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Cocker Spaniel dog in a field of long grass

Pets and hay fever, how can we help them?

Did you know that pets can suffer from pollen allergies just like humans? Summer days can bring about high pollen counts, which can mean irritation and misery for not just humans who suffer with hay fever, but their four-legged friends with allergies as well.

So how do you know if your pet is sensitive to pollen, and what can you do about it? PDSA Vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan gives her expert advice.

Symptoms of pollen allergies in pets

While the cause of the allergies is the same in pets as it is in humans, the signs can be a little different. In humans, you might expect a runny nose, watery eyes and feeling short of breath, but these signs are much rarer in our pets. Here are some of the signs they might show if they are allergic to pollen:

  • Licking or biting their paws
  • Excessive scratching
  • Redness of the skin, especially around the eyes and ears and in between the paws
  • Shaking their head
  • Rubbing their ears or muzzle
  • Tired or lethargic, particularly on days when the pollen count is high

If you notice your pet showing any of these signs, particularly during summer, take them to your vet. Some of the symptoms above can also be signs of other health issues, so your vet might want to rule these out before treating your pet for allergies. If an allergy is diagnosed, we don’t always know what the cause is. However, if it is seasonal (worse in summer and better in winter) then that usually means it is at least partly due to pollen.

Treatment

If your pet is diagnosed with an allergy to pollen. Your vet may recommend some medication to help reduce or manage their symptoms during the summer months.

Because your pet might have allergies to more than one thing, your vet might also advise you try a food-elimination trial to rule out an allergy to anything in their diet. Your vet can give you specific advice and support on how to do this, as it’s not always as simple as just switching to a different food – a specialist prescription diet must be fed exclusively.

It’s important not to try home remedies before checking with your vet, or to give any medication to your pet without a prescription, as many can be dangerous in the wrong doses, or for certain species.

Tips on reducing pollen allergy symptoms in pets

Whether or not your pet is prescribed medication for their allergies, there are things that you can do yourself to help reduce the effects of pollen allergies.

Firstly, if you can, try to identify what times of year your pet is most affected. This means you can plan ahead and take precautions for locations you might want to avoid. The type(s) of pollen your pet is sensitive to will determine what time of year their allergies are worst:

  • Tree pollens: March and April,
  • Grass pollens: May, June and July
  • Flowering weeds: June, July and August

All of these timings can vary depending on the local climate and what grows in your area. It is possible to do tests to try to find out which substances are flaring up your dog’s allergies. These treatments are quite specialist and results must be interpreted carefully, but they might be able to help you avoid known triggers.

Obviously you can’t keep your dog indoors for months on end – they will still need their regular walkies! So what can you do during those months your pet is affected by allergies? Here are Olivia’s top tips:

  • Check the pollen forecast each day so you know what to expect and switch on pollen notofications on the Met Office app.
  • Identify which types of pollens your pet is most affected by – if you manage to do this then avoidance is the most obvious solution! Find other areas to walk with fewer pollen triggers for your pet.
  • Try to avoid walking your dog in early morning and late evening as this is usually when the pollen count is highest. The best time to take dogs out is when the pollen is low, such as before dawn, late afternoon and early evening, though these times vary depending on the weather.
  • Keep dogs on a lead near grass – a quick roll in the grass can leave their fur covered in pollen, causing hours or even days of misery.
  • Wipe their paws and muzzle after every walk – sensitive baby wipes are ideal for this, or you can use special wipes designed for pets. If your dog is particularly sensitive your vet may advise rinsing them with water, or even shampoo, after walks to reduce their symptoms.
  • Keep up with the grooming – a really good daily brushing might help to remove any pollen that is clinging to their fur. Also, keeping long-haired dogs’ fur trimmed short may help reduce pollen problems, as well as keeping them cooler in the hot weather.
  • Wash them weekly – while dogs usually only need a monthly bath, consider increasing the frequency during the pollen season. A weekly bath can help to get rid of any lingering pollen – a specialist hypo-allergenic pet shampoo from your vet is ideal and will have anti-bacterial ingredients to help avoid skin infections if your pet does decide to have a good scratch.
  • Wash their bedding weekly – any bedding that your pet regularly comes into contact needs to be cleaned regularly, otherwise your dog will end up covered in pollen again after every sleep! A weekly wash and hoover of their bedding and favourite places to lie is recommended.
  • A skin supplement or oil added to your pet’s food may help to improve the strength of their skin ‘barrier’ to pollen, and reduce symptoms of the allergy. The essential fats that dogs need for good coat and skin quality can be quite different from a human’s – so it’s important to make sure the product you are getting is appropriate for pets. There’s also a lot of variation of quality in available products, so it’s best to check with your vet as they will be able to help you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Thankfully, with some advice from your vet and by taking precautions, you can help to alleviate much of the suffering your pet might be experiencing due to pollen allergies.

For more summer pet health advice go to www.pdsa.org.uk/summer