patients. Dogs and cats live in their coats 24/7, so they are continuously exposed to allergy inducing particles in their fur. Bathing can make a world of difference in our allergic pets.

Once secondary issues are resolved and itchiness is controlled, you will likely be advised to continue bathing your pet weekly to keep allergens off the skin. You may also need to continue administering an antihistamine for several weeks to prevent recurrence. Omega-3 Fatty acids may be recommended to build and maintain the skin barrier, as well as to act as an internal anti-inflammatory.

Once your pet is very itchy, antihistamines alone are not often effective, so judicious use of steroids may be needed to treat allergic pets. Steroids can have negative side effects when used long term, so your veterinarian will most likely prescribe the shortest course with the lowest effective dose to control the itching.

Pets Suffering from Frequent Allergies

The goal is to use steroids and antibiotics short term while using other measures long term to help you manage your pet’s itchiness. If your pet becomes a frequent allergy sufferer who needs steroids more than a couple of short courses per year, ask your veterinarian about allergy testing and alternatives to steroids, including oral immune modulating medications. Many clinics also offer alternative and complementary approaches to allergy treatment, such as acupuncture, food therapy, and herbal medicine for interested owners and cases that are harder to control.

Allergies, in general, are one of the most frustrating issues that pets and their owners face. It is important to note that getting them under control is not likely to be a quick fix. Here at Harmony Animal Hospital, we understand and are committed to finding the treatment that works best for you and your pet. Our goal is always a happier, healthier pet and a well-educated pet owner who truly feels that we are all on the same team!