We've all heard about seasonal allergies, but most of us associate them with the spring and fall seasons. Did you know winter allergies in dogs also appear? These types of seasonal allergies can be a real problem for dogs and their owners.
From itchy skin to a dull coat to difficulty breathing, winter allergies in dogs are going to be heating up in the upcoming weeks. Luckily, there are some things you can do to ease your dog’s discomfort.
Dog winter allergies are seasonal allergies that are caused by or worsened by allergens present during winter months. These allergens may be naturally occurring or the result of cold-weather specific conditions. For example, a dog may experience dust allergies only during winter when the air is less circulated and more time is spent indoors. On the other hand, a dog may experience allergy symptoms because of dry air from central heating.
Let's find out more about winter allergies in dogs, what symptoms you should be looking for and what treatments are available for pets suffering with this condition.
Winter Allergies in Dogs
diagnosis, symptoms and treatments
There are various types of winter allergies in dogs, including:
- contact allergies
- dust Mites
- allergy symptoms related to dry air
Dogs can exhibit winter allergies for a variety of reasons, which include:
- traditional immune system reaction
- overactive immune system
- allergen build-up during winter months
- allergies related to the cold weather of winter
Winter Allergies or Something Else?
Depending on the symptoms that your dog exhibits, it’s important to determine the cause. For some dogs, winter allergies may well be the culprit. For other dogs, however, symptoms may be the result of something else including:
- autoimmune disease
- symptoms resulting from medical treatment (such as radiation therapy)
- food-related allergies
- illness such as kennel cough
- foreign bodies in the eye
- overpowering scents
- natural behavior
- nervous behavior
- poor diet
- side effects of medications or supplements
Testing for Winter Allergies in Dogs
There are two types of allergy testing – blood testing and skin testing.
Blood testing looks for antibodies in your dog’s blood that are induced by antigens. The most commonly used tests to look for these antibodies are the RAST test or the ELISA test. Of the two tests, the ELISA is the more reliable option.
Skin testing involves a small amount of an antigen being injected into the skin to induce a possible allergic reaction. When a dog is allergic to an antigen, a skin response will be seen at the sight of the injection. When a reaction is induced by an antigen, a test is positive for that allergen.
The average cost of skin allergy testing ranges between $195 to $250. The average cost of blood allergy testing ranges between $200 and $300.
Dog Breeds Most Susceptible to Winter Allergies
Allergies can affect any dog breed, but some breeds are more susceptible to skin related allergies. These breeds include:
- American bulldogs
- English bulldogs
- Labrador retrievers
- Pit bulls
Common Symptoms of Winter Allergies in Dogs
Symptoms of winter allergies in dogs vary depending on the allergen in question. Common symptoms of allergies include:
1. Itchy skin
Itchy skin can result from dryness, allergic reactions to contact allergens and poor air quality. You may notice that your dog is constantly itching or biting their skin, has a discolored rash at the area of affliction, rubbing against things in order to scratch, redness or flaking of the skin, swelling of the skin, or wet or infected sores on the skin.
2. Red or swollen areas of skin
When the skin is affected by allergens, constant scratching can cause swelling, redness, and even open sores. These symptoms should be controlled by reducing scratching with a topical anti-itch cream, putting your dog in an e-collar, and removal of allergens.
Coughing is the immune system’s way of trying to eliminate allergens from the respiratory system. Coughing may also be the result of a lack of moisture in the air. Coughing should be treated temporarily with a cough suppressant while allergy testing takes place.
4. Runny nose
One of the easiest symptoms of winter allergies in dogs to recognize is a runny nose. When allergens enter the nasal passages, the immune system tries to flush out the allergens which cause a runny nose. The best approach to runny noses is to identify and eliminate the allergen.
5. Dry skin
Dry skin may appear red, flaky, scaly, and itch. This can be the result of exposure to contact allergens or a lack of moisture in the air. Moisturizing, supplementation with fish oil and air humidifiers can help to resolve dry skin concerns.
6. Continuous scratching
Constant scratching of the skin and ears are both signs of allergic reactions and should be addressed as soon as possible to prevent complications. Excessive scratching could cause an open wound to develop and lead to infection if not treated properly.
7. Discharge from the eyes
Discharge from the eyes can be clear or greenish in appearance depending on the allergen and the severity of the allergic reaction. Most commonly discharge is clear and greenish discharge is a sign of a more serious infection, but this is not always the case. I had a Labrador who had serious pollen allergies and during the springtime “yellow haze” his eyes were filled with green discharge.
8. Obsessive licking (particularly of the feet)
When skin becomes dry and itchy, your dog will try to “scratch” themselves by biting or licking the area. This is particularly common when the feet are affected by allergies. Licking should be prevented since it can result in open sores and infection. Excessive licking can also lead to lick granulomas.
Sneezing is the result of allergens entering the nose and the body attempting to expel these allergens with force. Medications can soothe sneezing symptoms, but ideally, the allergen should be removed to prevent recurrence.
10. Redness of the eyes
Irritation of the eyes due to dryness or itching is common with allergies in dogs and humans. This irritation can be soothed with eye drops and elimination of allergens.
Treatment Options for Winter Allergies in Dogs
Winter allergies should be treated as a whole, however, some symptoms can be relieved while awaiting allergy test results. Some of these treatment approaches include:
Steroids suppress the immune system reaction to allergens and stop or slow symptoms. Unfortunately, steroids also shut down necessary immune system responses and can result in problems for some dogs. Steroids should also not be used as a long-term treatment approach due to this risk.
2. Medicated baths
Medicated baths can soothe itchy skin and reduce inflamed skin through various topical solutions. The effect of medicated baths are temporary, however, and unless allergies are the result of parasites that can be eliminated (for example, flea allergies), symptoms will return.
3. Cortisone creams
Cortisone creams work for dogs the same way they work for humans. Through topical application, dermatological reactions to allergens can be temporarily soothed. Cortisone creams are not specifically develop for use on dogs, however, so their use should be short-term and limited in application.
Allergic reactions often result in dry, cracked, and itchy skin. These dermatological symptoms of winter allergies in dogs can be soothed or even remedied through the regular use of moisturizer. It’s important to use a moisturizer that is developed for and safe for use on dogs. Some human creams can contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
In severe allergic reactions, antibiotics may be necessary to attack infection that develops because of symptoms. In extreme cases, systemic antibiotics are used for more comprehensive treatment. For example, a dog with extremely itchy skin may scratch so much that the skin breaks open and becomes dangerously infected.
This infection is frequently due to the introduction of bacteria from the nails into the broken skin. Antibiotics will not treat winter allergies in dogs, rather, they will treat symptoms that may arise.
In the case of lesser infections or cases where infection has not yet taken hold but an open wound is present, antibiotic creams may be used. These creams treat localized areas to eliminate or prevent minimal infection but are less effective on serious infections.
Antibiotic creams developed specifically for dogs should be used rather than human targeted creams. Dogs should also be prevented from ingesting any creams used, this can be done with an e-collar.
6. Humidifier treatment
Winter allergies in dogs are often worsened by dry air. Dry heated air can contribute to dry itchy skin, as well as dried mucous membranes. A high-quality humidifier can reduce these symptoms by introducing more moisture into the air. Humidifiers are also helpful for dogs with respiratory allergy symptoms by moisturizing mucus membranes and making air easier to breathe.
7. Regular grooming
Regular grooming is particularly important for dogs that have allergies like dust allergies. Frequent brushing reduces the buildup of dust and dirt as well as dried skin and promotes better skin health. It’s important to select a grooming brush that is well suited to your dog’s coat. Using the wrong type of brush can make grooming painful.
8. Cough Medication
When a dog has allergies that result in coughing, your vet can prescribe a cough suppressant. Suppressing your dog’s cough will result in less respiratory discomfort and a better quality of life. Be careful, however, even veterinary cough treatments can have side effects and their use should be monitored closely.
Treating Winter Allergies in Dogs
Treating allergy symptoms can help make your dog more comfortable. To truly eliminate allergy discomfort, however, more targeted treatment may be required. Treatment for winter allergies in dogs begins with testing to determine the cause of the allergic reaction.
From here, there are a few treatment approaches, which may include:
1. Allergy Shots
Allergy shots work by introducing the allergen to your dog’s system gradually to build up an immunity to the allergen. After a period of receiving these shots, your dog should have a minimal to zero reaction to the allergen.
The cost of allergy shots varies depending on the amount of serum needed per month. For example, for a dog needing 3 ml a month, the serum will cost around $30. The amount of serum needed during this type of immunotherapy will reduce down to a maintenance dose, so the cost will drop over time.
2. Allergy Drops
Allergy drops work the same way as allergy shots, however, they are believed to be faster acting. Allergy drop pricing varies depending on the strength of the drops used and the number of drops purchased at one time. For example, 30 sublingual drops at 16 mg costs approximately $75.
3. Regular Cleaning
If your dog has allergies related to dust mites that may build up during winter, regular cleaning can help. Keep your home as dust free as possible with regular vacuuming and dusting. You should also brush your dog daily to reduce the buildup of dust or allergens in their coat.
When cleaning, a vacuum with a HEPA filter works best. It is also advisable to avoid using chemical based cleaners which can elicit further allergic reactions. Organic based cleaning products like Seventh Generation are the best place to start!
4. Air Purifier
An air purifier is beneficial for you and your dog during winter months. In winter, less fresh air is circulated around the home, so it’s important to remove allergens from the air that is circulated. This is best done by investing in a high-quality HEPA air filter.