Assistance dogs can suffer from all sorts of allergies, including food allergies, contact allergies, environmental allergies, and seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are a specific type of environmental allergy, which is a hypersensitive immune system response to contact or inhalation of an irritant in the environment, such as dust, dander, smoke, cleaning products, or mold. Seasonal allergies specifically are a reaction to pollen, grass, ragweed or other plant matter.
The different types of allergies all produce the same symptoms in dogs, so they can be tricky to diagnose. But seasonal allergies usually come with one important clue: they only cause problems seasonally—usually peaking for a few weeks to a month. Spring and fall are the worst times for most affected dogs, though summer can cause trouble too. It depends on the allergen, your climate, and other factors. Also, if you live in a warmer place with less distinct seasons and no hard freeze in the winter, seasonal allergies can be a year-round problem.
If your service, guide, or hearing dog exhibits allergic symptoms all year long, the problem probably isn’t a seasonal allergy; if you observe symptoms at one or more specific times of year though, a seasonal allergy is likely the culprit. Regardless, see your veterinarian about any symptoms to get to the bottom of things.
Symptoms of Canine Seasonal Allergies
Various signs and symptoms should prompt suspicion that your dog is suffering from an allergy, seasonal or otherwise. While humans with seasonal allergies typically have the worst problems in their respiratory tract, a dog’s symptoms tend to be worst on the skin. The most common include:
- Itchy skin (seen with excessive scratching, biting, chewing, licking, or rubbing against items)
- Red and/or inflamed skin, thinning hair or bald spots, sores, hot spots (which may be primary symptoms or result from excessive scratching, chewing, etc.)
- Itchy and/or inflamed ear canals
- Watery and/or puffy eyes
- Runny nose
Treating Seasonal Allergies in Your Assistance Dog
There’s no way to cure your guide, hearing, or service dog’s seasonal allergies, but they can usually be managed fairly effectively. It’s important to be proactive, both for your dog’s comfort and so she can stay focused on her tasks. Start with a visit to your vet and request allergy testing to determine which irritant(s) you need to worry about.
As with any allergy, avoiding the allergen as much as possible is the best way to prevent or reduce symptoms. This can be harder with an assistance dog than with a pet, obviously, as there’s a lot less flexibility in when and where you take your dog. If it’s possible to limit your dog’s time outside—especially in areas with lots of grass, flowers, and trees—this will certainly help.
Here are some effective ways to manage your assistance dog’s seasonal allergies:
- Vacuum your home every day or two during the season to remove allergens tracked inside
- Launder dog bedding regularly with just water or using a gentle, non-irritating detergent
- Rinse your dog’s paws off and remove your shoes before re-entering your home to prevent tracked-in allergens
- Keep your doors and windows closed so allergens don’t drift in
- Rinse or bathe your assistance dog frequently, using a natural, gentle, moisturizing canine shampoo to help with dry, itchy, allergic skin and to prevent further irritation
- Get the OK from your vet to give your dog an omega-3 fatty acid and/or quercetin supplement to reduce inflammation and other allergy symptoms
- Talk to your vet about giving your dog an antihistamine; this can be a tough call with assistance dogs though, as they are likely to cause some drowsiness
- Ask your vet about administering an immune system-modulating drug
- Ask your vet about allergy injection therapy to build up resistance
- Use HEPA filters in your home (they’re good for everyone!)
Don’t Skip the Vet’s Office!
It’s always important to consult your veterinarian about any symptoms you notice in your service, hearing, or guide dog. The symptoms listed above are hallmarks of an allergic condition, and these can be serious, and even fatal (food allergies are typically the most dangerous, but any type can be). The same symptoms may also point to a wide variety of other illnesses or problems, too. Early diagnosis and proactive treatment are essential to the best management of any condition!