Get Ready for Seasonal Allergies – Take These Steps Now

By Dr. Becker

Spring will be here before we know it, and so will those miserable warm weather allergies so many pets suffer from these days. If you also deal with seasonal allergies, chances are you sniffle and sneeze, your eyes are itchy and watery, and you may develop an irritating cough, some shortness of breath or even difficulty breathing.

These are all very common human symptoms of allergies, but strangely enough, if your dog or cat has a seasonal allergic response, it will most often manifest as a condition called allergic dermatitis, which is irritation or inflammation of the skin. It's rare that a dog or cat develops symptoms similar to those of an allergic human.

Just to clarify, there are two main categories of allergies — food and environmental. Food allergies create year-round symptoms in pets, whereas seasonal environmental allergy symptoms flare intermittently depending on when triggers bloom, blossom and grow.

Sensitivities to dust mites or fleas are environmental triggers that can be year-round, depending on your pet's exposure.

Telltale Signs of Seasonal Allergies in Pets

  • Intense itchiness —
  • Dogs and cats with allergies are usually very itchy. They scratch at themselves and may show signs of irritability. Some might bite or chew at a specific area of the body, while others are itchy from nose to tail. You may catch your pet rubbing his body against your furniture or along the carpet to help relieve that miserable itch.

  • Hair loss and skin issues —
  • As the itch-scratch cycle worsens, the skin becomes inflamed and tender, which can set the stage for secondary infections. There might also be areas of hair loss and open or crusty sores, including hot spots — areas of inflamed, infected skin resulting from an overgrowth of normal skin bacteria.

  • Problems with the ears and feet —
  • Pets with seasonal allergies typically have issues with their ears and feet. The ear canals become itchy and inflamed, and they often become infected with yeast or bacteria. Symptoms of an ear infection include scratching at the ears, head shaking, hair loss around the ears, and a bad smell or discharge coming from the ears.

    Because dogs and cats sweat from the pads of their feet, when they go outside, allergens cling to their paws. Those allergens get tracked back inside and all around your home, especially in areas where your pet hangs out, and are a major source of itchiness.
    Allergic pets often lick or chew at their paws and toes. The excessive licking and chewing can spark a secondary yeast infection, so if your pet's feet start smelling musty, or like cheese popcorn or corn chips, chances are she's developed a yeast infection.

  • Respiratory symptoms —
  • Although it's not common, some pets, especially cats, can develop symptoms similar to those of an allergic human, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and coughing.

    Seasonal Allergies Often Progress to Year-Round Allergies

    Allergic reactions are produced by your pet's immune system, and the way her immune system functions is a result of both nature (genetics) and nurture (environment). I often see some variation of the following history with allergic pets:

  • A young pup or kitten, maybe 4 to 6 months old, begins with a little red tummy, itchy ears, and maybe a mild infection in one ear. His regular veterinarian treats him symptomatically — often with a round of unnecessary antibiotics — to appease the owner. Believe it or not, this is enough to set the stage for leaky gut.

  • The following year as soon as the weather warms up, the pet is brought back to his regular vet with very itchy feet, another ear infection, and a hotspot or two. Again, the vet treats the symptoms (sadly, often with steroids) until the weather turns cold and the symptoms disappear.

  • Year three, the same pet suffers from May through September with red, inflamed skin, maybe some hair loss, more hotspots, frequent ear and skin infections, and a tendency to chew his paws or scratch until he bleeds.

  • By year five, all the symptoms have grown significantly worse and the animal's suffering is now year-round.

  • This is what commonly happens with seasonal environmental allergies. The more your pet is exposed to the allergens he's sensitive to, the more intense and long-lasting his allergic response becomes. That's why it's extremely important to begin addressing potential root causes at the first sign of an allergic response, no matter how mild it appears at its onset.

    How to Help a Pet With Allergies

    The following are common sense, all-natural steps you can take to help ease your allergic pet's discomfort. Many can be implemented right away, before spring, to give your dog or cat a leg up once allergy season arrives.

    If you know your pet has seasonal allergies, I strongly recommend not waiting until symptoms occur to start an allergy protocol. Preventing systemic inflammation is a whole lot easier than addressing a profound allergic response, once it's occurring.

    1. Address the diet — One of the first things I do for a dog or cat with allergies is review their diet and check for leaky gut syndrome (dysbiosis), which is often the reason seasonal allergies get progressively worse from one year to the next.

      Your pet's gastrointestinal (GI) tract has the very important job of deciding what nutrients to allow into the bloodstream, and which to keep out. The job of the GI tract is to allow nutrients in while keeping allergens out. When the gut starts to "leak," it means it's allowing allergens into the bloodstream.

      Often medications, especially antibiotics and steroids, cause leaky gut syndrome. Any pet on routine drug therapy should be assessed for a leaky gut. Another trigger for leaky gut is a processed diet containing genetically modified ingredients.

      There's a canine microbiota dysbiosis test from the Texas A&M GI lab you can use to check for this condition. Even better, have your pet's microbiome assessed through AnimalBiome. They also have a biome restoration program that can dramatically improve pet's quality of life.

      Pets with allergies should be transitioned to an anti-inflammatory diet very low in starch content (less than 15%). It should contain no soy, corn, rice, wheat, organic whole wheat, tapioca, peas, lentils, chickpeas, or potatoes. By eliminating extra sugar and carbohydrates in the diet, you'll also limit the food supply for yeast, which can be very beneficial for allergic pets.

      It's also important to offer your pet clean, pure drinking water that doesn't contain fluoride, fluorine, heavy metals, or other contaminants.

    2. Supplement essential fatty acids (EFA) and lauric acid — I recommend boosting the omega-3 fatty acids in your allergic pet's diet. The best sources of these fatty acids come from the ocean, including krill, salmon, tuna, anchovy, and sardine oil, and other sources of fish body oils. Phytoplankton does not contain enough omega-3 fatty acids to moderate allergic inflammatory responses or meet minimum EFA requirements for dogs and cats.

      I also recommend coconut oil for allergic pets because it contains lauric acid, which has natural antifungal properties that can help suppress the production of yeast in the body. Omega-3 oils combined with coconut oil can modulate or even suppress the inflammatory response in allergic pets.

    3. Refuse all unnecessary vaccines, pest preventives, and veterinary drugs — Because allergies are an exaggerated immune system response, it's important to avoid unnecessary vaccines and veterinary drugs, including chemical pest preventives, all of which interfere with the performance of the immune system.

      If your pet is taking medication regularly or has taken a long-term course of medication in the past, talk to your veterinarian about instituting an intermittent detoxification protocol to help the body eliminate harmful byproducts and drug residues.

    4. Minimize indoor allergens — Another thing you can do to help your allergic pet is reduce allergens and toxins around your home. Vacuum all carpets, rugs, and upholstery, clean hard floors, and wash pet and human bedding in natural, fragrance-free detergent a minimum of once a week. Don't use dryer sheets.

      Keep the areas of your home where your pet spends most of her time as allergen-free as possible. Use nontoxic cleaning agents instead of traditional household cleaners.

      During allergy season, keep windows closed as much as possible, and change the filters on your heating or air circulation unit often. Invest in an air purifier to remove allergens inside the house. Also consider covering your pet's bed with a dust mite cover that can be frequently washed to help reduce allergen contamination that she may be bringing in from outside.

      I also recommend eliminating all chemical air scenting products such as plug ins, scented candles, room sprays and pet odor sprays that contain toxic ingredients.

    5. Rinse your pet regularly and do daily foot soaks and eye rinses — Once the warm weather arrives, one of the best things you can do is help rid your pet's body of allergens. Dogs and cats who are outside regularly collect millions of allergens. It's just common sense to rinse them off, which can provide immediate relief for irritated, inflamed skin.

      When it's time to actually bathe pets (when they're stinky, dirty or have a skin infection), I recommend using only grain-free and pH balanced shampoos. Because oatmeal is a carbohydrate and carbs feed yeast, I don't recommend oatmeal shampoos. Follow up with a lemon juice or vinegar rinse to help manage yeast infections.

      If your pet has been prescribed a medicated shampoo, rebalancing the skin's microbiome is a wise idea: mix a teaspoon of probiotic powder in a quart of water and pour over your pet from the neck to the tail, rub in and towel dry.

      Foot soaks are a great way to reduce the number of allergens your pet tracks into the house and deposits all over her indoor environment.

      Daily eye rinses can also be very effective for pets who are pawing at their eyes. It's very important that you not use human medicated eye drops. There's a great all-natural over-the-counter eye drop that's made by Halo Pets that can reduce eye irritation and inflammation. Colloidal silver is also a great way to safely disinfect your pet's face and delicate areas around the eyes.

    6. Give natural antihistamines — There are supplements I routinely prescribe to pets with seasonal allergic issues starting with quercetin, which is a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antihistamine properties. I call it "nature's Benadryl," because it's very effective at suppressing histamine release.

      Bromelain and papain are proteolytic enzymes that increase absorption of quercetin, making it more effective. I like to combine bromelain and papain with vitamin C and quercetin, because they have a great synergistic effect. I recommend starting this protocol with an allergic pet several weeks before the weather begins to warm up or a month before your pet normally shows allergy symptoms.

      Herbs such as stinging nettle, butterbur, sorrel, verbena, elderflower, and cat's claw have a documented history of helping animals combat seasonal allergic responses.

      Plant sterols and sterolins, which are anti-inflammatory agents, have also been used successfully to modulate the immune system toward a more balanced response in allergic patients. Immune-modulating supplements, such as arabinogalactans, can also be beneficial.

      Locally produced honey contains a small amount of pollen from the local area that can help desensitize the body to local allergens over time. Usually the best place to find local honey is at a farmer's market or neighborhood health food store. Check with your veterinarian about the right dose for your dog or cat.

      Most importantly, begin a seasonal allergy support protocol before your pet becomes itchy, red and inflamed. Waiting until your pet becomes miserable makes it difficult to get through allergy season without using allergy drugs that have side effects.

      Instituting a natural support protocol before allergy season commences means you have the potential to moderate your animal's histamine production, which can result in milder symptoms and a less itchy pet.

    7. Consider a desensitization protocol — If you've tried the above suggestions with limited success, I recommend helping your pet's immune system quiet down through desensitization. This can be achieved through a technique called Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET) performed by practitioners trained to treat dogs and cats, or through sublingual immunotherapy.

      Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a variation on allergy injections to treat atopic dermatitis (skin allergies) in dogs, cats, and horses. SLIT is common in Europe and is used to treat respiratory and skin allergies in people. Sublingual immunotherapy is given orally, which is much easier on both you and your pet than injections.

      I've had good success using a sublingual product called regionally-specific immunotherapy, or RESPIT®. I like it because it doesn't rely on testing to determine what your dog or cat is allergic to. It uses a mixture of the most significant regional allergens instead.

      If you decide to try sublingual immunotherapy, it's important to know that most pets require an "immediate relief" protocol (including therapeutic bathing, herbs and nutraceuticals that reduce inflammation), in addition to beginning a desensitization protocol of any kind.

      Desensitizing pets is one of the best long-term solutions for managing allergies, and sublingual immunotherapy is a needle-free option.