Dog's itch from time to time but if your dog is itching more than normal, it's natural to question whether there is a problem. As hay fever season is already underway and we brace the itch season for Smudge (who has a slight intolerance to grass pollen), today we're focusing on hay fever in pets. Read on if you'd like to understand what hay fever is, how it impacts our pets, and how to help manage hay fever for our darling cats and dogs.
What is hay fever?
According to the NHS, 'Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, typically when it comes into contact with your mouth, nose, eyes, and throat. Pollen is a fine powder from plants.'
Symptoms occur when your immune system reacts to pollen as if it were a foreign invader, trying to expel it. As hay fever is caused by pollen, it is considered an environmental or seasonal allergy.
Can dogs get hay fever?
Yes! Our little Smudge suffers from hay fever and tends to itch, sneeze and lick more than the norm from late April. Dogs can suffer from hay fever just like we hoomans do. It's relatively common, with up to 10% of dogs in the UK predicted to suffer in some extent from seasonal allergies and much more common than food intolerances. Dog (and cat) hay fever has a special name: atopy, which is also known as an inhalant allergy.
Some breeds are more likely to suffer from hay fever than others. These are listed as; Pit Bull Terrier, Bichon Frise, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Dalmatians, Yorkshire Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Irish Setter, Schnauzers, West Highland Terriers. The reasoning for some of these are that their facial and nasal structure makes them more susceptible, or even their type of coat. It is also thought that pups that don't spend much time outdoors in their early years can be more susceptible, as they haven't had the chance to build up any resilience.
How about our kitties? Can cats get hay fever?
Indeed they can! Cats can suffer from hay fever just like us. Your kitty may be affected from birth, or develop the allergy with time as it develops into a larger reaction. If your kitty's biological parents suffer from hay fever, it's likely they will inherit the allergy too.
In comparison to doggies though, a larger number of cats are kept indoors, with the International Cat Care estimating around 10% of cats are kept indoors, so these kitties will be less likely to suffer as they aren't as exposed to pollen.
When is hay fever season?
Between March and September is when the pollen count is at its highest. Certain weather conditions can also intensify hay fever, for example, if it's warm, humid, and windy.
Your pet's hay fever may be brought on by different types of pollen, which are released at different times of the year. Depending on when your pet is sensitive, will give you some indication over which type of pollen affects them. Here are the general seasons:
- Grass pollen: mid-May to July (with two peaks) - this is the most common
- Tree pollens: mid-May until July
- Weed pollen: anytime, typically June to September
This Met Office poster shows all the different variations:
How to tell if your pet suffers from hayfever?
Whilst the cause for hay fever is the same for humans and pets - pollen, our pets show different symptoms from us. In humans you'd expect to see a runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, or shortness of breath, however for our pets, the irritation mostly affects the skin. We've listed some of the typical symptoms below:
- Excessive scratching
- Scratching their bodies over carpets/rough surfaces or rubbing against walls
- Licking or chewing their paws
- Red skin, around the eyes, ears, paw pads
- Runny nose
Puppies and kittens may have these symptoms but hay fever may not be the cause. If you have a puppy or kitten who has a very runny nose, or is sneezing, check with your vet as it is possible it could be a bug, which your vet will be able to clarify. Equally, for puppies and kittens, if they have runny, irritated eyes, it's more likely to be as a result of something getting stuck in there, or potentially a condition called Dry Eye.
If you notice any of the symptoms bullet-pointed above, it's important you check-in with your vet for an official diagnosis. The vet may prescribe you some medication to manage their symptoms, or if severe, administer an injection to keep things under control.
Do not try any home remedies, or give any medication to your pet without a prescription. Giving the wrong medication, or an incorrect dose can be very dangerous.
Hay fever and seasonal allergies are often confused as food allergies, so check with your vet if you're unsure. If they do end up showing as food allergies, you might like to check out our hypoallergenic dog food recipes (free from common allergens).
5 tips for managing hay fever in pets
Besides prescribed medication, there are a number of things you can do to help manage your pets hay fever. As mentioned previously, you might be able to identify what pollen affects your fur baby based on when they show symptoms. Identifying this means you can plan ahead, and try to avoid your pet coming into contact with the plants causing the issues. The Met Office also offers a pollen forecast, so you can expect when symptoms might be at their worst.
- You may be able to use allergy relief tablets like Piriton. You must check with your vet first for the safe, appropriate dose. Along with glorious sunshine, hay fever medication can cause drowsiness, so we'd recommend using it in the evening.
- During the day the pollen count changes, typically highest in the morning and late evening. Plan your walks, or when you're letting your kitty out accordingly.
- Wipe or wash your fur baby after they've been outside, paying particular attention to their paws and facial area. Make sure to use a dog shampoo for sensitive coats too!
- Daily grooming to remove any pollen that could have got caught in their fur.
- Wash their bedding more regularly to remove any pollen that has rubbed off onto it.