Can dogs get hay fever? Two dog experts give their top tips for dogs with allergies
Runny nose? Sneezing? Itchy red eyes? Your dog might have all the symptoms of hay fever, but can dogs get it, and what can you do to help? We spoke to two top dog experts to find out.
When temperatures begin to rise, it signals the start of summer, but also hay fever season. For sufferers, sunny days are accompanied by itchy eyes, runny noses, and pockets full of tissues. But it seems it’s not just humans that fall victim to the rise in pollen - dog owners often report that their dogs are getting it as well.
So, do dogs get hay fever? Here at The Recommended, we’ve enlisted the knowledge of two experts in dog allergies and health to help answer this question. They’ve also helped us explain how to treat dogs’ hay fever symptoms, avoid dangers, and listed some handy preventative allergy measures which owners can follow.
Our dog experts
With over two decades of experience, Dr Scott Miller is here to help us understand more about dogs and their hay fever. He studied at the University of Queensland Veterinary School and began working at the largest animal hospital in Australia, and works alongside grain-free dog food brand Barking Heads, regularly appears on ITV’s This Morning, and stars in Channel 4’s Vet on the Hill.
Our second expert is Ashleigh Walker, who is a Senior Pet Nutritionist at Harringtons. She also has expertise in dogs and hay fever, with a particular focus on how dogs can be looked after through what they eat and interact with.
In this guide, they both reveal how dogs can be affected by pollen, the warning signs to look out for, and how to treat dogs with hay fever.
Can dogs get hay fever?
Yes! Dogs can and do often get hay fever. Allergies affect dogs in much the same way as humans, and when it comes to hay fever, the main difference is that while humans inhale pollen, dogs absorb it into the skin.
Our four-legged friends can find hay fever distressing and uncomfortable whilst also not having the luxuries that we would. Dogs can’t carry handkerchiefs, put in eye drops, or pop hay fever tablets. This means the responsibility for their comfort and safety is down to us, the owner. In this guide, our experts will outline exactly what we can do to help.
What is hay fever, and why does my dog have it?
Before beginning to protect your dog against hay fever, it’s important to know what you’re actually up against. Technically speaking, hay fever is a pollen allergy, and the official definition of an allergy is “a damaging immune response by the body to a substance, especially a particular food, pollen, fur, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive.” This is the same for both animals and humans.
The definition might sound pretty complicated, but in simple terms, allergy is the result of mistaken identity. An allergen (pollen, peanuts, etc.) enters the body and is wrongly identified by the immune system as a dangerous substance. In response, the immune system makes antibodies to attack the allergen.
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The immune system's releasing of these antibodies causes the symptoms, which we then relate to an allergic reaction (inflammation, rashes, itching, etc). When it comes to pollen, there isn’t a definitive answer as to why the immune system mistakes it for danger.
Despite not knowing why the immune system reacts this way, we do know there is a slight difference between a dog and a human allergy, with dogs absorbing pollen into the skin rather than inhaling it. This can cause a difference in symptoms between the two as this is more likely to cause dogs to scratch, lose hair, and other symptoms (listed below).
What are the hay fever symptoms to look out for in your dog?
We now know the basics as to why an allergic reaction happens. The next thing we need to work out is how to notice when your dog is having one. Luckily, there are some common indicators which we can look out for to let us know that our dog is suffering - these are known as symptoms.
Recognising these earlier will give you a better chance of treating your dog before it can become too distressed or uncomfortable. Dr Miller helped us with this one and explained some of the key hay fever symptoms to look out for. He said that a dog’s symptoms most commonly present themselves through one or more of the following:
- Runny nose
- Frequent sneezing
- Irritated and itchy eyes
- Itchy skin
- Redness and rashes on skin (most commonly face, legs and paws)
- Licking or biting paws
- Watery eyes
Dr Miller continued, highlighting the area you need to pay the most attention to on your dog, he said: “Your pup's skin is likely to be the most obvious sign of whether or not they are suffering from hay fever as the itching may lead to sore patches of skin or even bald patches.
“These happen when the dogs have itched to excess, and this leads their coat to deteriorate. If you do notice sore spots, you should watch your pet's behaviour for signs they’re in pain.”
One thing it’s important to remember is that not all of the symptoms of hay fever are exclusive to an allergy to pollen.
Some symptoms might signal a reaction to something different or a completely separate health condition. If you are unsure that it is hay fever, then you can use Barking Heads' helpful Paw Examination Guide, which can help to rule out some other possibilities. You can also check with your vet.
Are some dogs more likely to get hay fever than others?
There are certain breeds of dogs for which hay fever is more likely to be a problem as they are predisposed to the allergy. In the case of these breeds, it is particularly important to look out for the symptoms when there is a large amount of pollen in the air.
Dr Miller explained that, like humans, hay fever can affect both large-breed dogs and small-breed dogs. He said: “Some breeds are more likely to suffer from this seasonal allergy because they are inclined to suffer from allergies because of features such as coat type or nose shape.” There are some pure breeds that are also naturally more sensitive to allergens, including:
- Irish Setters
How can hay fever in dogs be treated?
Both Dr Miller and Ashleigh Walker both advise that the best course of action is speaking to your vet if you notice any signs of an allergic reaction. You should always go to the vet, even if you have dealt with a similar case before. This is because, even if dogs are the same breed, their treatments for hay fever can be different based on a variety of factors.
Once you do get to the vet, there are a number of treatments which can be prescribed for your dog. As Ashleigh explained, “unlike humans, in which a general antihistamine pill is often sufficient to prevent discomfort, targeted hay fever treatments work better for dogs.
“Your vet may prescribe eye drops or nasal sprays. In severe cases, vets can also administer injections to help get symptoms under control.” Other common treatments which a vet may provide include:
- Medicated shampoos
- Specialist dog antihistamines
- Medicated skin sprays or creams
- Biotherapy (to activate the immune system) can be better for large breeds as it is the most cost-effective.
- Medication to reduce inflammation and relieve itching
- Ear or eye drops
What can I do to help my dog with hay fever?
Once your vet has looked after your dog, there are some steps you can take to make sure a trip back will be less likely. Also, if your dog hasn’t shown any symptoms, you can still practise these to reduce the chances hay fever takes a toll. Dr Miller was on hand to offer some key ways to reduce dog’s hay fever symptoms.
Wash your dog after a walk
One way to make sure that your dog is coming into contact with less pollen is by washing down its coat when you’ve returned from a walk. This way, the only time they will be exposed to pollen is on the walk and not inside the home.
Groom your dog regularly
Try to regularly groom your dog during pollen seasons which also helps to get rid of the trapped allergen. Make sure to give them a good brush which can weed out any pollen particles which may have gotten stuck in the hair. You could also clip their nails for the same reason to get rid of stuck pollen.
Choose when to walk
It would be a good idea to select a time to walk your dog when the pollen count is at its lowest. This is usually earlier in the morning or later in the evening because pollen is usually at its highest during the middle of the day.
Check bedding and toys
Keeping your dog’s bed clean and washed will help remove any stray pollen particles which may have found a home here. The same goes for toys or blankets which your dog comes into contact with on a recent basis.
Monitor your dog
If your dog is prone to suffering symptoms, Ashleigh Walker said that one of the best things you can do is monitor them. She said: “When and where are their reactions more severe? Are their symptoms worse inside or outside? Or after eating? If you spot a pattern, remove potential stressors in sequence and check their symptoms in response to narrow down the cause. This information will be useful to help your vet determine the right response.”
Want to read more expert-recommended pet product round-ups? Check out our Pets page for a full list of recommendations, including our list of the best dog beds, the best dog toys and the best dog treats, all recommended by dog experts.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.