Itching to Learn About Seasonal Allergies?

Just like in humans, seasonal and environmental allergies can cause discomfort and be a problem for dogs. Unfortunately, identifying these symptoms as allergies isn’t always easy. Since your dog can’t exactly tell you what’s wrong, it’s up to pet parents to look for the signs.


Symptoms of allergies in dogs:

Itchy skin (atopy)

Chewing at paws/legs or saliva stain on paws/legs

Hair loss and reddening or thickening of the skin

Dark pigment change to the skin

Recurrent ear or skin  infections 

Red, swollen eyes 

Clear, runny nose

Fits of sneezing or reverse sneezing 

Anal gland inflammation


Seasonal allergies tend to be a certain time of year, historically spring or fall. Seasonal itchiness due to atopy tends to begin early in a pet’s life between ages 1 and 3 years of age.


It is indoors where many airborne allergens are concentrated; however, it is important to note that allergens in the air are in the air for miles so it is not easy to escape allergens by simply going outdoors nor by simply going indoors.


It is important to address the itching promptly to prevent secondary infection. Yeast live on the surface of the skin normally but with all the changes allergy causes to the skin’s microenvironment, yeast will proliferate and cause recurring yeast infection of the skin. Secondary infections involve bacteria (usually Staphylococcal) and/or yeast (Malassezia) at the site of the itchiest areas on the body. These organisms live naturally in the skin but when the skin is irritated, they gain access to inner tissue layers and proliferate.


It is important to use a good flea/tick preventative. Flea bite allergy is extremely common. We now have so many effective products available that there is no reason for an animal to contend with a flea bite allergy. You may not see them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there! Flea allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, and it only takes a few bites to cause a problem. Also, an itchy dog often scratches so much that adult fleas are hard to find because they are removed from the body.


I have a ten year old Jack Russel-Chihuahua mix breed dog named Penelope.

Penelope suffers from seasonal allergies. She started showing signs of itching and excessive legs/feet chewing when she was about three years of age. This would recur every fall. As time went on I would notice the severity and onset of her symptoms would coincide perfectly with the Minnesota/North Dakota wheat harvest season, which can start as early as late July to early October. Over the past seven years of managing her seasonal allergies, I have come to the realization that acting quickly is key to protecting her skin from annual yeast or bacterial infections. Bathing shampoos, e-collars, OTC Benadryl, Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplements and dog clothes are all something you should have readily available at home if you have a dog prone to allergy flare ups. 


When you notice your dog is miserable to the point where all they can focus on is scratching and chewing and can’t sleep through the night, you will feel completely helpless. All we want for our 4 legged children is to be happy and comfortable. That is where prescription drugs from your veterinarian will save the day! 


It is important to  document and keep track of times of extreme scratching so you can then identify possible irritants. If you have an idea of what your dog is reacting to, you can then plan ahead to try to avoid or be proactive in managing the anticipated flare up. It’s probably best not to plan a vacation that time a year and leave the pet sitter to deal with the allergy flare up. Also, you may be able to plan ahead and make sure you have all the tools you need readily accessible to protect your dog’s skin against secondary infection. 



Bathing is step one in approaching an itchy dog. An oatmeal shampoo will work best for soothing and moisturizing the skin and coat. There are also many medicated shampoos to assist in general itch relief. Please contact your veterinarian to learn more. The general rule for bathing frequency is no more than once a month. This rule does not apply when you are dealing with a dog with seasonal allergies. Bathing the pet weekly or even every other day to remove allergens from the fur may be helpful in reducing allergen exposure and provide temporary relief. 


Skin protectants from self mutilation: 

When a dog is excessively licking/chewing at the skin it won’t take long to damage the skin and cause secondary infection. Therefore it is important to provide physical protection of the skin. We can do this by placing an e-collar. The e-collar should be a few inches longer than the end of the snout to be effective. This will protect the skin from being chewed but not from being scratched. To protect the skin from scratching you can use a onesie for babies if the dog is small enough or have on hand a fitted dog onesie. Sometimes it is necessary to use children’s socks to wrap the rear feet to prevent the claws from scratching. These physical barriers should only be used long enough to get to the veterinarian and receive powerful anti-itch medications. 


OTC Benadryl: 

Antihistamines have been popular for many years for pets, and it seems their effectiveness does not stand up to scrutiny. They provide neither short-term relief nor reliable long-term relief. They may be helpful in combination with other products in that their use may reduce the need for other products. Antihistamines may provide slight relief in a pinch until you are able to get an appointment with a veterinarian. While typically safe, every dog reacts differently to antihistamines. Benadryl may cause drowsiness in some dogs and hyperactivity in others. Please consult your veterinarian before ever giving any over-the-counter medication. Your veterinarian will also provide the appropriate dosage.


Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplements:

Omega 3 fatty acids work by disrupting the production of inflammatory chemicals within the skin. It takes a good 6 weeks to build up enough omega 3 fatty acids in the body to see a difference.


Prescription drug-Oclacitinib (Apoquel):

This is a relatively new medication that comes in the form of a tablet to be given once or twice daily.  It is best used for itch relief and blocking itch symptoms. It is popular as it works fast. It does not address the inflammation in the skin; it just stops the itch sensation. This means that any skin infection causing the itch will still need to be controlled. Please see your veterinarian to learn more. 


Canine Atopic Dermatitis Immunotherapeutic (Cytopoint®) Injections:

This is a new treatment that uses vaccine technology to eliminate one of the main mediators of itch sensation. The injections provide relief from itching for 1 month in 80 percent of dogs and show effectiveness usually within 24 hours of the injection. For many dogs, relief of itch stops the vicious cycle of itch/infection. Again, any infections still need treatment but the sensation of itch is usually controlled. One injection of Cytopoint will last four to six weeks. Cytopoint is what gets Penelope through her allergy season. It typically takes two injections to get her through the wheat harvest season. In the past, some seasons have been severe enough that she needed to use Apoquel in addition to the Cytopoint.  Please see your veterinarian to learn more!


Article by Lindsey B.